A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

What Kendrick Perkins is doing for the Thunder and The Ben Wallace, Dave Debusschere effect

with 4 comments

Image via USA Today

I’m going to eat some mini crow for the Kendrick Perkins trade. I didn’t post about it on here, but my original reaction was a “calm down” to fans saying the Thunder robbed Boston and now had a title shot. I saw the combined value of Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic’s superior offense due to their range as equally valuable as Perkins D.

Well right now the Thunder are rolling and the Celtics are crumbling. The playoffs will prove how valuable the trade is to both teams, but right now OKC is the one laughing. While switching Green for Perkins has shored up their interior defense, I believe the real impact is intangible. Perkins has become the Thunder’s mental anchor as much as their on court defensive one. He gives them a desperately needed toughness and winning swagger from the center position they needed. He is their on court defensive leader and makes no qualms calling out his younger teammates if they make a mistake defensively. He’s brought the Thunder together defensively. What it reminds me of is Ben Wallace.

In his prime Big Ben was the best defender and rebounder in the league. But I believe the real reason he was the key to the Pistons 04 title and 05 trip to the Finals is he was the key of their defensive energy, character and swagger – Which is what made the Pistons what they were. When they lost Ben the Pistons were never the same. The fire wasn’t there when they lost to a vastly inferior Cleveland team in 07 as Lebron scored 29 of his team’s 30 points to end the pivotal Game 5, nor was it against Boston in 08.

You can even go back 40 years and look at the Knicks trading Walt Bellamy for Dave Debusschere. Despite much inferior scoring statistics than Bellamy, trading for Debusschere was the key to the Knicks immediately becoming a powerhouse and winning the ‘70 and ‘73 titles. Like the Wallace Pistons, the Knicks dominated with defense and a complete team mentality and nobody defined this more than Debusschere. The Debusschere trade was a franchise changer in every way because of the intangible impact he brought to the team.

So much of basketball is mental because of how it is a game of inches. What can make a great team into a championship team is minor differences in an approach to a game. A little more togetherness, a little more energy, a little more confidence in the team working. A championship team is one who goes into the playoffs believing they are. It appears have the Perkins trade has helped the Thunder get closer to a championship mentality by making them believe in winning by defense.

Perkins’ tangible impact clearly trails Wallace and Debusschere’s. But I’m seeing a similar effect on the rest of the Thunder as the leader of their toughness and defense – and if the Celtics go down these playoffs and look like the Pistons did without Wallace, the comparison between both losses can be very much drawn. But the real story is what this does for Oklahoma City. For all Sam Presti’s exploits, the Perkins trade could be the key move by giving them the Ben Wallace, Dave Debusschere intangible rock of the team. It’s early to annoint this a championship winning move, but right now it seems impossible to not praise Presti for it.

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Written by jr.

April 1, 2011 at 12:00 am

4 Responses

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  1. I wrote about this at the time, and I’m going to completely reserve judgment until the playoffs (although that will basically be moot if Kristic is out).

    That said, look at OKC’s DRtg with Perkins: 98.7. The Thunder were/are basically an average defensive team without him. They are among the best with him.

    One might say, “well, he’s only playing 24 mpg.” Well, it’s no different than Andrew Bynum in the past — 2/3 of a game (instead of 36 minutes) is still 2/3 of a game, and it changes depth/flexibility of other players. They are 8-1 with Perkins against a soft schedule.

    The games next week against LA and Denver could be revealing.

    ElGee

    April 1, 2011 at 10:54 am

  2. “So much of basketball is mental”

    This year, especially if you’ve been reading ESPN and Wojanarski’s columns and such, basketball is moral. Lebron’s arrogance and hubris is punished by the Heat’s slow start. The Knicks’ covetousness and impatience ends in a careful-what-you-wish-for morality play while the Nuggets flourish. Derrick Rose gets an MVP in part because he’s a squeaky clean hometown hero… Jah help him if the media ever turns on him.

    I guess how this relates to Perkins is, the Celtics ship a beloved player with no warning for depth and to make room for Shaq. Perkins landing on his feet in the feel-good NBA team – it figures.

    Greyberger

    April 1, 2011 at 11:41 am

    • Narratives trump evidence in almost every circumstance.

      If OKC ever becomes perennially successful, my word will the media and fandom turn on them. Underdogs are easy to root for. Overdogs? Not so much.

      Ravenred

      April 1, 2011 at 4:23 pm

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