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Sounds of Thunder: Oklahoma City big man Steven Adams’ post problems are fundamental

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And they start before he ever touches the ball.

Before we get into things and the posse forms with their pitchforks, let me make something very clear. My two favorite Thunder players are Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams. so this is not meant as a hatchet job on the big Kiwi. That said however, the title of this post must stand. WTLC’s Mark Bruty wrote a week ago that Adams should be considered a top ten center, and I agree! But only to an extent. I think he will be a top ten center, but not before correcting a few basics in his post game.

In these long days waiting on the season to begin I hit up J.A. Sherman for an idea for something to write. His response was the hope that when head coach Billy Donovan accompanied Adams to New Zealand earlier this summer, Donovan might finally gain a better understanding on how to use Adams more effectively heading into next season. Sherm’s comments:

Here's the worst way to use him — throw it to him in the low post and let him try to make a play. Which is what we saw the most last year.

The guy is incredibly gifted in court vision and footwork. He has to be on the move all the time, getting in and out of screen sets. You can't just let him stand there, he turns into Mark Eaton. And for goodness sakes, let him square up at the FT line! He can hit that shot, and it will probably help his FT shooting as well.

I would also like to see Adams taking more shots from the free throw line. I defended not seeing that shot last season because I felt that his right hand was a concern from early on in the season. That shouldn’t be an issue this season, and when defenses sag off Adams at the nail, he should start taking the shot. Sherm added:

His [Adams] back to basket fundamentals are not good. He doesn't even know how to hold the ball properly to maintain a triple-threat position.

Again, before a posse forms, Adams is right up there at the top of Sherman’s favorites list as well.

To be perfectly honest, I had never looked really hard at the Funaki’s back to the basket basics and when I did, I was shocked. Sherm nailed it. They suck, and as stated in the sub-title, the problem starts before Adams ever touches the ball. Watch this video closely:

What’s missing from every one of Adams’ reps? It is the basic foundation for everything that comes next. Let one of the best post players to ever lace them up show you:

(Let it not pass over you that they called Hakeem Olajuwon “The Dream” for a reason, and at 50 years old in that clip, he is still more balanced and fluid than 90% of the bigs in today’s NBA)

If the hop catch doesn’t create the space needed, the jump stop is available:

According to Coach Nick from BBall Breakdown, as much as “80% of the post up is done before you catch the ball.” The hop catch or jump stop is necessary to eliminate establishing a pivot foot too early, which makes a defender’s job exponentially harder in establishing good defensive position. The reason is simple. If a pivot foot is not prematurely established, the offensive player can choose which direction to move, based on how a defender is covering him.

Watch the Adams, Kanter, and Sabonis practice video again. Kanter and Sabonis utilize a hop catch. Perhaps without a great deal of enthusiasm or on every single rep, but the fundamental is there in their back-to-basket game. But Adams never executes one ... ever. If the Thunder wants Adams to develop a back to the basket post game, it is imperative they remember how raw he still is for his age and must follow the basics on every rep, starting with his footwork BEFORE he catches the ball.

Unfortunately, the lack of a hop catch isn’t the only basic that comes up short in Adam’s practice session, and he wasn’t alone. The reps start with a basic jump hook. Remember or watch the first of the practice reps again. Now watch The Dream execute the same shot:

"When the point guard throws me the ball, I jump to get the ball. But this jump is the set-up for the second move, the baseline move. I call it the 'touch landing.' The defender is waiting for me to come down because I jumped but I’m gone before I land. Defenders say 'Wow, he's quick,' but they don’t know that where I’m going is predetermined. He's basing it on quickness, but the jump is to set him up. Before I come down, I make my move. When you jump, you turn as you land. Boom! The defender can’t react because he's waiting for you to come down to defend you. Now, the first time when you showed that quickness, he has to react to that quickness, so you can fake baseline and go the other way with your jump hook. All this is part of the Dream Shake. The Dream Shake is you dribble and then you jump; now you don’t have a pivot foot. When I dribble I move it so when I come here, I jump. By jumping, I don’t have a pivot foot now. I dribble so now I can use either foot. I can go this way or this way. So he's frozen, he doesn’t know which way I’m going to go. That is the shake. You put him in the mix and you jump stop and now you have choice of pivot foot. He doesn’t know where you’re gonna turn and when."
- Hakeem Olajuwon

Hop catch, big step to the middle with a sharp dribble, one bounce, strong swing step and shoot, using the non-shooting arm as it comes off the ball like a shield. Explosive and more importantly, simple, just like this:

Contrast this to Adams’ more difficult and ineffective effort of dead feet, half-assed multi-steps to the middle, two-dribble, no lift and no shield arm. And in fact, even when the hook shot is dropping, Adams makes himself far too guardable. For example, in this Adams recap from a game vs the Mavericks last season, he is being guarded pretty effectively by 74 year old Dirk Nowitzki:

That...should just not be possible.

Without a hop catch, a defender generally knows which foot is the pivot foot. The additional steps and extra dribble not only gives the primary defender more time to adjust, but also allows time for the help defense to arrive, and the lack of a shield arm allows a defender to contest a shot just that much tighter.

Conclusion:

Sherman is right, Adam’s back to the basket mechanics are awful, and it only took me half a day to understand why.

He either isn’t getting proper instruction, or, isn’t repeating what he has been taught. Judging by the video above, I’m going with the first option. Poor instruction.

We don't rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” - anonymous Navy Seal

Or, reworded into something we have all heard, you play like you practice.

After watching the practice session video, I’m left with only a few possibilities, at least when it comes to teaching the shot Hakeem Olajuwon called a big man’s “bread and butter. Asst coach Mark Bryant either doesn’t know basic post-up fundamentals, can’t teach basic post-up fundamentals, or doesn’t hold his charges accountable to execute basic post-up fundamentals. None of which are acceptable.

When asked whether the traditional big man was a dying breed in the NBA, Olajuwon, a 12 time All-Star responded:

"For a big man who is just big, maybe. But not if you play with speed, with agility. It will always be a big man's game if the big man plays the right way. On defense, the big man can rebound and block shots. On offense, he draws double-teams and creates opportunities. He can add so much, make it easier for the entire team.”

That is what the Thunder are looking for from Adams. Something they have never had, a big man who can anchor the defense and offer a reliable scoring option when opposing defenses force them to run a high number of half-court sets. And it is interesting to note that Bryant is the only big man coach the team has had in Oklahoma City.

There really is no nice way to put it. Until Adams is taught proper post mechanics, Bruty’s dream of seeing his favorite player getting the credit he deserves, and Sherman not having to reach for his “beverage” of choice every time the Thunder pass it to Adams in the post, will have to wait.

I wonder if “the Dream” is looking for a steady coaching gig?

Poll

Do you think Steven Adams can develop a good post game?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    YES! Just give him time!
    (94 votes)
  • 59%
    Maybe, but he needs much better coaching.
    (185 votes)
  • 6%
    Not likely, he doesn’t have the goods.
    (20 votes)
  • 4%
    Who cares? When will Donovan start letting him shoot threes?
    (14 votes)
313 votes total Vote Now