Reader Nick sent this whole piece in to me. He said in the email that he was just putting together a spreadsheet out of his own curiosity and then decided to write a bit of it out. And as a result, this column happened. So have a read. Pretty interesting stuff.
I think everybody would agree that the Thunder have been a different team since Kendrick Perkins joined the team. Many would cite the group’s newfound toughness and refusal to back down (not to mention their increased penchant to pick up Ts) as the major way the team has changed. I thought it would be interesting to take a more statistical look at how Perkins has changed the team. Much of this stuff has been discussed in the comments section here and there, but I thought it would be good to put a bunch of stuff it in one place.
First, let’s take a look at the team as a whole. The consensus at the time of the trade was that the Thunder were giving up offense for defense by swapping two offensive players (Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic) for two defensive players (Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka) in the starting lineup. As such, one would expect the Thunder to be a stalwart defensively and struggle offensively since the trade. Um, no. Before Perk (or BP as I’ll refer to it from here on out, for convenience sake and because it makes Perkins seem like a savior), the Thunder had a solid ORTG of 110.6 and a decent DRTG of 107.7.
Over the course of the entire season, those numbers would be good for 8th and 16th in the league respectively. After Perk (AP for short and savior connotations) the Thunder has an ORTG of 114.0 and a DRTG of 104.8. Over the course of the entire season, those numbers would be good for 1st (!) and 7th in the league. So the Thunder has gone from a good offensive and decent defensive team to an offensive juggernaut that also plays good defense. Not quite what you would expect from trading for a guy with a PER of 10 on the season. Not only with the Thunder’s ORTG AP be best in the NBA over the course of the season, it wouldn’t even be close – Denver ranks first in the NBA with an ORTG of 112.1 on the season. Not quite what you would expect from trading for a guy with a PER of 10 on the year.
Of course, there’s a lot more to the trade than swapping Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic for Kendrick Perkins. The trade has opened up a big hole in the Thunder’s offense that had to be filled by someone other than the guy coming from Boston (unless you really like awkward, slow postups and lots of turnovers). That responsibility has mostly fallen on the shoulders of James Harden, and suffice it to say he’s been terrific. Check out the table below for Harden’s stats before and after the trade (this includes the games before Perkins actually started playing).
Basically, Harden has been terrific across the board. Some numbers especially worth highlighting:
- Harden has managed to up his TS% from 59.2% to 61.6% while taking on an increased load (evidenced by his increase in USG from 17.9 to 23.0). That’s cool.
- Harden has managed this increased efficiency despite the fact that he’s had an abnormally difficult time from 3PT range. So his efficiency could be even better, which is kind of a scary thought.
- That linear PER (an estimation of PER, which can’t really be calculated for splits like this) would rank Harden 5th amongst all shooting guards for the season. So we have a potential top 5 SG coming off the bench (the logic of that can be questioned, but that’s a discussion for another day. Or for every single day in the comments section).
- James Harden is awesome. That’s not a number or anything, I just felt like adding that in there.
The trade hasn’t just had a beneficial effect on Harden though. One doesn’t need a bunch of numbers to see the effect Perk has had on Serge Ibaka, but I’ll give you the numbers anyway. Take a look at the table below for Ibaka’s number BP and AP.
These numbers actually suggest something a little different to me – that Serge Ibaka was a hell of a player even before Perk showed up, and he damn well deserved to be the starting PF on this team. Most of his numbers since Perk arrived have actually fallen pretty much in line with his numbers BP on a per minute basis. In fact, Ibaka has actually struggled slightly offensively AP in comparison with his efficiency numbers BP.
This isn’t incredibly surprising given the increased load Ibaka has taken on (note the increase in USG), but Ibaka hasn’t been able to buck the trend of losing some efficiency with a greater load the way Harden has. Of course, the major effect that Perk has had on Ibaka has been on the other end of the floor. Most of these numbers don’t show that effect, but one of them does: blocks. Since Perk started playing, Serge has averaged a ridiculous 3.9 blocks per 36 minutes. That’s absurd. For reference, the league leader in blocks per 36 minutes on the season is none other than Serge Ibaka at 3.2 blocks per 36 minutes. So Serge has gone from the best per minute shot blocker in the league to the WAY best per minutes shot blocker in the league. This is the part where I mention that Serge Ibaka is awesome.
I think that summarizes the major statistical changes in the Thunder resulting from the Perkins trade. Its also worth noting that, after a bit of a rocky start, the Thunder superstars haven’t really lost anything since Perk arrived. To back that statement up with one number, the linear PER for Russell Westbrook has gone from 24.0 BP to 22.0 AP, while the linear PER from Kevin Durant has gone from 23.7 BP to 24.2 AP. Westbrook has fallen off a little, but there have been encouraging signs in the past few games and the dropoff has been pretty minimal. Durant, meanwhile, has actually played slightly better in terms of linear PER since Perk started playing.
So, to summarize – Harden and Ibaka have been better, and Durant and Westbrook haven’t really lost anything. Sounds pretty awesome. And that’s before you even factor in the sheer badassery brought by Perkins and all the other effects Perk has had that can’t be adequately measured statistically. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say this was a pretty good trade.