The Center of Gravity
By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Thunder’s system pivots around a spoke in the middle of the floor. Much like the pull of centrifugal force, the more urgently defenders crash into the lane to deny Steven Adams from making a catch, the faster the Thunder’s guards can whip the ball around the perimeter. Adams’ influence creates a beautiful tension that sends defenders flying.
The same can be said of the Thunder big man’s impact on the defensive side of the ball. With precise and deliberate communication and quick feet, Adams helps guards stay in front of the ball in pick and roll coverage. He can even switch out to the three-point line when it’s necessary or there’s a good matchup. With each successive year, the force that Adams brings to the team continues to grow, and that consistent improvement is why he’s become one of the most essential players on the Thunder’s roster and one of the very best centers in the NBA.
“He constantly comes back better and better,” point guard Russell Westbrook said of Adams. “For him, it's just constantly just figuring out what works. I think he's probably one of the most feared big men in the league, across the league, because of his size, his presence, the way he looks.”
Photo by Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder
Westbrook, the 10-year veteran who has spent his entire career in Oklahoma City, remembers what Adams was like as a rookie. The burly youngster sported a crew cut, was clean shaven and in many ways was equally as green-looking on the court. After all, Adams had just one year at an American prep school and another at the University of Pittsburgh as a buffer between playing in a novice New Zealand high school league and against the best players in the entire world.
“He was raw, man,” Westbrook grinned. “He was, obviously, really young and trying to figure it out. Now being able to see him grow, he's gotten it figured out and knows what works for him. Just to see that (evolution) of him is great. I'm just happy to be here to assist him in any way I could.”
Each season, Adams’ minutes per game and scoring averages have increased. In 2017-18, Adams averaged 13.9 points to go with 9.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks in 32.7 minutes per game. He was the Thunder’s workhorse in the middle, and projects to be a crucial cog down low for years to come. Donovan says that Adams’ leap last season was generated by the work he put in during the summer of 2017. Adams is going through the same regimen that produced those results again this offseason.
Photo by Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder
This past year, Adams shot a career-best 62.9 percent from the field while scoring a career-best 13.9 points per game. He also more made dunks than any of his previous seasons, with 150 of his 448 made field goals coming on authoritative flushes through the rim. Due to their years together, Adams and Russell Westbrook have a unique connection in the pick-and-roll, but he also developed a comfort with Paul George and will need to catch a rhythm with newcomer Dennis Schroder as well.
Adams is an elite finisher in his role but is as selfless as they come in NBA circles. He shrugs off credit when it is given to him and resists the temptation that can come to put up huge numbers as a solo artist. His attitude combined with his experience has helped generate a persona that’s hallowed in the locker room – a humble jokester who puts the team first.
“He's really impressive, he's played a ton of basketball and a ton of competitive basketball in a lot of big games, but he's still a really young guy, and he's learning, and he's getting more comfortable,” said now-retired Thunder forward and Adams’ close friend Nick Collison. “He's getting more confidence.”
“There are very few guys that just totally want to do what's best for the team, no matter what. There's no agenda,” Collison continued. “He's one of my favorite teammates of all time.”
If Adams takes another step forward this offseason, the Thunder will feel quite confident in its ability to make a charge at the top of the Western Conference. Much like Collison in years past, part of Adams’ duty is to be the quarterback of the defense, talking out coverages to his four teammates on the floor throughout the possession. Last season, there were bouts of inconsistency that struck the team in injurious ways – preventing the group from getting enough stops to win.
“It just comes down to our chemistry,” Adams said. “Obviously, if you play long enough with a player, you understand their tendencies and whatnot - all those small different things, especially on the defensive end.”
Adams’ focus in 2018-19 is to help build a defensive cohesion within the system that is lasting and can be replicated on a night to night basis through energy and effort. At the heart of everything on both ends, Adams’ presence and his natural energy can keep everyone on the same page to get the job done - possession by possession.
Nick Gallo has been with the Thunder since 2012 and serves as the team’s Digital Content Reporter for okcthunder.com and Sideline Reporter for Fox Sports Oklahoma.