The Thunder are Now Contenders: Does Kendrick Perkins Deserve All the Credit?

Back in February the Oklahoma City Thunder sent Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson.  At the time of this move, I expected the Thunder to be much improved.  In fact, I argued the Thunder might now be contenders.  

Since this move, the Thunder have been 19-6.  The team’s efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) has also improved from 2.6 before the trade to 7.3 since.  In other words, the Thunder are now contenders.

So how did this happen?

People have focused on Kendrick Perkins.  After all, Perkins won a title with the Celtics.  So he is a winner.  And having winners help teams win.  Right?

Certainly Perkins has helped.  But not because he has been “good”,  but rather he has replaced someone who was very unproductive.  As the following table indicates, Perkins’ WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] has been 0.067 with the Thunder (average WP48 is 0.100).  But since Perkins replaces Krstic – who had a WP48 of -0.056 – adding Perkins makes the Thunder better.

But I don’t think the Perkins addition is the only reason this team has improved.  At the bottom of the above table is Jeff Green.  Green’s WP48 is -0.033.  And with Green in Boston, the Thunder have been forced to start Serge Ibaka at power forward (Ibaka has started every game for the Thunder since February 25). 

As the above table indicates, Ibaka is the third most productive player on the Thunder for the entire season.  But let’s look at what’s happened since Ibaka moved permanently into the starting line-up.  The following table reports what the Thunder players have produced across the past 25 games:

Since the trade, Ibaka has been the second most productive player in terms of Wins Produced.  And in terms of WP48, he is leading the team.  In essence, the Thunder have managed to swap Green for Ibaka (certainly this is true with respect to the starting line-up)   Such a move has vaulted the Thunder from a team that would have had trouble getting out of the first round of the playoffs to a team that can now contend with the best in the West.

Let me close by re-iterating the other benefit of the trade.  As we have noted recently in this forum, productive players do help a team win games. But not playing unproductive players also helps.  Prior to the trade, the Thunder allocated nearly 3,000 minutes to players whose WP48 was in the negative range.  Since the trade the team has only given 114 minutes to these players. 

So yes, adding Perkins has helped some.  But the increased time given to Ibaka – coupled with the removal of very unproductive players from the team — has been the big story in Oklahoma City.  So next time someone goes on and on about Perkins in Oklahoma City, remember the name Ibaka (and also, where Green and Krstic are now sitting). 

- DJ

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