Last offseason’s biggest concern was pretty much the same as this year’s is. For all of the depth the Thunder possessed in their backcourt, the talent started thinning out rather quickly as you moved up to the 4 and 5 positions. Granted, they had an emerging star, and defensive nightmare in Serge Ibaka, who’s offensive skills were beginning to develop as well. But past him, they had no one that was going to achieve anything remotely close to All-Star status.
Now some people might look at that and say, “Well, All-Stars at the 4 and 5 spots are hard to come by.” That is true. However, NBA Championships without an All-Star in either the 4 or 5 spots are hard to come by as well. Don’t believe me? Name the last NBA Championship squad that didn’t have an All-Star caliber player in either the 4 or 5 positions. This year’s San Antonio Spurs had Tim Duncan at the 4. The 2012 and 2013 Miami Heat had Chris Bosh at the 4 position. The 2011 Dallas Mavericks had Dirk Nowitzki at the 4 spot. The 2009 and 2010 Los Angeles Lakers had Pau Gasol at the 4. The 2008 Boston Celtics saw Kevin Garnett finally lock down his ring when he played the 4 position. The 2007 San Antonio Spurs saw Tim Duncan at the 4 spot that year as well. Yes. You actually have to go all the way back to the 2006 Miami Heat, when Dwayne Wade caught fire in an NBA Finals that saw them down 3-1, and on the verge of elimination. Had Wade not exploded for points when he did, the 2006 NBA Champions would have been the Dallas Mavericks, who had Dirk Nowitzki playing at the 4 spot that year too. And while the 2006 Miami Heat did have a roster boasting Alonzo Mourning and Shaq, it was at a time when both players were clearly in their twilight years.
While Ibaka is becoming that All-Star for the Thunder at the 4, their goal of the 2013 NBA draft was to get him some better help in the post. Therefore, with the 12th pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, the Thunder selected Steven Adams out of Pittsburgh. At the time, he came out of Pitt as a very raw prospect who had an incredibly high ceiling. The question was if he would be able to live up to all of that potential. So now the question becomes, is he currently living up to his potential as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder? I guess I’ll go ahead and take a look at his body of work to this point.
Offensive Grade: C
A lot of the reason he’s posting this grade really doesn’t have as much to do with his lack of skills as much as it has to do with his lack of opportunity to display said skills. He doesn’t even total a full 15 minutes per game when he plays. And when he is on the court, if it’s at the same time Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are on the court, he usually won’t even get so much as a look his way, much less a pass down low. That’s a lot of the reason he only averages 2.3 shot attempts per game. His career shooting percentage, however, is 50.3%. He has shown an ability to throw it down when given the opportunity. The biggest knock on his offense coming out of Pitt was that his inexperience had left him without any moves to utilize in the low post. I don’t see how the man can be expected to work on his post game when his hands rarely ever see the ball.
Key for improvement – This one will be a significant key as well. His practices at this point would best be spent working on his low post game. He doesn’t really have one at all, so even the simple addition of a consistent hook shot would turn Adams into more of an offensive threat. A consistent turnaround jumper when he can’t gain any ground in the low post would certainly help as well. But the biggest thing his offensive game needs at this point is simple guidance. Once he learns how to position himself near the paint to best benefit from low post passes that get turned into easy dunks, he’s going to be a nightmare for opposing players at that end of the court as well. All he needs is time and practice.
Defensive Grade: A-
Some might say I’ve marked his defensive grade a bit higher than I should have. Let me tell you why I disagree, and why I feel Adams has outright earned that A-. Again, his minutes on the court were extremely limited, seeing as it was his rookie season, and the Thunder didn’t want to risk putting more on his plate than they thought he could handle. His exact minutes average was 14.8 a game. In that tiny slice of time, Adams’ rebound average per game? 4.1. That means that if Adams has been on the court for 4 minutes, odds are he’s already collected a rebound. His 7’5″ wingspan pretty much assures that he is going to be a nightmare to contend for boards with for pretty much the entirety of his NBA career. And just the sheer amount of physical punishment he took from opposing players says everything you need to know about his defensive game. He even managed to get Zach Randolph suspended for Game 7 of the opening round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs when his defense got under Randolph’s skin to the point where Randolph just hauled off and punched him right in the jaw. And as far as I’m concerned, if the defense he plays prompts opposing players to try to physically hurt him, then he must be doing some thing right.
Key for improvement – Honestly, he needs to work on his low post game at both ends of the floor. Although grasping low post defense is a lot more simple, and just outright easier. At 255 lbs. he’s got a good amount of weight to him. Granted, he could probably put on a few more pounds, but he may not want to do that if it ends up hurting his foot speed. The Thunder need him to be able to be able to get back to the other end of the floor quickly, and if putting on weight hurts that, then he shouldn’t bother. 255 lbs. is heavy enough to keep from giving up floor space in the low post. All he really needs to learn down there are the techniques required to keep you from giving up floor space. Honestly, he may already have a good grasp of what he needs to do in the low post on defense, he may just not be getting enough opportunities to work on it.
Intangibles: A+ At the end of the day, his only goals are self-improvement, and improvement of cohesiveness with his team. As a coach, getting a player like this is the dream scenario. You know all you have to do is teach him the fundamentals, because he already self-motivates. He’s the type of player that you know, as a coach, all you have to do is watch his progress, and give him tips where he can use them.
Key for improvement – I’m not sure if there is any way for him to improve in this regard. He already has all of the intangibles any coach could ask for out of a player. He takes coaching extremely well, is deeply committed to improvement, and just wants to work on his game and get better. Add all of that to his high ceiling, and you’re looking at a player with the potential to dominate the 5 spot outright once his development is complete.
Overall Grade: B+ I think it’s safe to say he’s earned this grade. What he’s accomplished as a rookie in his limited minutes has put him on the radars of almost every NBA fan. You could see his game improve as the season progressed, and he became more comfortable in his role. If he takes a couple more significant jumps in his talent level, it’s going to be hard to keep Larry O’Brien trophies away from Oklahoma City limits.