Steven Adams Is Crucial For Thunder’s Success


Steven Adams doesn’t get a lot of attention or praise. That seems to be just fine for the modest New Zealander, who tends to keep to himself. The most attention he gets is the development of his facial hair. His numbers aren’t flashy and neither is his game, but his importance to the Oklahoma City Thunder can’t be understated. The stars of the team are Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, but there’s no denying that the Thunder juggernaut isn’t the same without the Kiwi.

Drafted 12th out of Pittsburgh with the pick received from the Houston Rockets in the infamous James Harden trade, Adams was expected to be the long-term replacement for the much-maligned Kendrick Perkins. Somewhat of an unknown quantity when he arrived in Oklahoma, the big man came in as a very raw but talented prospect for a team on the brink of a Championship run.

Funaki has become something of a cult hero in his time in Oklahoma City. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Perkins’ limitations saw Adams steal his starting job last season, and the former Boston veteran was shipped out as part of the trade that landed Enes Kanter, who would come in to provide an offensive punch and some competition for the starting spot.

Adams’ progression at both ends has seen him keep his place however, and he has come a long way in just a few years. His initial days as a rookie saw him as somewhat of a foul machine, constantly finding himself racking up fouls on the defensive end while also struggling heavily in learning pick-and-roll coverage.

However now he has become somewhat of a defensive lynchpin for the Thunder’s struggling defense so far this season. His foul rate per 36 minutes has dropped from 6.1 in his first year to 4.6 this season, whilst his blocks have jumped from 1.7 to 2.7 this campaign. This includes four against Toronto and five against Phoenix when he dominated the paint defensively.

His bromance with Nick Collison seems to have paid dividends, and he is now a very good pick-and-roll defender. Their aforementioned bromance is so strong that their handshake is now included on NBA 2k16:

All jokes aside though, Adams deserves a lot of credit. He’s not a particularly strong rebounder for his position at present, but you don’t have to be when surrounded by Durant, Ibaka, Westbrook and Kanter. He’s also become very productive as a roll man and has shown some nice touches and hook shots around the basket.

Counter arguments on OKC’s center can be that he only possesses current averages of 6.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. But, quite simply, Adams is not asked to average a double-double on any given night. If Oklahoma City is an orchestra, Adams keeps time in as drums in the background while his teammates trumpet their way to bigger stat lines.

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He forms a superb duo with  Ibaka, and the Thunder are at their best defensively with those two on the floor. The Thunder’s offensive talent means they can put up points on anybody, and the team’s current defensive struggles only increase Adams’ value.

Oklahoma City posts an offensive rating of 107.8 thus far this season, and 106.7 with Adams on the court. But it’s on the defensive end where Adams effects are truly felt. On the season the Thunder are posting a defensive rating of 101.5, but it drops to 95.9 with Adams on the floor. That’s significant, and even more so by the fact these are against starters and not reserves.

There’s validity to the argument that Kanter might be better used in the starting line up with Adams helping the second unit sort themselves out defensively, but the reality is the team is much better with the Kiwi as a big part of it. It’s no coincidence that the Thunder lost to the Bulls from a position of strength after he departed with back soreness.

General manager Sam Presti made a point of highlighting Adams as a core member of the franchise in the preseason availability at the start of the season. He’s only beginning his third season in the NBA and he’s cemented himself as a key part of a contender in the Western Conference. If he’s already improved this much, how much better and more complete can he get?

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