After the first instalment of “The Steven Adams Report” I have gone into hiding, writing this piece from the safety of underneath my security blanket. The same sort of Batman security blanket I would frequently find my former housemate under, coupled with a bowl of fruit loops at 4pm after he had been through a rough day with the ladies. I have been receiving some serious heat, as it turns out the NZhoops readers are not quite ready to willingly give up Lisa Chappell; Drover’s Run own Claire McLeod. I realize it’s tough; the 10 year anniversary of Claire’s death has been a really difficult time in my household. The image of that white Ute plunging off the cliff is still burnt into my brain.
Anyways, whilst sifting through the hate mail I also came across the odd note telling me to back up off my new boyfriend Steven Adams, the rookie sensation from Rotorua. One reader stating I was doing what Australians do best and claiming New Zealanders. One reader in particular (@cmorganphotonz) tweeted “try telling Valerie she’s Australian”
Now I am Australian.
But I am not an idiot.
So here’s my proposal New Zealand; how about a time share? You have Steven Adams during the week and we will have him on weekends? We can leave the lawyers out of this case.
Surely you cannot blame me, Adams stock is escalating. Fast. If Adams was a security on the stock exchange he would be described as a “Bull” with rate at which is stock is rising. In the most recent GM survey, Adams ended up with the fourth highest amount of votes in the “Which rookie would be the biggest steal of the draft” question. We have witnessed the Oklahoma City Thunder collective fan base change its tune significantly since draft night. In the beginning Thunderheads were asking themselves why GM Sam Presti hated them so much – firstly by initiating the worst trade in NBA history by sending the best two-guard in the league (as voted by the General Managers) to Houston and then selecting a raw freshman centre when their championship window was is still very much open. But with “Bull Adams” having such strong pre-season form the fan base mindset has swung from “What have we done?” to “He is young, let’s give him some time” to “Let’s start him over Kendrick ‘Lamar’ Perkins”. I’m pretty sure the next step in that process is “We won the Harden trade!”
But all whilst I have been running up my phone bill calling mining companies in an attempt to acquire substantial amounts of coal to fuel my Steven Adams hype train, there are those trying to temper expectations of the young big. One man in particular is Thunder head coach Scott Brooks; he continues to drive home the point that his top draft pick is yet to prove anything (apart from having one of the best side parts in the league). Brooks was quoted during the recent stretch of pre-season games saying “He has to continue to understand all the details of the game, and that’s going to work itself out with all the work that he puts in with our staff”.
One such staff member who Adams puts a lot of work in with and credits for his improvement is assistant coach Mark Bryant (The same Mark Bryant first involved in the trade that landed Sir Charles Barkley in Houston, and later the trade that resulted in genuine Aussie Lucien Longley becoming a Phoenix Sun). Each time Adams exits the game he quizzes Bryant about the positives and negatives from his previous shift on the floor and what he needs to learn. Adams had a lot of chances to ask Bryant questions recently in a stretch of five games in just over a week. Let’s review how everyone’s favourite seven foot rookie from New Zealand went to end his pre-season campaign.
Tuesday October 15th
In the Thunder’s first pre-season appearance on home soil they made light work of the Denver Nuggets at home, defeating Brian Shaw’s men by 28 points. Before the game Coach Brooks told media that the backup centre position was still up for grabs. This set the scene for a five round super bout between Adams and Hasheem “The Dream” Thabeet over the remaining pre-season schedule to secure the backup position.
The judges would have scored Round 1 to Thabeet. Thabeet got the starting nod with Kendrick ‘Lamar’ Perkins missing again due to his dislocated finger. “The Dream” played 20 minutes, grabbing four boards (three offensive), one block and four points whilst Adams posted five points and six rebounds (five offensive) in his 18 minutes of action. But it was the fact that not only did Adams go one from four at the charity stripe, he also fouled out in the game. With three pre-season games under his belt Adams was averaging a foul every 3.7 minutes of playing time.
However it was not a foul called against Adams but rather a foul called on the rookie which was the talking point of the game. Early in the fourth quarter Adams and the one time Knick-Celtic-Thunder-Warrior-Bull and now Nugget Nate Robinson became entangled after a pick from Adams. The 5’9” guard took exception to the pick and proceeded to take a swing at Adams’ chest as he ran back on defence. Robinson was immediately ejected and my love for the kiwi amplified. Skip to 1.27 of the video below to see the altercation.
In round one of our super bout Thabeet won over the judges but Adams won over my heart (even more).
Thursday October 17th
Round Two of the Thabeet-Adams super bout saw the Thunder take on the New Orleans Pelicans (Pelicans Alert) at the BOK centre in Tulsa. NZhoops Editor Chris Wastney wrote a brief review of the game here. With both teams coming into the contest with undefeated pre-season records and it was the Pellies (new Pelicans nickname) getting the victory by three points. But that isn’t the contest we the people came to see. The story of the game was best side-part in the league, Steven Adams, posting a double-double (the first by a Thunder centre since November 2012); 10 points, 15 rebounds and one block in his game high 34 minutes of action. His adversary when it comes to backup centre minutes Thabeet got the starting nod again but could only manage two points and three rebounds in 14 minutes of game time.
Although once again fouling out (Thabeet had five fouls of his own) the judges could not score the round any other way than in Adams’ favour. Adams opposed Pelicans blocking machine Anthony Davis for a brief period during the game, managing to gain his only block of the game on “The Brow”. For the most part of the game Adams went head to head with Greg Stiemsma (Stiemsma actually received a head butt from Thabeet which will see “The Dream” miss opening night of the regular season through suspension) and 26 year old undrafted free agent Arinze Onuaku. Fun stat of the night included Adams who managed to out rebound the entire Cans (another new Pelicans nickname) bench.
Scott Brooks was pleased but cautious about Adams’ performance and once again tried to slow down my hype train. “It’s going to be hard to duplicate 10 points, 15 rebounds. Those are All-Star numbers.” Brooks said postgame. Adams has impressed his head coach with his protection of the basket and his surprising offensive skills. His picks (which have been fantastic and ALL LEGAL), touch around the basket rolling and his catch and finish in traffic is something the Thunder has not had from a big man in a long time (or ever).
Last note on the Pelicans matchup is that I do feel quite cheated. We only get to see Adams and the Thunder face off against the Pelicans three times during the season, two of them coming in the last week of the schedule. That is a long wait in between games to get my Tony Montana on;
Sunday October 20th
Game five of the pre-season and round three in our super bout brought the Jazz of Utah to town. This would be Adams’ first chance to go head to head against another promising young centre in Enes Kanter. Leading into the Kanter matchup Adams was yet to spend extended minutes opposing an established centre. Kanter isn’t a Dwight Howard or Brook Lopez of the association just yet but the game provided Adams with an opportunity to truly measure himself.
At the end of the 48 minutes the Thunder were victorious by six points over the Jazz in an 88-82 scoreline. You could also score another round to Adams in our Adams-Thabeet super bout as the young Kiwi dominated the former number three draft pick Kanter. Adams started the game in place of the still unavailable Perkins finishing with 24 minutes, 10 rebounds, two steals, two blocks and six points. This was Adams’ second straight double figure rebounding game. In contrast Thabeet failed to score whilst managing four rebounds in his 17 minutes on court.
In the close to 20 minutes that Adams faced off against the Turkish delight he was able control the paint. Adams posted four points, seven rebounds, two blocks (both against Kanter) and one steal whilst Kanter could only manage two points and two rebounds in the same time. It wasn’t an overall bad night for the Jazz’s new starting centre in light of Al Jefferson’s departure – who had to go pick up his pay check from the Charlotte Bobcats. Kanter totaled 15 points and seven rebounds in his 29 minutes of game time, illustrating that Adams done quite the number on him during their shared court time.
After the game Brooks had this to say about Adams “He’s been giving us good minutes. I thought he had another active game. He needs to continue to play like that”. Are you coming around Scott Brooks? I have a reserved seat on this hype train for you. You can sit next to Thunder point guard Reggie Jackson who has brought a ticket. “I knew he was good. But I didn’t know he was this good and this hungry. He’s just determined to get better. His approach to the game, he’s a sponge. He just wants to work hard”, Jackson said after the Jazz game.
You may or may not have noticed that I hadn’t mentioned “Bull” Adams’ foul count from this game. That’s because the young big only finished with three fouls and the best possible news when it comes to Adams and his foul count is no news at all. Going forward we need to see more of this control.
Wednesday October 23rd
The Thunder travelled to the Arizona desert to face the Phoenix Suns in their penultimate game of the pre-season which was also the first of back to back games. The Thunder would drop the game to the Suns, going down by 12 points.
For those also keeping score in our super bout I have Adams leading two rounds to one and fortunately for the rookie centre he was able to steal another round here as he once again outplayed Thabeet. Adams, coming off the bench, managed to both outscore and outrebound the other two centers on the Thunder roster combined. Thabeet and Perkins, in his first game back from injury combined for 20 minutes, seven rebounds, one block and two points compared to Adams who posted 10 points, eight rebounds and a block in his 26 minutes of action. Adams also turned the ball over four times but the Thunder can accept that when his hustle is keeping possessions alive along with consistently contesting shots on defense. Twice Adams also found himself on the floor hustling for loose balls and winning the battle for the ball. Both Marcin Gortat (who now finds himself on the Wizards roster after being shipped for another first round draft pick to add to the Suns sneaky big pile of first round draft picks) and Miles Plumlee (Not to be confused with his younger, better brother who resides in Brooklyn) found the going tough, struggling to get shooting separation from the former Pittsburgh Big.
It should be noted that before the Phoenix game Steven Adams (@RealStevenAdams) tweeted out “I could do with milo and Tim tams right about now”.
I love Milo. And Tim Tams.
This pretty much makes us best friends.
Thursday October 24th
The final game of the Thunder pre-season and the final round in our super bout would see the Thunder men from the Big Friendly take on Derrick Rose, his rehabbed knee and the rest of his Chicago Bulls outfit. Rose would lead his men to a nine point victory and admittedly I am not the biggest fan of D-Rose but he looks to be back to his MVP form.
Speaking of MVP form (Yeah you see what I did there didn’t you), Adams’ stat line for the final game was once again a nice one. Which is just what Thabeet did not need at this point in our super bout; Adams may well have the battle all but won heading into the Bulls game (unless Thabeet knocks him out), but otherwise Thabeet is trying to avoid a unanimous decision.
But ironically Thabeet’s hopes and dreams were crushed when he had a DNP-coaches decision against the Bulls. This left Adams’ stat line of 30 minutes, seven rebounds (all in the first half), two assists, two blocks and 11 points to seal the win in our pre-season super bout.
For a great review of Adams’ defence in this game I suggest you read Sam Garriock’s piece here, Sam does an amazing job of breaking down his tendencies, faults and successes. Do not read any further until you have read Sam’s break own. But what Sam didn’t do was show enough excitement about the big man swatting away a Boozer shot along with a Taj Gibson hook shot. You have to get up and about over those blocks Sam; you don’t come in Adams’ house and leave the same man! In Adams’ first few defensive stands he made mistakes but it was super impressive how quickly he learnt from those and proceeded to put on a low post defense clinic for Boozer.
So after seven pre-season games facing off against the likes of Boozer, Kanter, Spencer Hawes, Gortat, The poorer Plumlee brother and some Turkish talls, Adams finished with a per 36 minute average of 12.1ppg, 12.3RPG and 62.1% FG. That’s special.
But with just how good those numbers look from a 20 year old rookie who spent one year in the Big East before it was torn apart – there are many of those still trying to slow down my hype train. Along with Coach Brooks there is NZhoops senior writer Niall Anderson trying his very hardest to remain impartial and not become swept up in the Steven Adams era. And maybe just maybe Niall has a right to.
In an attempt to simply talk myself out of selecting Steven Adams with my first pick in an upcoming fantasy draft I will identify why we as a Steven Adams collective fan base may need to slow down this hype train ourselves.
Firstly, Adams is yet to face any of the elite centers in this league. As mentioned earlier the best player he has come up against is Carlos Boozer and his massive contract of which I’m sure the Bulls are going to try and turn into Kevin Love with all of the other trade chips the Bulls posses. The rookie is yet to come up against the big boys in the west like Howard and Gasol and let’s not forget my boy from Brooklyn, the best center in the East, Brook Lopez. This is where he will be tested both physically and skillfully, I cannot wait.
Secondly, coach Brooks has a really tough time trusting his young players to do the little things right night in night out. We saw it last year; Reggie Jackson had a great pre-season but as soon as the regular season begun Brooks went back to his tried and true backup point guard Eric Maynor. It would take until mid December for Jackson to earn Brooks trust and supplant Maynor as Westbrook’s back up (Maynor would be traded once he became the 3rd string PG). The same could happen to Adams, although Thabeet misses opening day, he could quite possibly give Thabeet the backup role for the time being, until Adams proves he can match it in the regular season.
But some may say form is form no matter if it’s the pre-season or the regular season. This is true and Adams’ form has been outstanding, and best among the rookie class, but Adams is yet to be scouted. Wait for the other 29 teams to scout the young rookie and put a magnifying glass on his imperfections.
Lastly, Adams has surprised just about everyone (though Sam Presti won’t admit it) with his offensive skills. But it is smart consistent defence which the Thunder need him to play to fill his role. That means becoming the Quarterback on the last line of defence – using his voice to instruct everyone else on the floor. It is hard for a young player to enter the league and be an on-court leader straight away, especially when that young player has been in four different cities the last four years.
When OKC Thunder beat writer for the Oklahoman Darnell Mayberry questioned Kendrick ‘Lamar’ Perkins about Adams defensive development, he said “It’s gonna come. He’s a rookie. The biggest thing I try to teach him is that it’s all right to talk. You’re the last line of defence so even when you’re not in the play just talking is intimidating”.
Royce Young for the Dailythunder.com asked Nick Collison (who looks very similar to Adams on court, they need to figure that out pretty fast, I’m not going to cope very well getting excited for every one of Adams swats or filthy rebounds only to figure out it was old man Nick Collison doing work on the boards) about Adams growth on defense. “He’s learning how to play. Learning the coverages and learning how to communicate them, that’s a lot to handle for a young player and as the year goes on we’ll get more comfortable and with that comes the communication” Collison said. The 33 year old veteran went on to say “Our young guys are trying hard. They’re still making some mistakes because a lot of it’s still new to them, but I’ve been encouraged and impressed with the work those guys have done.”
Collison has been helping Adams out post-practice which can only be good for the rookie’s development as they are quite similar players. By far one of my favourite comments from the previous week came from Dailythunder.com reader “ultimatesooner”. He commented
“If Adams wants to be great, he needs to become Nick Collison’s shadow.
When Nick watches film, Steven needs to be there.
When Nick eats breakfast, dinner and lunch, Steven needs to be there.
When Nick takes shots w/ that flaming lips guy, Steven needs to be there.
When Steven goes to sleep, he needs to listen to audio of Nick Collison breaking down Nick Collison tape, Adams is just younger, bigger, stronger version of NC”.
As we’ve heard this pre-season and can clearly see Adams has been hard at work on his game. Before the Jazz game beat writer Anthony Slater witnessed Adams pull up a chair and spent much of his pregame in the middle of the locker room studying game film of the Jazz.
It is this sort of work ethic that Adams must continue to employ to earn the trust of Brooks who is ultimately the only one who can give Adams minutes (no matter how many times I send anonymous emails to the Thunder organization). As it currently stands there appears to be no immediate plan to move Adams an hour and a half northeast (Thanks for the correction Hayden) to Tulsa, the Thunders D-League affiliate. Coach Brooks spoke to Royce Young about the possibility of Adams sent down “It’s something that we never talked about. We just focus on what we do here. If players go down and play in the D-League in Tulsa that decision is made during that time. But right now, I’m not even going that way with any of our guys”. For the moment this is great news, because the road that links Tulsa with Oklahoma City is a toll road. That’s an expensive trip on a rookie salary.
As we get ever closer to the Thunder’s October 30th opening game against the Utah Jazz we can sleep well knowing quality minutes are coming in his regular season debut with Thabeet missing. From there I don’t think it is out of the question to see 10-15 high energy minutes out of the big man immediately.
When the second best player in the league Kevin Durant was asked what he expects to see from his rookie centre come regular season “The only thing that’s going to be different is that the games count.”
All good KD, I saved you a seat next to me on the hype train.