Daily Doctrine (2/24): Perkins Trade Beginning of Potential Dynasty in OKC

February 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Perhaps the most active trade period in NBA history ended Thursday afternoon, as the deadline for deals to be completed finally passed.  Months of speculation and anticipation regarding Carmelo Anthony’s future finally yielded the predictable answer, Deron Williams was shockingly shipped east, and an already frenetic pace only picked up as 3:00PM approached.  12 trades have been reported thus far, and – to the surprise of the majority of fans – the most influential one this season and beyond didn’t involve New York or New Jersey.

Rather, the NBA’s most important exchange of the 2011 trade deadline was made between perennial eastern power Boston and rising western contender Oklahoma City.  The terms? Celtics enforcer and C Kendrick Perkins was sent to OKC along with Nate Robinson for Thunder swingman Jeff Green and finesse C Nenad Krstic.

Obviously, there are two sides to this barter and looming ramifications for each squad in both the present and future.  Who came out better? The clear winner – to Roundball Refuge, at least – is the Thunder, and as such precocious GM Sam Presti and company are the focus of the Daily Doctrine.  Let’s break the deal down from OKC’s perspective, and why it makes them much more formidable contenders this season and in those following.

Last season, the extremely green and surprising Thunder took eventual NBA champion Los Angeles to six games in the first round of the playoffs.  In fact, if not for a last second offensive rebound and put-back by Pau Gasol, the series would have gone back to Staples Center for a decisive game seven.  The notion that OKC was the Lakers’ toughest postseason opponent other than Boston last Spring isn’t just popular opinion, it’s fact.  After sneaking by the Thunder with a scoring margin of just +3.3, LA eviscerated Utah in a four game sweep and took down a rejuvenated Phoenix squad in six games with a margin of +4.2.

The primary reason for the Thunder’s truly shortest-of-comings against the Lakers in round one? The series’ decisive play served as the ultimate microcosm; OKC couldn’t keep up with their stronger and longer counterparts on the glass.  In each loss, the Thunder were out-rebounded by their seasoned opponent and allowed a large number of offensive rebounds.  In their pair of victories? OKC won the battle of the boards and limited the Lakers’ second-chance opportunities.

LA’s collective length and strength gives the entire league problems; that – even more so than the singular brilliance of Kobe Bryant – is the driving force behind their three straight Finals appearances and two consecutive titles.  The Thunder’s 2010 frontcourt, though, was woefully ill-equipped to handle Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom by average NBA standards.  As a lanky, 6’9” “stretch 4”, Green didn’t have the requisite base or style of game to keep pace with the LA interior, and Krstic – despite his relatively thick 7’0” frame – is a notoriously soft player that’s never averaged a mere seven boards in a single season.

Against most teams, the Thunder could use their speed, athleticism and overall energy level to get away with being undersized.  Not so against the powerful Lakers.  This new-look, post-trade Oklahoma City team, though? That could be a different story.

The Thunder, presumably, will start an entirely new frontcourt once all their pieces are healthy.  Perkins has a history of knee problems – which kept him out of game 7 of the Finals – but the rewards of combining his skills with those of Kevin Durant and company outweigh the risks his balky legs may present.  Perkins is one of the game’s premier interior defenders, using his massive 6’10”, 280 pound frame to thrive in one-on-one, screen/roll and help-side defense.  He also plays with unbridled passion, and is perhaps the NBA’s most intimidating physical force.  Perkins isn’t just a big body, though, as evidenced by his career 56.3% mark from the floor and underrated back to the basket game.

Nearly as significant as the addition of Perkins is the prospect of second-year pro Serge Ibaka taking over for Green as OKC’s starting PF.  Growing up in the Congo with 17 siblings, the 21 year-old Ibaka didn’t play competitive basketball until well into his teens.  Just several years later, the 6’10”, 235 pound thoroughbred is one of the league’s brightest young bigs, combining his elite physical gifts with a burgeoning skill-set.  He ranks sixth overall in blocks per game despite playing just 25 minutes, shoots a stellar 56.3% from the field and is already an above-average rebounder for his position.

Prior to Thursday’s deal, OKC was considered the league’s best young team, and a potential thorn in the side of LA and San Antonio in this year’s playoffs.  After? They’re still – and even more convincingly – the NBA’s best group of youngsters, but pose a much bigger threat as contenders this season.

Coming into the year, Oklahoma City was a sexy pick to gain the West’s top playoff seed.  Though they’ve outdone last season’s pace, the Thunder haven’t lived up to those lofty preseason expectations.  The reason? OKC has been decidedly average on defense, ranking just 16th in points per 100 possessions, despite the fact they ranked eighth in the same category last year.  With the addition of Perkins and increased minutes for Ibaka, the Thunder will no doubt improve their play on that end of the floor.  With Durant and Russell Westbrook leading the way offensively, if all goes according to plan Oklahoma City will have nary a weakness as the postseason approaches.

Regardless of whether or not the Perkins trade helps OKC this year, the deal no doubt made their prospects for the future even brighter.  No team boasts as well-rounded and talented a young core as that of Durant, Westbrook, Perkins, Ibaka and promising second-year wing James Harden.  Beginning next season, they’ll be clear-cut favorites for the Western crown every year as long as that group is kept intact.  Considering the Thunder’s well-managed finances and the individual ages of that quintet, and it’s possible OKC is looking at a decade of dominance.

While it remains to be seen whether the Perkins deal will help derail the transcendent eras of LA, San Antonio or Boston come June, today’s exchange made one thing crystal clear: Oklahoma City has begun one of their own.

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