Welcome to the most evenly matched opponents in this ’96 Sonics vs. ’12 Thunder debate. Ervin "Tragic" Johnson and game-changing center Kendrick Perkins.
You thought. These are sad times. Instead, Ladies and Gentlemen, you get to witness Ervin "The Foul" Johnson (he averaged more fouls than points for the last six seasons of his career) against Kendrick "The Scowl" Perkins. Elbows will fly, 5-foot hook shots will miss, there will be fumbled passes galore, and growling will commence.
Ervin Johnson, the man of produce-stocking fame, and Kendrick Perkins, the foremost professional frowner, are more alike than not. Born literally 200 miles from each other in the deep south of the United States, Perk and EJ were made from the same, no offense-all defense-some rebounding mold.
Sonics vs Thunder
Sonics vs Thunder
After three years in the NBA, Johnson was brought into a starting role with the Sonics team that drafted him. As you can guess, he was not an impact player. He was given spot duty at 18 minutes per game, while "Big Smooth" Sam Perkins finished most games. During the ’96 season Johnson was strictly a big body, averaging 5.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game. He caught flack for his relative ineffectiveness during the season, especially during the playoffs, enough that by the summer of ’96, Ervin had moved on from Seattle, replaced by the immortal Jim McIlvaine. He helped lose a franchise.
Universally seen as another coup from Thunder GM Sam Presti, the Jeff Green-for-Kendrick Perkins trade was supposed to give the Thunder post defense and championship experience. It started out that way. They even plowed through the Lakers’ twin towers on their way to the Finals. Slowly and surely Perkins's plodding offense and declining defense started to show. Too bad he fooled the Thunder brass, because their refusal to amnesty Perk surely led to James Harden being traded for peanuts. He’s helping to kill a franchise.
Their raw statistics are nearly identical:
It’s the advanced stats that provide the small separation:
Ervin was at least a net positive on both ends of the floor (ORtg and DRtg). One area does jump out, though: blocks. EJ was a much superior shot blocker looking at both their block percentages and blocks per 36 minutes.
Johnson was more mobile at this point in their careers, given Perkins’s shoulder and leg injuries. That could get EJ a few easy baskets on 2012 Perk’s floor bound defense. EJ’s shot blocking gives him enough of an edge to beat Perkins’s hands-of-stone offense. It’s an ugly contest. Literally.
In their 20 minutes per game, non-focal point battle, you have to give the edge to Ervin Johnson. Barely.