There has been a ton of fanfare in New Zealand over the past few weeks over Steven Adams preseason performances. There have been a ton of positive signs, with Adams showing why he was deserving of a lottery selection in this years draft, and exceeding the expectations of many. He has posted impressive numbers throughout the preseason, this courtesy of @ThunderStats:
Steven Adams per 36 this preseason: 12.1 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 62.1% FG.
— Thunder Stats & Info (@ThunderStats) October 24, 2013
This would certainly put Adams in an impressive group were he able to replicate this over the regular season. Per basketball-reference, only seven players were able to post at least 11 points and 11 boards per 36 minutes last year, with just three – David Lee, Nikola Vucevic and Dwight Howard – able to do so while shooting at least 50% from the field.
There are numerous caveats to these numbers however. Firstly and most obviously, it’s still the preseason. It is well known among NBA circles that veterans just don’t really care at all about the preseason. This allows Adams to simply out-hustle opposing players for a rebound or a put back score that may be swallowed up if the opposition was employing the same level of intensity as himself. Secondly, Adams has spent a fair bit of time against scrubs. Coming off of the bench for the Thunder in the majority of games, Adams has faced opposing backups, and often played in the fourth quarter against guys that likely wont see NBA minutes this year. Playing in the regular season is certainly going to be a step up for the big kiwi. Another obvious reason to give pause to all of the hype is the sample size. Adams has played limited minutes in what amounts to less than 10% of a full NBA schedule, so making definitive judgements at this point is foolhardy.
The biggest thing that these numbers aren’t able to evaluate however is Adams’ defence. With the Thunder playing the Bulls on ESPN recently, I was able to revert to the wholly scientific method of re-watching all of Adams’ defensive possessions with the help of my good friend My-Sky.
The first possession of interest occurred with 2:43 remaining in the first quarter. Chicago look to run a simple side pick and roll, with Rose on the ball and Boozer as the screener. Rose ignores the screen in the initial action, looking to drive middle before pulling the ball out and heading toward the corner. Adams is able to simply stick to Boozer initially and then track Rose to the corner and set a weak trap. Rose is able to pass out of the double team to Boozer, who has popped out to the elbow, with Adams scurrying across and getting to Boozer on balance and on time. A simple dribble hand off then occurs, with Boozer slipping the screen and Adams again assisting Reggie Jackson in trapping Rose. This forces a jump pass to Boozer, and consequently Adams is able to recover in time to combine with Nick Collison to force a turnover. Here is the full possession (with apologies for the picture quality):
This is 14 seconds of Adams directly being involved with the play and shows his potential as a centre that is comfortable switching out on guards and playing the perimeter. Scouts loved his ability to do this pre-draft and if he is able to harness this without fouling and staying disciplined he could become a really impatcful defensive player.
There are a few more possessions that go by involving Adams, including one where Chicago looks to dump the ball down to forward Taj Gibson on the block against Adams. Taj is not known for his offence, especially post moves on offence and he does little to shake the big seven footer and he is emphatically swatted away. This doesn’t really surprise me and is a relatively easy play for Steve to make. I didn’t even feel like this is a play that deserved video recognition as it is a play that Adams should be making. Nonetheless, seeing Adams pull off highlight reel plays such as this one is certainly encouraging.
The first defensive possession in which Adams really has a blunder comes with 5:29 to go in the second quarter. Chicago again run a side pick and roll, with Rose on the ball and Gibson as the screener. Here Taj craftily switches the angle of his screen at the last moment to allow Rose to split the double team and get all the way to the cup for an easy deuce. This is a trick that many of the best screeners know to use in the NBA, and is a nuance that Adams will have to grow accustomed to if he is to harness his full potential defensively.
It is clear in this picture that Adams is too high on the floor after Taj flipped his screen angle slightly. This isn’t too concerning however, and there aren’t many guards out there that will be able to split a double team with the expertise of Rose.
Adams then gets his first one on one look at former all-star Carlos Boozer. Boozer is known for his array of offensive moves, and should be a tough matchup for any rook down on the low block. The ball gets dumped in on a straight entry pass, and Boozer throws an array of drop steps at Adams before catching him napping and blows by him for an easy layup with the left hand. Here’s the full sequence:
Boozer obviously thought that going to work against Adams was pretty easy, and the next trip down he had Mike Dunleavy Jr. run a cross screen to get him another simple post up on the left block. Again he drop stepped to face up against Adams, tried another jab but the Kiwi had learned from his mistakes and did not bite. Boozer settled for a contested jumper (which he made).
With just under nine minutes to go, Boozer runs through a pack of Thunder defenders to free himself up for an easy midrange jumper. Adams isn’t entirely at fault here, with the whole defensive scheme collapsing too hard and not giving Adams a chance to use his considerable athleticism and recover, but he looks nonchalant in the way that he chases Boozer through the pack. Nothing too concerning, but a lapse nonetheless. His full defensive attention is shown on the next play as he picks Marqiuis Teague’s pocket for a would be steal, but the ball goes out of bounds.
The Boozer/Adams battle continues the on the very next trip, as Boozer fakes a handoff and drives baseline. Adams slides in proper defensive position and shadows Boozer all the way until he has to put up a contested midrange J. Perfect defence. Once more the Bulls attempt to exploit Adams on the low block, but Adams quickly fronts Boozer and steals the entry pass. Jeff Van Gundy is very impressed.
Boozer hasn’t had enough of the beat down Adams is putting on him, so once more tries to go at him with a straight post up, this time from the right block. He attempts his trademarked drop step middle, and then spins baseline. Adams’ physical gifts again come into play as he this time uses his considerable mass to force Boozer too low on the court so that his baby hook hits the side of the backboard.
You would think that after all of these misses that Boozer would get the picture, but oh no, once more he thinks he can bully the seven footer down on the block so he has another crack. Adams actually plays him pretty poorly this time and is very vertical when Boozer makes his first power dribble into the middle of the lane. This is where his lower body strength comes into, as even though his body position is poor, he is still strong enough to keep Boozer from making any progress towards the rim. The Chicago forward is forced to spin baseline and fires up a wild shot with his signature “AND ONE!!!!” call going up. Somehow the shot falls and Adams is not called for a foul.
Buoyed by his recent success, Boozer has one last go. I’ll just let you watch this one for yourself:
So a ton of action for Steve Adams on the defensive end in this one. There was a fair bit of good stuff coupled with some bad habits. Adams flashed both his lack of polish but also his considerable physical skills. His play will certainly be something to monitor for the Thunder this year, especially with the lack of quality veterans in front of him. I think calls for him to start right away from us New Zealanders need to be tempered, as these are hardly the most complicated offensive sets that he will face, however the signs are bright for Adams to be a contributor for the Thunder for years to come.