Let’s face it, Steven Adams’ mustache is ferocious. He came onto the scene early in the 2013-2014 season by making the NBA All Rookie 2nd Team, averaging 8.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.7 BPG along with 1.3 APG and 1.2 SPG per 36 minutes. At 7’0, 250 pounds, the New Zealander has become one of the fan favorites for not only the Oklahoma City Thunder, but also the NBA and basketball fans all across the globe. He replaced Kendrick Perkins as a starter the next season, where he was forced to split some time with Enes Kanter most the season as he continued maturing as a player. Last year, he was a huge factor in the run that the Thunder made to the Western Conference Finals. Now, entering his fourth season, Adams is poised to be one of the top centers in the league.
With the departure of Kevin Durant, the opportunities for a larger role are going to be there. Apart from Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo is the only other player in his way of being one of the top options to touch the ball. He runs well off the pick-and-roll and that will have to be relied upon heavily this season with Westbrook now that Durant is gone (which we saw in glimpses during the Playoffs last year). He’s a versatile player even though his offensive arsenal is still developing but his defensive instincts are exceptional and his court vision makes him a serviceable passer. His game still needs some polishing, but he has made great strides when given the opportunities. With the Thunder trying to figure out what direction they are going in, Adams will now be treated as a fundamental building block.
There are two types of big men in today’s NBA, and Adams has found a way to fit into both categories. Taking out the stretch-4s and three-point shooting centers, Adams has the bulk and physicality of a Marc Gasol, but also the speed and athleticism of a DeAndre Jordan. Adams’ sheer size has made him a presence in the paint, but he still has the ability to jump out of the gym and throw down some increasingly vicious dunks out of the pick-n-role with Westbrook. These two styles of play, along with an incredible motor and willingness to give up the body, have merged into one of the more dynamic big men in the league. And Adams still hasn’t come close to unlocking his full potential.
Replacing Durant is one thing, but Adams will be able to truly help OKC in filling in the gaps left behind by Serge Ibaka. Adams finishes well around the rim and has developed the semblance of a mid-range game, but clogging the paint along with rebounding and running the pick-and-roll is what he’s there for. Adams’ field goal percentage has gone up over that past three season (from 50 percent to 54 percent and 61 percent last year), meaning that he’s learning which shots to take and what his strengths are. He has plenty of areas that he will need to work on with a more important role on the team coming this season, but Adams has showed that he will put in the work to better himself.
Steven Adams was terrific in the Playoffs/Western Conference Finals last year. He averaged 10.1 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 0.8 BPG, 0.7 APG and 0.5 SPG. He and Westbrook looked fantastic with the pick-and-roll, a potential glimpse for OKC fans into the 2016-2017 game plan. He created mismatches across the board and was a big part of the Thunder being able to cause problems for the Warriors on the defensive end. While the stats might not jump out at you, the intangibles are what set Adams apart.
The opportunity is now there and it is up to Adams to take advantage of it. He has a firm grasp on the starting center position and won’t have to worry about competing for front court minutes. With Ibaka and Durant gone, Adams will have to take a larger role both in the flow of the offense, but also as the new defensive anchor. The ability is there and so is the heart and the talent, but the surrounding cast just got weaker with the exception of Westbrook, so now we will find out how much more Adams has to offer. And who knows, maybe when it’s all said and done the NBA community will look back on the James Harden trade not as one of the most lopsided trades in the history of the league because OKC came away with Adams.