I’m sure the Thunder had the same plan for Steven Adams that all NBA teams have for their newly acquired rookies. They usually have minutes worked into their rotation little by little to get them used to just how quickly an NBA game can move, and just how much wind you need to simply keep up at times. This is especially true of big men, who usually carry so much weight that it takes everything they’ve got to put kinetic force behind that weight. Big men who can streak down a court as fast as Blake Griffin are extremely rare, so making sure you’re big men aren’t getting too winded is a concern of any NBA coach who relies on a transition game.
This wasn’t too much of a concern for Scott Brooks until one of his most reliable bigs, Serge Ibaka, went down with a calf injury that is expected to keep him out for the remainder of the 2014 postseason. This injury is huge, as Ibaka was easily the Thunder big who logged the most minutes at 32.9 a game. No other Thunder big man logged even 20 a game, including Kendrick Perkins.
Even with Ibaka’s contributions on defense, a strong combination of Perkins, Adams, Nick Collison, and to a lesser extent Hasheem Thabeet can make up for the loss of Ibaka defensively. But what can be done about the offensive contributions the Thunder are set to lose with Ibaka sidelined? Ibaka averaged 15.1 points a game on offense, something no other Thunder big even came close to achieving. The second highest scoring Thunder big is actually Nick Collison with 4.2 a game. It looks as though the Thunder will be losing a lot of rebounding too, as Ibaka averaged 8.8 a game. The next best is Perkins with 4.9, followed by Adams’ 4.1.
Although it can be argued that Ibaka gets almost twice the time per game to put up numbers as well, so the rebounding numbers can actually be rendered pretty insignificant using that logic. And actually, if you take minutes out of the equation altogether, and look strictly at shooting percentages, Ibaka’s 53.6% is actually outdone by Collison’s 55.6% and Hasheem Thabeet’s 56.3 %. (It’s just, good luck trying to find Thabeet’s clumsy self an open look.) Adams’ is actually only slightly lower at 50.3%.
That’s when you take a look at the PIE or Player Impact Estimate stat. This stat is basically a percentage that is given that is that players supposed impact on the overall game. This is where you see the impact Ibaka’s injury could have on this team. Ibaka’s PIE was 12.4% over the course of the regular season. The next closest was Collison with a 7.3%. Hell, Thabeet’s was actually a -0.5%. Adams’ was a 5.2%, actually higher than Perkins’ 4.2%. So while experience alone means that Collison is going to be the captain of the big men going forward, his performance, to me, won’t mean as much as Adams’ will.
Obviously Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler will be looked to step up at the offensive end, but all I’m saying is that this could be an excellent opportunity to get a rapidly developing big man in Adams some extended minutes and experience. If he’s got the wind for it, this could be the perfect opportunity for him to push his way into the starting lineup on a much more permanent basis. In nearly 40 minutes of play in Game 6 of the Clippers series, Adams posted a 10-point, 11-rebound double-double. His last performance alone shows the world of potential this kid is holding. The injury to Ibaka could end up being a blessing in disguise for the Thunder. Where some see only bad news, I see opportunity. This is an opportunity to tap into that reservoir of potential that is Steven Adams, and accelerate his development even quicker.
But we all know one thing for sure, Steven Adams is about to see his role expand. Is he up to the task? Stay tuned.