By Rob Mahoney
• For years, Oklahoma City's lineup data has emphatically made the case for small ball — a tea leaf that NBA analysts (myself included) have read as an indictment of Kendrick Perkins' involvement in traditional lineups with two big men. From a strict performance standpoint, the results have been both consistent and dramatic enough to be essentially unimpeachable; the Thunder play better overall when Perkins isn't clogging up the offense alongside another big man, and both Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison have proved to be more versatile defenders. That leaves Perkins as something of a specialist, lingering so that he might combat Tim Duncan or Dwight Howard in the playoffs, but less generally useful than the alternatives available.
Royce Young of Daily Thunder readily acknowledges all of Perkins' limitations, but nonetheless makes a compelling case for Thunder coach Scott Brooks to keep Perk involved.
So here’s the catch: Brooks knows his team and his players better than anyone and clearly understands you can’t pay Perk $8 million a year and stuff him at the end of the bench and then expect him to give you his heart and soul when you call upon him against four times a year against Howard. So Brooks is being diplomatic. He’s giving Perk his time, keeping him involved and making him feel needed. Because face it: Perk means a whole lot to this team. He really does.
Basketball is a game played by humans. Not by metrics or stats. And while those things are very important to help us learn and understand things better and more clearly, intangible, mysterious things like chemistry and leadership are very real. Because humans have emotions and feelings. And again, basketball is played by humans.
Perk’s voice is one of the loudest on the team, and he’s a player everyone in the locker room loves and respects. As one Thunder player told me recently, Perk is one of the only guys that will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear, and has a way of doing it so that you don’t take offense. I genuinely think a lot of Serge Ibaka’s development is tied to Perk mentoring him. The Thunder’s locker room is as tight and together as ever, and a lot of that starts with Perk who is sort of Papa Thunder.
• Along similar lines, Kevin Arnovitz has categorized every team in the league by its big/small leanings, complete with liner notes for the specifics of each outfit.
• If given the option, good defensive teams prefer for their opponents to take mid-range jumpers; shots at the rim yield too many makes and too many free throws, and those beyond the arc generate too many points. As a result, the best defensive teams generally push opponents away from those zones as much as possible while forcing them to win with intermediate attempts.
Such is the case with the Spurs, who rank sixth in the league in points allowed per possession. That said, J. Gomez of Pounding the Rock sees a problem for San Antonio on the horizon, despite its vast defensive improvements and ability to force opponents into those mid-range looks:
I've been beating on this drum for a long time but I still think this could be the team's Achilles' heel in the playoffs. The Spurs allow both the most amount and the highest percentage on two pointers outside of the painted area in the league. It's by design; I know that. The Spurs need to allow something and letting Serge Ibaka shoot jumpers is better than letting [Russell] Westbrook get to the rim, where he can kick it out for an open three or draw a foul. It's working too, as the Spurs are still very good on defense despite being awful at guarding the mid range, mostly because they deter those good shots by conceding jumpers. But the big, big problem is that the Spurs simply can not adjust.
The bigs are too slow to hedge and recover on pick and pops or really contest after the perimeter defender chases his guy off the three point line. In a playoff game decided by a few points, allowing players that have proven they can hit a J to take a completely unguarded one could be deadly. The only solution I can think of is going with a lineup that can switch everything, but that's not a good idea for more than a couple of possessions at a time. Let's hope Pop [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich] finds a way to solve that huge chink in the Spurs' armor.
• It's well established at this point that Boston has little use for offensive rebounds; transition defense has been prioritized to the point that the Celtics finish last in offensive rebounding percentage without much care. But what of their work on the defensive glass?
• A fun read from Steve McPherson of Hardwood Paroxysm on transcendent basketball talent, Super Mario Bros. and the team concept.
• Stop me if you've heard this one before: Injury has caused the incredibly effective Kyle Lowry to lose his starting spot.
• Tom Ziller waves the flag for DeMarcus Cousins, one of the NBA's best young players and most interesting characters:
Boogie began the year suspended by Paul Westphal for screaming at the coach, and ends the year suspended by Keith Smart for screaming at the coach. Seems about right. In between, he made all those dummies who said he'd eat himself out of the league during the lockout eat their words; in 2011-12, he was probably the best of the 2010 lottery picks despite being taken No. 5. (Greg Monroe, No. 7, can make a claim to the title as well.) Cousins has also been suspended for approaching Spurs analyst Sean Elliott "in a hostile manner" after some predictably silly comments made on a broadcast, as well as for racking up too many technicals and popping O.J. Mayo in the drawers. Banner year for Boogie.
• Even after some early struggles, there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Dorell Wright's season in Philadelphia.