It’s no news to anyone around the NBA community that Steven Adams struggled for the Thunder last year. His young age, confidence level, and constant pressure to setup Russell Westbrook for success can be factored in to his decline last season. Real Ball Insiders Corban Ford-Watson and David-Scott give you their personal takes on the situation, and how the coming NBA season could be one of resurgence for the once rising center.
Steven Adams is an interesting yet integral part of the Thunder’s potential success. When he was first drafted 12th overall in 2013, Stevens was looked at as a project big man, with substantial upside but little overall feel for the game as well as dreadful at free throws. However in his first three seasons, Adams really showcased an attribute package that cemented him as part of the Thunder’s future plans moving forward. Adams has certainly put in the work, with an increase in both points per game and free throw percentage since he’s been in the league. He has also shown in proficiency in the pick and roll game, with his soft hands and ability to finish inside. And with plays like this:
However he didn’t appear to be the dominant rim roller that he was the season before, the beast that attacked the glass last season didn’t seem to be there quite as often (even though he did increase his rebounding average). During the playoffs his play fell off even further, as he only averaged 8 points on only 28 shots, joining the rest of the Thunder who shied away from giving Westbrook additional help. Harden ate him alive as he sliced his way to the rim or danced around him (and others) for jumpers. His free throw shooting fell to 36%, and he was largely a non-factor through the 5 games. Although he did give us this sequence, that simply needs to be given more credit:
So what happened?
One could chalk up Adam’s struggles to exhaustion, or the increased attention the Rockets were able to give him, after spending the last three postseasons with a Kevin Durant to alleviate most of that pressure. Another factor is simply the play style of Westbrook in his first season post-Durant. Westbrook was helped by Adams; the big man would clear the lanes so he could soar in for rebounds. That required a sacrifice by Adams on the glass. Adams also had to deal with the lack of spacing on the floor as the defense was easily able to cheat off of the Thunder’s perimeter players and cut off his rumble down the lane. Since his post game is a distant second to his pick and roll action, Adams had a rough learning curve. However with the addition of Paul George and Patrick Patterson, the floor should be more spread and give Adams more of an opportunity to do damage inside.
Defensively, having George and Patterson on the defensive end will help Adams lock down the inside even better. He said it himself at the end of the season:
“I was used to having Serge. He cleans up a lot of the stuff. So the main thing was, for me, what I learned was that I have to be more, I guess, aggressive and stop them…I don’t really like challenging at the rim.”
Look for Adams to be more comfortable in this role come the start of next season.
Nevertheless, it has to be considered that Adams is still just 24. He’s under contract through 2021; there is still a lot of time to grow, and we can expect Adams to do just that. Whether he continues to grow with Westbrook moving forward or becomes the new centerpiece for the Thunder in the coming years, Steven Adams will be a productive big man moving forward. It will be a pleasure to continue following his development this upcoming season and beyond.
Ever since his inaugural season, its been quite clear that Adams may just be the future big man for Oklahoma City. Its never been doubted that Adams is capable of his job description, and to be honest the kiwi plays it off quite well. Finishing around the hoop and converting off of second chance opportunities are his strong suit. He makes locking down the interior look easy as he can simply finish and dunk without taking a foot off of the ground, and has consistently allowed the Thunder’s best offensive lineups to thrive off of both offensive and defensive rebounding superiority.
But why did the past season belittle Adams’ image and make him seem as an unconfident and timid big that he isn’t meant to be? Well just as Corban listed, there’s a string of reasons that could have piled one after another to add to his seemingly lackluster season performance.
To start off, losing Durant undoubtedly took away both confidence and morale from not only Adams, but the entire roster. No one knew what the season would hold, what Westbrook would be able to accomplish, and if playoffs were even in the picture. With that being said, to accomplish nearly anything, the ball had to be constantly fed to Russ for any on-court success to take place, and that played a role in Adams’ season decline. Feeding the ball to a single person can drain the hell out of anyone, and when you go from nearly making the Finals one year, to being punished in the first round the next, it may just hold a person down.
This year will hopefully be a different one for Adams, and with the addition of Paul George, Patterson, Felton, and draft pick Ferguson, a serious load of stress has been taken off the shoulders of the previous OKC roster.
Number one, spacing should NOT be an issue this year. Patterson is considered the ultimate addition not because of his ability to score or convert, but instead, how he will be Westbrook and George’s ultimate pocket tool to create space and offensive opportunities. With that in mind, the constant fear of lack of space and depth for Westbrook to succeed shouldn’t be on Adams’ mind, allowing him to attack the rim, snatch balls away, and be the monster of a player he was born to be.
Next up, defense. Last year, there were numerous times throughout the season where allowing excessive points scored by opponents was an issue. OKC never had any real lockdown defense that ever stood out. Sure, Roberson did his best to keep Harden in his place, and at times he shined for his defensive contributions, but now that George has arrived, there are some serious expectations for those two. It could work out as one of the best lockdown wing pairs in the west, and if so, it’ll just take more pressure off of Adams’ workload, allowing him to contribute even more on offense.
In all seriousness, Adams could become one of the most prominent centers in the league. He’ll never be an Anthony Davis–that’s just not what he’s meant to be. His free throw shooting has been on and off, and for the most part, somewhat rubbish. His mid-range is subpar. BUT, ignore his presence down low, attempt to guard his ferocious drives to the rim, or cease to forget what’s above you as he comes down from a violent, wrist-breaking jam, and you WILL be punished. At just 24 years of age, the Kiwi with an award-winning mustache and the ugliest set of hair of all time should flourish with an upgraded roster, boosted morale, and newfound confidence.