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Film Analysis: Steven Adams

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Steven Adams has been a little inconsistent over the course of the season

Oklahoma City Thunder v Boston Celtics Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

Steven Adams has been a cornerstone of the Thunder franchise over the last few years.

He is one of the few active players for Oklahoma City who remains from the Kevin Durant era of the team.

As the years have gone, Adams’ stature on the team has grown.

However, Steven Adams has played inconsistently this season.

There have been nights where Adams has looked sluggish and off pace. There have been games where Adams has dominated at an All-Star level while anchoring the Thunder’s defense.

Steven Adams has played hard, grueling minutes over the last three seasons. Oklahoma City relied on Adams to carry a heavy load on defense every single night without respite. The Thunder did not have a proper backup center until Nerlens Noel came along.

That load has worn Adams down, and Steven does not move with the same vigor that he did three years ago. The Thunder coaching staff have attempted to preserve Adams’ health in the long term this season.

Billy Donovan took the bold decision to reduce the number of minutes that Adams plays on a nightly basis. It was a risky move by Coach Donovan; Adams is the best rim protector on the Thunder. Losing his presence for an additional four minutes a night can be detrimental to team success.

It has been the right decision by Billy Donovan; Adams has looked fresher during the season, and the number of nights where Adams looks fatigued is a lot less.

Nerlens Noel has got more minutes as a result of Coach’s decision, and it has contributed to Noel’s development. Nerlens has become a lot better at anchoring the defense and stopping easy shots around the rim.

Adams has also made steps within his game. Steven has been influential in hand-off actions this season. Coach Donovan has placed Adams in these sets, and Adams usually makes the right read.

However, I cannot help but feel that Adams needs to start getting down the road regarding his development. Steven needs to develop a reliable jumper to stretch defenses out and increase his value to the Thunder. Adams being able to work out of pick and pop actions would change how defenses guard him.

The initial returns on the analysis are not promising when looking at the numbers. Adams’ numbers have declined compared to previous seasons, but I would argue that there is a reason for the statistical drop-off.

Adams is unusual when compared to most NBA players; Steven does not play with the assertiveness that many players have. Adams is happy to sacrifice his numbers if it means that the team wins games on a nightly basis.

This team-centric approach is not all that common in a league of individuals. NBA players do play on teams, but the player’s career focus is taking care of number one. Oddly, Adams’ outlook on the game reminds me of Boris Diaw. Both guys want to make their teammates better at all times.

Adams prioritizing team success does mean his numbers do not match the eye test. Steven Adams is a better defender than his defensive rating lets on; Steven brings more to the team than just on-court contributions.

Adams is a model citizen on the court. He plays hard all of the time and does not shy away from the dirty work. Steven does not seem to care about making a House of Highlights compilation, but he cares about making winning plays. That lead by example approach will build good habits for the younger guys.

Adams is a player who has an intriguing future for the Thunder. Steven is young enough to fit into the Thunder’s timeline for the next generation, but his style of play is a throwback. Adams is a bruising, non-shooting center; the Thunder may look to go in a different direction once the rebuild starts in earnest.

For this reason, I decided to take a closer look at Steven Adams’ play. I wanted to understand the value that Steven Adams brings to the Thunder. The analysis in this article will focus on Adams’ game as a whole and areas where Steven could get even better.

Adams sets a screen on KCP as Oklahoma City get into a pick and roll action. Chris Paul is an excellent passer and usually delivers the ball to a teammate in the perfect spot. Steven Adams is a robust screener; Adams recognizes that the primary aim of a screen is to create space. This two-person game has been very productive this season.

The choice of the screen by Adams stood out to me. It is common for the screener to set a filter to the left or right of the ball-handler.

Adams recognizes that a pick to the left of Caldwell Pope is a good option, but it is not a great option. This screen would free Paul from his man, but the Lakers could still recover quickly on defense. It would be easy for McGee to shuffle over and defend the paint.

Steven sets a hard, flat screen that allows no space for Caldwell Pope to turn and follow the play. KCP is tied up by the pick, which will enable Paul to attack McGee in the area. McGee is not comfortable defending away from the basketball. A savvy player like Paul will challenge McGee mentally.

McGee chooses not to drop back and protect the rim. JaVale fears the jumper from Paul and stays with the guard. This decision means that Adams can roll to the rim with only Kentavious Caldwell Pope for company. Adams gets the mismatch, and Paul snaps a pass into his hands so that the Kiwi can exploit the defensive fault.

Steven knows that Paul will make the dish in this situation; it is simply too good of a scoring opportunity to pass up. Adams sets himself up accordingly. Adams plants his lower body on the floor and establishes a strong base to score from. The preload means that Adams does not waste any time once he receives the ball.

Adams receives the ball and uses a turnaround hook shot. Big men are usually taught to finish strong and secure the possession by using power instead of finesse. Adams displays a delicate touch on this possession. Adams uses very little energy on the look; Steven guides the ball in.

The Thunder run picks and rolls in this action. Adams screens Bradley at the start of this possession. The screen can be a lot stronger on Bradley; Avery can escape without much hassle. Adams has the physical frame to body opposing players and tire them out. I would like to see Steve lean into this aspect of his game more.

Paul can get free from his defender as a result of Adams’ play. Steven makes up for the weak screen by sticking an arm out and blocking Bradley. Bradley cannot pass Adams without wasting valuable seconds grappling with the Kiwi.

Chris slides the ball down to Adams, who plays a smaller player in the form of Avery Bradley. It should be a smooth finish for Adams, and he pulled off a similar sort of finish against KCP. All Steven needs to do is elevate and guide the ball in. Instead, the ball hits the backboard before rimming out.

There are a few key differences between the first possession and this current action. These little details contribute to Adams missing the shot. The most noticeable difference is that Adams does not establish a solid base before receiving the ball in this action. Adams’ feet are still moving when he gets the ball; Steven takes more time to set up the look.

The extra time taken to turn past Bradley allows McGee to recover on defense. JaVale can come back into the action, and his presence increases the pressure placed upon Adams by the defense.

Adams rushing about on offense means the shot is overpowered. Steven does not display the same sort of touch around the rim that he did on the previous possession. The ball is wayward because Adams does not have time to control the thrust on the shot.

I would prefer to see Adams finish strong on this possession and dunk the ball. Steven Adams does not have time to use finesse in this action; it is imperative to finish the play quickly. A dunk is difficult for a guard to contest and secures the points for the possession efficiently.

Gallinari makes the entry pass to Adams as the clock runs down on this possession. There are only seven seconds left, and Adams need to generate a quality look to have any chance of knocking down the shot.

In late shot-clock situations, it is easy to fall into the trap of taking bad shots because of time pressure. Smart offensive players do not make these mistakes; smart players continue to run the offense and find good looks for themselves. Adams fits this description to a tee; Steven does not get pressured by the clock.

On this possession, Adams is defended by Paul Millsap. Millsap is an excellent interior defender despite being undersized when matched up with centers. Millsap takes away comfortable angles at the rim and anchors the defense for the Nuggets.

Adams does not take the match up lightly, and Steven looks to use his physicality to good effect on this possession. Adams uses his shoulder to knock Millsap backward and create space. The shoulder charge pushes Millsap off balance. The Nuggets forward stumbles back and out of his defensive stance.

At this point, Adams can launch a hook shot, and this shot has a decent probability of going in. Steven Adams chooses to make a great look instead of taking a good chance. Adams steps through and faces up against the Millsap.

This is an essential part of creating a good shot for the Kiwi. Steven does not need to worry about accounting for funky angles. Adams is standing square to the rim and can release the ball freely without significant adjustment.

Adams uses Millsap’s lack of size to his advantage when he releases the ball. The ball is released way above Millsap’s head; Millsap can’t get a hand to the ball. The shot drops in for the Thunder.

The push shot has become a standard tool of non-shooting bigs over the last few seasons. Adams adopted the push shot a few seasons ago, and he has spent a lot of time refining the shot type so that it is a devastating weapon. The emergence of the push shot means that defenses have to respect Adams in the mid-range area.

The shot was a natural evolution for Adams. Steven has had a soft touch around the rim since he came into the league in 2013. Adams has a lot of technical ability in his game that is often masked by his physical tools. It was a matter of time before Adams used that soft touch to stretch the floor.

In this action, Paul draws two defenders and makes the easy pass to Steven Adams. Paul successfully leverages his gravity as a ball-handler to create a quality look for a teammate. Steven walks into the pass, which creates space for the shot attempt. The two Nuggets’ players rushed towards the rim, leaving the mid-range area free.

It is a shrewd decision to roll at a walking pace on this possession. Adams finds himself in space, but more importantly, his balance is controlled. It is highly essential to have the right balance when shooting the ball; good balance equals a strong base to score from.

The balanced base means that Adams can get his shot off quickly without any contest from the Denver Nuggets. Steven can go up for the look in rhythm without having to think about steadying himself before the shot attempt. Adams can flow into the shot instead of thinking through the examination.

The form of the shot is impressive. The push shot shares a lot of characteristics with a traditional jump shot. The elevation off the ground is minimal and precise. The elevation only exists to generate thrust; Adams does not elevate to obliterate the rim.

The shooting arm is extended in the same sort of way that a jump shooter would extend his arm when taking on shots. The critical difference in form is that Adams can shoot the shot one-handed; Steven does not require a second arm to guide the ball into the hoop. Adams can simply palm the ball into the bucket.

I thought this was a new possession to examine as it does not fit the usual Thunder offense that Billy Donovan employs. Coach Donovan runs the attack through his guards; Billy rarely uses a center as the ball-handler in pick and roll sets.

It is an inverse play compared to the usual actions that Coach Donovan calls. In most examples, Oklahoma City will run the two-person game with Adams as a roller and Paul as the ball-handler. Adams working with the ball, flips the traditional action on its head.

Steven Adams has become better at handling the ball this season. Adams has dealt with hand-off sets with aplomb and improved hugely as a passing big man. This type of possession could provide some idea about Adams’ effectiveness in the pick and roll as a shot creator.

Paul sets a screen on Jokic. The screen is excellent; Jokic is trapped for a few precious seconds and cannot escape the pick set by Paul. The pick means there is an open lane for Adams to drive into for the finish.

Steven shows an exceptional understanding of the floor in this situation. Adams recognizes that a dunk at the rim is on the cards because the Nuggets’ defense is spread out. Three Nuggets are defending the perimeter while Jokic and Murray are occupied with the screenplay.

The stretched defense means two things to Adams. The first point is that a Denver Nugget cannot make the rim rotation to stop Adams. The defense is simply too far away. There is a vast swathe of space in the interior.

Steven takes one dribble before finishing with a flourish at the rim. Adams elevates for the dunk and puts the game away for Oklahoma City. There is not enough time for the Nuggets to cut the lead down to zero.

Steven Adams is one of the league’s leading offensive rebounders. Adams is exceptional at snatching boards and creating second-chance opportunities for the Thunder. Steven’s proficiency in grabbing boards comes from his ability to establish space for himself to get the ball.

Steven’s physical frame is essential in blocking out space. However, I would argue that Adams’ skill as an offensive rebounder goes deeper than just raw physical strength.

Rebounding is more of an art form than what a lot of people realize. A strong rebounder can predict where the ball will carom off the rim, and great rebounders put themselves in the perfect position to secure the board. Dennis Rodman was a force on the glass because he knew every trajectory that the ball could take once the orange hit the rim.

All great rebounders understand that identifying the flight of the ball and positioning themselves accordingly is half the battle when it comes to securing offensive rebounds.

At the start of this action, Adams forces a switch in the pick and roll. Steven screens Jerami Grant effectively; Grant is unable to stick to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Shai gets into the mid-range area and attacks Plumlee off the dribble drive. The switch means that Jerami Grant, a smaller player, defends Adams.

Steven does not stop to watch the play made by SGA; Steven continues moving towards the rim. Adams shows a lot of focus and engagement on this possession as he does not wait for an opportunity to materialize. Adams creates the offensive rebound look through his movement and activity at the rim.

Adams uses his strength to push past Grant and then uses his frame to block out Jerami Grant and Torrey Craig as he anticipates the shot rimming out.

Adams does not attempt to catch the ball and bring the ball down into his body. Steven recognizes that securing the ball in the usual way would allow the Nuggets’ defense to recover and trap Adams. Adams chooses to go back up with the shot and lay the ball up.

Steven Adams will make a play like this numerous times during the game. He is a voracious offensive rebounder. There was one small detail that stood out to me from this example. As Adams reaches the bucket, Steven slows down slightly before going up for the score.

The deceleration was a strange point to notice, but I believe that Adams slows down so that he can set his shot up correctly. Adams has time to watch the ball and adjust his positioning to get the shot. Adams is not traveling at full speed. It is an intelligent play made by Adams and a game that will go unnoticed most of the time.

At the start of the season, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding Steven Adams. His role and responsibilities were not clear as the Thunder moved towards a motion offense. In a Westbrook-led system, Adams had a defined purpose. Steven would take efficient looks, play hard-nosed defense, and get rebounds. Those were his responsibilities.

There were very few people who understood how Adams fit into a motion offense where he would have more responsibilities. It was only when Billy Donovan is starting calling hand-off actions for Adams that we began to understand Adams’ fit in the offense.

Over the last few years, it has been common to see head coaches experiment with putting non-shooting bigs in hand-off actions. Spacing has become a highly important aspect of all offenses in the league, and a player who cannot shoot compromises that spacing.

The hand-off set creates spacing without needing the big to shoot the ball. Defenses have to respect the playmaking away from the interior and have to guard the action. The Detroit Pistons used this action with Andre Drummond when Stan Van Gundy coached Detroit. The Pistons needed spacing, and Drummond’s playmaking from the top of the key made sense.

I did not expect Adams to become a proficient passer straight away; it takes time for a player to develop a good understanding of timing and spacing when passing the ball. Adams has looked like a polished passer in hand-off actions this season.

On this possession, Adams receives the pass from Gallinari and looks to shift the ball to a teammate. Gallinari is a favorite target for Adams; the two players have built strong chemistry throughout the season.

Gallinari’s movement is excellent on this possession. Danilo recognizes there is space inside to attack and uses Adams as a screener as he cuts towards the rim. Gallo runs Millsap into Adams’ body as he moves off the ball. Millsap loses valuable time as he cannot get around Adams quickly.

Nikola Jokic makes a significant error on this possession. Jokic does not attempt to slow down Gallinari as he moves towards the rim. Jokic helping on Gallinari would slow the Italian forward and allow Millsap to recover defensively. As a result of the defensive breakdown, Gallo can run into space unchallenged by the defense.

Gallinari is an open receiver for Adams, and Adams takes advantage of this opportunity. Steven throws a superb lob pass that Gallinari finishes off with ease. The quality of the pass is excellent; the pass is pin-point accurate and at a proper height for Gallo. Adams’ pass makes it easy for Gallinari to knock the look down.

Steven Adams is a staunch interior defender. Adams is very good at contesting shots around the rim and forcing attacking players to take angles that they are not comfortable with. Steve relies on his length and feels for the game to defend effectively; he does not try to swat every single shot out of the sky.

This possession is the prime example of Steven Adams playing the angles. Gordon Hayward attacking the rim is a sturdy cover for the defense. Hayward is a versatile finisher around the edge, and his size makes it difficult for the defense to stop him.

Adams’ positioning is highly essential when it comes to containing and stopping the drive. The distance between Steven Adams and Gordon Hayward must be managed carefully; Steve cannot drop back to the rim as Gordon is comfortable shooting the mid-range jumper.

On the other hand, Adams cannot close up entirely to Hayward. Adams focusing solely on Hayward would create space for Daniel Theis to move into. Theis’ movement would open up an easy option in the Boston offense.

Steven puts himself in a position where he is two steps away from Hayward. The location allows Adams to move forward and cover Hayward promptly if Hayward takes the shot on. Moreover, the positioning takes away all easy passes to Theis.

Adams shades the drive rightwards. This is an excellent decision on the part of Adams; Hayward is forced to drive into a crowded area where the ball can be knocked away easily from the Celtics’ forward.

Adams stays with Hayward as Gordon takes the shot on. Steven does not go too early when it comes to blocking the shot. Adams is cautious to avoid giving Hayward any chance to draw contact and get to the line for free throws. Steven Adams waits until Hayward’s limbs are out of the way before reaching over to block the shot. Steven minimizes the risk of giving up free throws by delaying the contest by a few moments.

Rudy Gay runs a high pick and roll action with Jakob Poetl. Gay is a savvy operator in the pick and roll due to his experience in the league. Gay is comfortable working the ball and dissecting a defense. Rudy is a sturdy cover for the Thunder; Oklahoma City does not have a player who can match Gay for size.

However, Abdel Nader can harry Gay into making mistakes. Gay is unable to shake Nader as he gets around the screen. Nader recovers quickly on defense and does not allow Gay to get a moment of space. The protection played by Nader means that Gay comes to a complete stop.

Steven Adams recognizes that Gay stopping will mean that the wing will look to pass the ball. There is only one passing option available to Gay; Jakob Poetl is the only person who is in a position to receive the ball. Adams closes off the easy pass by stepping up and stealing the ball.

Poetl expects the bounce pass to land in his hands as he goes to the rim. Adams intercepts the pass and does not allow Poetl to lay a finger on the ball. Adams controls the turnover effectively by holding the ball to the floor. Steven does not attempt to play a quick pass to a teammate; this can lead to turnovers.

Adams has improved a lot as a player this season, but there are areas of his game that could use work. I would like to see Steven work on developing a reliable jumper. Adams does not need to start knocking down looks from outside, but a mid-range shot would be great for rounding out his scoring arsenal.

Steven would benefit from spending time on his passing. Adams’ court vision and passing suggest that he could become comfortable in facilitating play from the top of the key or the post. These skills need to be nurtured by the Thunder coaching staff; it would be beneficial for the team as a whole.

I would also like to see Adams become a better communicator on the court. Steven can be a leader on defense who calls out plays and directs his teammates on that end of the floor. Billy Donovan needs to encourage Adams to be louder and talk more.

There are a few players in the league that Adams can watch and learn from. Marc Gasol is an excellent defender, and his effectiveness comes from his communication. Gasol is very good at getting his teammates to spots where they can trouble the opposing team.

Al Horford is another player that Adams should study. Horford is an excellent passer out of the post. Horford uses his height to good effect as he looks over the defense to find an open cutter.

I do believe that Adams’ future is with the Thunder. His play and leadership have been so crucial for the franchise, and I cannot see that changing in the future. Adams would be even better if he grows as a passer and communicator on defense.