Stars can’t win without their enforcers. Every Jordan needs a Rodman, as we like to say. When first coming onto the scene, Steven Adams, a 7-footer from New Zealand drafted 12th overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2013, was tasked with being the enforcer to eventually replace then starting center Kendrick Perkins.
Adams’ minutes went from under 15 per game in his rookie season to over 25 per game the following season. With more time on the floor and experience as the Thunder’s primary center, Adams’ scoring and field goal percentage has improved each season. His presence alongside the prolific pillars of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant has made an important progression, and what he does in that role has evolved into something pretty invaluable.
Steven Adams is tough, physical, and pestering, but most impressively he keeps finding ways to prove that he can be more than just a stiff enforcer with limited offensive capabilities. Adams has his limits — you won’t see the Thunder force feeding him the ball for post-up opportunities (he didn’t take more than five shots per game this season). But Adams, unlike his predecessor Kendrick Perkins, has now become a trustworthy and forceful finisher at the rim when diving to the basket, as seen above.
The Thunder are 7.8 points per 100 possessions better when Steven Adams is on the floor in these playoffs. In the conference semifinals against the Spurs, Adams was a terror. He averaged 11 points and 11 rebounds and shot 70 percent from the field (averaged six shots per game against San Antonio). It’s the mobility, motor, and athleticism of Adams that sets him apart as the center for this team. Not only can he keep up, but he’s going to do some banging around in the process.
Setting hard, good old fashioned NBA moving pin down screens for Kevin Durant is part of Adams’ job description:
Adams’ motor translates into winning plays, like winning 50-50 balls and preventing an offensive rebound:
There are different kinds of bigs. They come in all shapes, sizes, and skill sets. Steven Adams is more Kendrick Perkins than a Marc Gasol, in terms of skill set, but Adams has more of a fine-tuned ruggedness that allows him to be a contributor while not being a primary threat on the offensive end.
The question of downsizing comes into play in their Western Conference Finals series against the Warriors, which may or may not affect how much we see Adams on the floor. But at this point, I think Adams has reached a new confidence and feel for being of vital value to this team by producing in small but needed ways, making him just as mandatory as Westbrook and Durant in the Thunder’s efforts to make it back to the NBA Finals.