There's no doubt about it: Steven Adams will be set for a decrease in minutes this season. That's not to say that Adams will lose his starting spot, or even that the coaches aren't happy with his game. Instead, there simply isn't enough time to go around. Enes Kanter also plays the center position, and was signed to a max contract over the off-season. As such, Kanter is guaranteed playing time. Unfortunately, Adams and Kanter simply aren't effective when put on the floor together, so they'll always have to play in opposite lineups. Furthermore, Serge Ibaka may spend some time at center.
It's not all doom and gloom for Adams' 2015-16 campaign though. Adams was able to finish last season very strong, starting the last 17 games of the season with averages of 9 points, 9 rebounds, a steal, and a block per game. His efficiency during that time was top notch as well, with Funaki shooting over 53% from the field and only committing one turnover per game. That momentum carried into this pre-season, where Adams was able to average 10 points per game on a ridiculous 70% from the field.
Given those stats, we're starting to understand the niche of Steven Adams. The hustle has always been there, but over the past year Adams has become a much better rebounder and scorer. A good way of putting it is that Adams is a classical jack of all trades. Adams can score around the basket well, but only has a couple of moves. Low post strength certainly serves Adams well, but he's not as big as players like DeMarcus Cousins or Andre Drummond. Lastly, Adams hustle really helps him out in terms of rebounds, but he doesn't completely abandon his defensive game to chase the ball. In one word, Adams is just solid.
At just 22 years old, Adams still has plenty of room to refine his technique. This year, Adams will likely be focusing on the short baby hook shot. Adams learned the shot from former center Kendrick Perkins, but used it extensively during the pre-season. By contrast, Adams has almost entirely given up on the 12 foot jumper. Former Thunder coach Scott Brooks encouraged Adams to shoot outside of the paint, but it's apparent that current coach Billy Donovan doesn't share that same philosophy.
However, Adams will definitely have to get his free throw technique down if he wants to be truly effective. Adams shot 50% from the charity stripe last season, ranking amongst the worst players in the league. At just three attempts a game, Adams inefficiency from the line isn't devastating. But every point counts, and it was encouraging to see Adams shoot 62% from the line during the pre-season. It's obvious that Funaki's technique is improving, and he doesn't have any wild misses.
In terms of lineups, Adams will likely be expected to start. Simply put, Adams is the best defensive option at center. Offense isn't a concern, because KD, Westbrook, and Ibaka are perfectly capable of carrying an offense on their own. As such, Adams will take on a complimentary role. It will be Steven's job to score in the paint when the defense is sagging, set hard screens, grab key rebounds, protect the paint, and hustle up and down the court. The shots won't be there every single night, but Adams doesn't need to score in order for the Thunder to succeed.
Of course, Adams isn't exactly the type of player to demand the ball. In fact, Adams should be considered an extremely solid teammate. Steven hustles while he's on the floor, and is always talking with teammates on the bench. If you need examples of Adams' relationship with his team, just look to this off-season. Here's a picture of Adams chilling with Nick Collison:
Cheeky boat trip for the boys pic.twitter.com/zpibo7W9LG— Steven Adams (@RealStevenAdams) July 19, 2015
The Thunder's stars have a respect for Steven Adams as well. I mean, Russell Westbrook literally dressed up as Steven Adams for Halloween this year. Given that Russell Westbrook is the only NBA player that's well known in the fashion world, that's an extremely big compliment.
These pictures are fun and silly, but they're symbolic of a deeper connection that Steven Adams is forming with his teammates. The pictures also highlight Steven's irreverent sense of humor, which definitely helps his likability among teammates and fans.
Even though Adams will see his minutes decline, this will be the first year that he's starting on a successful team. If Adams continues to play the same way he has for the past two seasons, there's definitely a role for him. And if Adams can start developing some sort of offensive game, then that's just icing on the cake.