Full Name: Steven Funaki Adams
Nickname: The Big Kiwi, Khal Drogo, Fat Fingers
Years in NBA: 5
Contract Status: 3 years remaining on a 4 year, $100 million extension.
Notable Factoid: He’s the youngest of 18 children, all of whom are athletic. His sister Valerie was a gold medalist in the Shot Put for New Zealand at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. His brothers are 6’9 and his sisters 6’0 on average.
Player History: Adams was drafted by OKC in 2013 with the 12th overall pick, a pick acquired from the Rockets in the James Harden trade. While that trade remains the biggest “what-if?” moment in franchise history and was undeniably a mistake to trade away Harden a year early, the fact that Adams became a member of the Thunder as a result of the trade softens the blow a bit. A full time starter since his sophomore season, Adams has consistently improved in his tenure with the team. He is the best offensive rebounder in the NBA, a strong rim protector, one of the best screeners, and has steadily added more moves and finishes at the rim.
Pre-season Expectations: Adams came in off a great year in 2016-17 as a big part of the thrilling but ultimately doomed Triple Double World Tour team. With team expectations higher following the acquisition of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, Adams was expected to stabilize the defense alongside George and Andre Roberson, dominate the glass on both ends, and continue doing the dirty work of screen-setting and boxing out that makes any good team run. With the presence of George and Anthony, Adams was expected to be the 4th option at best offensively, with a lot of his offensive output coming off of rebounds.
Most Memorable Game/Moment:
It doesn’t get any better than this. Adams was a perfect 11-11 from the field en route to putting up 27 points on a night where he completely dominated one of the best young centers in the league in Karl-Anthony Towns. Adams scored bunches out of the pick and roll and by getting deep in the post in transition, overpowering the Wolves defenders. He even sealed the game on- what else?- a dunk after an offensive rebound. This was a huge win for the Thunder- they were 8-12 heading into this game, but the win kickstarted a turnaround that had the Thunder looking quite dangerous until Andre Roberson’s injury. This game also showed a flash of what Adams can be on a team that makes a concerted effort to involve him on offense- something the Thunder need to do a better job of next year.
Regular Season Grade: A. This season will go down as a disappointing one for OKC, and a lot of players should be asking themselves what they could have done differently. Adams isn’t one of them.
He posted a career high in points and rebounds on a career high field goal percentage. He finished second in the entire league in offensive rebounds. He could have had even more defensive rebounds, but focuses on boxing out and team success first. Adams primary focus is keeping opponents off the glass- if that means Russ or Melo grab the rebound instead of Adams, he cares not. He also finished second in the league in screen assists, a stat the NBA just started tracking this year, with nearly 5 per game. That speaks to the best thing about Adams (besides his accent and authenticity); he is the textbook definition of a glue guy, someone who does all the gritty, unsexy things that grease the wheels and lead to team success. You need a Steven Adams to win in the NBA. it’s a pity the Thunder haven’t taken full advantage of his presence to this point.
Defensively, Adams remains a fine rim protector who is nearly unmovable in the post when other centers try to back him down. Still, he’s not in the league of truly top line rim protectors like Rudy Gobert, and you saw it when the Thunder’s elite defense cratered without Andre Roberson. Adams can be a big part of great defensive lineups but he cannot stabilize a unit all on his own yet. There’s only so much Adams can be asked to do when he’s covering for a washed-up Carmelo Anthony who was never interested in defense to begin with, a guy who falls asleep and makes bad gambles when he’s awake in Russell Westbrook, and old Corey Brewer, which is why I’m not penalizing Adams too harshly for it- his individual effort was good, and thing would have been a lot worse without him. But to reach the level of a truly elite center, Adams needs to take another step on defense. He’s young enough to think that’s still a possibility.
Postseason Grade: B-. Adams was less effective in the playoff series against the Jazz than he had been in the regular season- his scoring fell (13.9 ppg in the regular season to 10.5 in the playoffs), partly because he got less attempts and partly because he hit the attempts he did get at a lower percentage than he did in the regular season. His rebounding also fell- while he grabbed a still impressive 3 offensive rebounds per game, he wasn’t the force of nature he was in the regular season when he averaged 5. He also found himself in foul trouble twice, missing significant parts of games 2 and 3.
All of these struggles had a root cause: Rudy Gobert, Adams opponent at center. This is what I was discussing above: while Adams remains an excellent player with a ton of strengths, he doesn’t dominate defensively the way Gobert does. Gobert was able to neutralize Adams, and by extension the Thunder as a whole, on the glass (The Jazz actually crushed the Thunder on the offensive glass for the series, 68-56, which almost never happens to OKC), while also protecting the rim at an elite level and causing OKC to settle for a ton of mid-range jumpers due to their fear of his shot blocking prowess.
Adams didn’t have the same impact on the Jazz’s offense. He was still effective in other ways: he had 5.7 screen assists per game, with a huge chunk of those coming in the Thunder’s miraculous comeback win in game 5. And he did still manage some huge rebounds and some tough buckets in the paint. But Adams was outplayed by Gobert. Gobert outplays a lot of centers, and it’s not as if Adams is the main reason for OKC’s defeat, but this series showed the gap between him and the very best defensive center in the league.
Future Expectations: Adams was a “star in his role” this season, doing all the little things right, while continuing to do more and more of the big things right. Adams has mastered everything you could want from a role player, which means it’s time to take the next step- becoming a star. As one of the more unique talents in the NBA, Adams is capable of this, and the Thunder clearly believe that based on the contract extension they awarded him a season ago. Adams will turn 25 and is just about to enter his prime. The improvement he showed this year should leave us all excited about just what heights he can reach in that prime.
No matter what happens with Paul George, Adams will need to be an even bigger part of the Thunder’s offense going forward. He was fourth in field goal attempts and points scored last season, but if Adams finishes with less shots than Carmelo Anthony next season, something has gone horribly wrong.
If Paul George returns, Adams will be the third option on a team that will still view itself as a contender. If PG13 is gone for more purple pastures, Adams could well be the second option on a team fighting to make the playoffs. Adams has shown some promise posting-up- he averaged 1.08 points per possession on post-ups last season, a solid mark for a normally inefficient play type. It’s not something OKC should base their offense around or anything, but getting him a couple more touches might be a worthy experiment. Adams bread and butter will remain the pick and roll. He is an excellent finisher when running the pick and roll with Russ- if the Thunder were to surround Russ and Adams with great shooters, as I detailed here, it would open up cleaner looks for both of them. Hunting switches, something else the Thunder should look to do, could also give Adams the chance to try back down smaller players.
Adams’ consistent improvement means the Thunder’s coaching staff needs to do a better job at incorporating him in the offensive game-plan- too often he felt like an afterthought last season. Adams has proven himself as a player who can contribute, and he should get more opportunities to do so, especially with Melo hopefully heading to the bench and George possibly out the door. Running more pick and rolls at the very least would be a good start- it’ll give Adams more shots and generate cleaner looks for Russ than he gets when he just goes 1-on-5. Getting more clean looks for both these guys is the only way the Thunder can be a good offense if George leaves town.
Is Steven Adams the most mean as player in the NBA?
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