Adams and Roberson Making Offseason Strides

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

Players can watch countless hours of film, sit down with veterans to get advice and walk through offensive sets and defensive coverages, but there is no better teacher than experience.

For Steven Adams and Andre Roberson, the 2013-14 campaign was a full-fledged, graduate-level course in NBA life, even though they were both rookies. Adams was a role player during the regular season, playing more than 25 minutes just four times over the 82-game schedule. Roberson played 17 games for the Thunder’s Development League affiliate and played more than ten minutes for the Thunder only twice during a two-month span in January and February.

Both players worked diligently throughout the season, however, and their commitment was rewarded. In a come-from-behind victory on the road against the Los Angeles Lakers, Roberson was the catalyst, as his energy in the fourth quarter propelled the Thunder to victory. A month later, the long, lanky guard was thrust into the starting lineup, eventually making 16 starts for Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club.

Adams experienced a similar track, albeit in an even more pressure-packed situation. Adams didn’t get more than 12 minutes of game action in any of the Thunder’s first five playoff games in 2014. The center from New Zealand then proceeded to play 20-or-more minutes eight times the rest of the way, including a 40-minute, 10-point, 11-rebound outing in the Thunder’s close-out, Game 6, road win over the Los Angeles Clippers. For Adams, the experience of seeing all of those minutes was irreplaceable as he embarked on his first NBA full offseason to prepare for his second season.

“Playoffs are something else. It’s a whole new intensity,” Adams explained. “It’s a lot more urgent and there’s a lot more at stake. You play so many games to get up to that point. And if you lose the series, that’s it.”

Roberson wasn’t a part of the Thunder’s rotation during the team’s 2014 Playoff run to the Western Conference Finals. No matter. He was still going to work with equal intensity.  

The Thunder’s shoot-around before Game 6 in Memphis had concluded at noon, but at 1:30 p.m. Roberson was still methodically working through every aspect of his shooting motion with the Thunder’s coaching staff.

The shooting game, “around the horn” is a staple of every backyard basketball competition between childhood friends, but even a simple drill like that can be an integral aspect of an NBA player’s development. Roberson stepped to each spot along the perimeter and with supreme focus and sincerity, continued to sharpen his mechanics with each shot.

Although he didn’t get many minutes during the playoffs, Roberson’s contributions in the regular season were earned by the work he put in, which he continued to display in the playoffs even when his number wasn’t being called.

As the head coach, Brooks’ confidence in developing players is matched by the attention shown by veteran teammates like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka to ensure that young men like Adams and Roberson are always ready for their moment.

“Those guys believed in me and gave me a great amount of confidence,” Roberson said. “They helped me out along the way. They’re great guys. That’s why the Thunder organization is always going to be one of the top, elite organizations in the league.”

Two months removed from the Thunder’s final playoff game, both Adams and Roberson have had a chance to reflect on their rookie campaigns and begin preparing for their second NBA seasons.

At Summer League in Orlando, Adams continued to display the defensive prowess that gradually improved throughout the season and into the summer. Since he first arrived in Oklahoma City, defense, both in the post and in pick-and-roll coverage has been the focal point for Adams. This offseason, that mindset hasn’t changed.

“It was mainly just my defense,” Adams said of where his attention lied last year. “From the start of the season and really when I first got drafted, that was one of the things they really wanted to work on straight away. I seem to have progressed pretty well.”

“(My focus is) still defense,” Adams said. “I still have a long way to go on the defensive side. It’s also just getting comfortable on the offensive end as well to just become more of an option.”

Adams also showed a propensity for being able to finish around the rim during the playoffs and at Summer League, which will be an added boost to the Thunder’s offensive arsenal that includes playmakers like Durant, Westbrook and Reggie Jackson. Instead of entering the game with his own agenda in mind, Adams wants to commit to being physical and ready for any offensive opportunities provided to him by his teammates.

Roberson can also be an asset on the offensive end with his cutting, activity on the glass and ability to finish in transition. Throughout the season and at Summer League, Roberson showed that his movement off the ball could create high percentage offensive opportunities for the team, while his knack for tracking down loose rebounds can give the Thunder second chances.

In fact, Roberson was third amongst all players at the Orlando Summer League in averaging 8.3 rebounds per game. Heading into next season, Roberson will continue honing his craft to become an all-around player, one who can impact the game on defense, offense and in transition.

From improving his defensive stance to his pick-and-roll coverages to being the aggressor on every possession, Roberson knows he has room to grow in order to be a defensive stopper. Above all, Roberson will just be himself, which is a player who will continually grind away at his responsibilities in an effort to improve.

“It’s being a high energy guy, being tough minded, rebounding and trusting my teammates, because I can’t do it without them,” Roberson said.

“I’m enjoying it,” Roberson said. “It’s a day-by-day grind and a process. I’m willing to do whatever it takes and get better day-by-day and keep building off of the foundation we have set.”