Playoff disappointments (so far)
Tales of the NBA postseason are largely centered on players who have raised their game and produced memorable performances. But inevitably, there are also those who are taken out of their element by the tactics and pressure of a seven-game series. Disappointments are common with stakes this high and teams this engaged. Here’s a look at a few of the players who have fallen short of expectations so far. (The focus is mainly on players whose teams remain alive, while players who have been in and out of the lineup with injuries during the postseason were excluded.)
Kendrick Perkins, Oklahoma City Thunder
Perkins’ basketball appeal is rooted in the highly specific and the deeply intangible. In regard to the former, Perkins is a situational option to defend the NBA’s true post threats such as Dwight Howard and Tim Duncan as the Thunder fight through the Western Conference bracket. As to the latter, much of Perkins’ value is alleged to exist beyond the box score, where his presence alone is said to contribute to the ethos and personality of this tenacious Oklahoma City team.
But over the course of these playoffs — and the first two games against Memphis, in particular — most of Perkins’ hypothetical value has been negated. A series against the pace-pushing Rockets appeared to be a horrible fit for Perkins’ skill set from the start, but this second-round matchup with the Grizzlies looked to be one of the increasingly rare opportunities for the 28-year-old to ply his trade as an interior stopper. Facing Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, one of the most effective low-block combinations in the league, would seem to lend value to a player capable of grappling in the post and contesting shots around the rim.
That just hasn’t been the case. Perkins has failed to translate his defensive strengths to the Thunder’s ongoing battle with the grit-and-grind Grizz. The majority of Perkins’ defensive work has come against Gasol, who has managed to pull Perkins out from his comfort zone by operating farther from the basket and scoring over the top of Perkins when he works closer to the rim. Gasol has shot 58.8 percent from the field when the two have shared the floor in the first two games.
Without that specific utility, Perkins becomes too much of a liability for coach Scott Brooks to justify his 30 minutes or so of playing time. The Thunder are already sustaining huge losses offensively just by having him on the court. Memphis’ defenders understand that Perkins’ touching the ball is among the best possible results of a given possession, as he’s shooting only 33.3 percent (8-of-24) in the postseason and turning the ball over more frequently than any other active postseason player (4.5 per 36 minutes).
Two-game sample sizes can be dangerous for making statistical assertions, but the data could not be more definitive in terms of Perkins’ destructive offensive value against Memphis. The gap between the Thunder’s production in this series with Perkins on the court (81.7 points per 100 possessions) and off the court (124.5) represents a swing from a worse-than-league-worst offense to a hyper-potent, bucket-getting machine. Even if Perkins does have some intangible effect on a team scrapping through games without the injured Russell Westbrook, what’s the value of those intangibles if the cost is such a massive drop in offensive efficiency?
J.R. Smith, New York Knicks
Smith may be a streak shooter, but this current run of misses seems extreme even by his standards. In four games since returning from a one-game suspension for elbowing Boston’s Jason Terry, Smith has converted only 26.2 percent (15-of-57) from the field while attempting an average of 14.3 shots. The Sixth Man Award winner has been rendered almost useless by stout perimeter defense and a particularly rough shooting stretch.
It’s at times like these that Smith’s shot selection becomes worthy of genuine frustration. He’s long been one for prowess over process, offering redemptive value in his ability to hit difficult, low-percentage shots rather than participate in smart, well-conceived offense. When Smith is bucking the odds to actually score on those looks, he provides New York a valuable alternative after its initial play actions go awry. But when he’s consuming a chunk of field-goal attempts on par with that of LeBron James or Duncan while making only half as many shots, those contested fadeaways become a legitimate sore spot for the Knicks’ offense.
Shane Battier, Miami Heat
Battier has done characteristically fine defensive work this postseason, where he’s been asked to fill a variety of challenging roles so that he might allow the Heat to run small in spots and save James the trouble of having to wrestle with more physical big men. The Heat defense just wouldn’t be the same without Battier’s tireless efforts to push out and box out bigger opponents, to say nothing of the value provided by his consistent rotations and timely traps.
But Battier’s offensive game has slimmed so dramatically over the years that his value waxes and wanes with his three-point makes and misses. When on point, Battier is a valuable member of Miami’s floor-stretching core, capable of punishing a tilting defense like Chicago’s with back-breaking threes from the weak-side corner. During this postseason, however, Battier’s long-range attempts have risen while his percentage has plummeted. After shooting a terrific 43 percent from deep in the regular season, he has hit only 25 percent (7-for-28) in the playoffs. His struggles have reached a point where he’s occasionally passing up shot attempts that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra would likely want him to take.
Opponents won’t consciously ignore Battier as he waits patiently in the corner, but at this point they’re more inclined to help off him to contest James or Dwyane Wade and live with the consequences.
Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks
In fairness, Chandler was set back by missing 16 of the final 20 regular-season games with a bulging disk in his neck, so his inclusion here could come with an asterisk. Still, it’s been startling to see just how limited the 30-year-old center has been at times. He appears to be a shadow of his former self in most every aspect of the game: Chandler’s help defense has been oddly sloppy; his massively important rolls to the rim have been denied by well-prepared defenders; he has rebounded against the Pacers (in grabbing just 6.9 percent of total rebounds) roughly as well as a decent guard might; and even the boiling anger in his game seems strangely cooled.
He’s had his bright moments in both series, but Chandler is typically among the more dependable Knicks when it comes to the value of his offensive role and the timing of his defensive work. He just hasn’t been able to offer anything resembling that consistent impact so far.
Andre Miller, Denver Nuggets
Forgive me for digging into the ranks of the eliminated, but the active postseason pool is fairly short on notably underwhelming players. That leaves Miller room to make a cameo. The 37-year-old was the unquestioned star of Game 1 of Denver’s first-round series with Golden State, punctuating his 28-point effort with the game-winning layup in traffic. One of the best playoff showings of his career proved to be a worthy occasion to celebrate a cerebral, unappreciated guard who has settled nicely into a bench role.
From that point on, though, the series unraveled for Miller and the Nuggets. His best outing the rest of the way came in Game 2, when the Warriors blew it open in the third quarter and Miller scored more than half of his points once the game was slipping away or was already out of reach. He then became a harmful offensive player in each of the next four games, missing on desperate runners and blatant attempts to draw contact. Even if Miller gets the benefit of the doubt for that decent Game 2 outing, he shot only 34 percent (18-of-53) in the final five games, registered nearly as many turnovers as assists and played an active role in the defensive struggles that doomed Denver.
Those performances come footnoted with the understanding that the Nuggets badly needed a spark, and Miller — who had supplied just such a boost in Game 1 — was trying his damnedest to give his team one. But in that effort he wound up submarining Denver’s scoring by 10.6 points per 100 possessions when on the floor in those final five games and doing precious little to facilitate the offense in the ways expected.
Statistical support for this post provided by NBA.com.