Why Steven Adams is Quietly One of the League’s Most Valuable Centers

While Paul George’s near-MVP candidate level of play has hoisted the Oklahoma City Thunder to a solid record of 25-14 (3rd in the Western Conference) there has been another major player in their recent success. And unsurprisingly, it’s not the slumping former-MVP Russell Westbrook. Steven Adams, the 7’0, 265 lb big man from New Zealand (and Pitt product!), has been rock-solid for this Thunder crew. The 5th year man with a burly build and an intimidating gaze flies under the radar for a number of reasons, even though many often recognize the impact he has for this team.

Before I begin, I would like to clarify what I mean by “most valuable.” I don’t mean “most valuable” in the same sense that the MVP award does, as in “this team won games because this player and this player alone did what they did,” although in a certain regard that may be true for Adams. What I mean by “most valuable” is that if you were to take any other center, even ones with comparable stats, and switch them with Adams, the Thunder would suffer for it. Adams is the only guy who can do what this team asks of him, both as a big body and as a personality. His fit for the needs this current Thunder team has at the center position is unlike any other supporting player in the league. Without any more semantics, let’s get into what makes Steven Adams such a necessity for OKC:

He Gets Buckets: Despite the somewhat limited offensive role he plays for the Thunder, Adams averages a respectable 15.2 PPG on the year, and in relatively low minutes for a starting center. Additionally, despite his somewhat limited range, Adams sports a near 60% field goal rating, and from 5 feet or less he’s almost up to 65%. For a player who receives the ball infrequently outside of the post, that’s a level of consistency that is pretty hard to match. For comparison, Joel Embiid (with admittedly a much larger offensive burden for his team) has shot 49% on field goals on the year. So, for Steven Adams to deliver on the few shots he gets goes a long way for the Thunder front court offense.

He’s a Monster on Offensive Glass: Adams is top 3 in the league in offensive rebounds per game. Despite the new 14-second renewed shot clock, those second chances add up, especially when you have two offensive weapons like Paul George and Russell Westbrook. Adams is a master of the put back himself, no less. While Adams is somewhat lower on the defensive rebounding chart, Westbrook and George are both elite in that department, alleviating that issue a bit.

He’s Improved Every Year of his Career: In Adams relatively short NBA career, he’s gone from coming off of the bench to starting in almost 80 games each year, including every one of 38 thus far in 2018-2019. More importantly, his average PPG has seen a significant improvement every single year of his career, even in comparable amounts of games and minutes played. In addition to becoming a more potent offensive player, he’s improved as both an offensive and defensive rebounder as his career goes on. Adams is only 25, and he still has plenty of room to grow as a player as he continues to work, and I have no doubts that he will continue to step it up in the near future.

He’s Selfless and Plays Hard: One of the things Adams is so well-known for is the extreme physicality of his play. He sets some rock-hard screens, plays aggressive defense in the paint, and fights hard for rebounds. He takes a lot of contact, but he’s a sturdy body in the way of driving opponents. Many of the most famous plays Adams makes are his brick-wall picks for Russ or PG, so not only is he taking contact, but he’s doing so in order to help create for his teammates.

Pat Beverly, Isaiah Thomas, and many others fall victim to Steven Adams’ screens in this clip. Pat Beverly in particular got absolutely leveled.

With the hard screens he delivers on players like those in the clip above, you’d almost think it was an open field tackle he was laying into these guys, but his clean picks are just that immovable.

He Puts Up with Westbrook’s BS: One of the defining features of Adams fit in OKC is how little he asks of the team. He’s not there to pad stats, he’s not there to fuel his ego, and he’s not there to drive an MVP storyline into the ground. Steven Adams comes to work. Not only does he ball out and ask little in return, he’s a fantastic teammate. I can’t even count on my fingers how many times (just off of the top of my head) that Russ has talked his way into a confrontation that Adams inevitably helps break up. There was one particular instance in which Adams got a technical for breaking up a fight that Westbrook instigated with Willie Cauley-Stein. Adams remained cool in collected even as Cauley-Stein pushed him away by the throat. His temperament, level-headedness, and patience is truly remarkable. If I was playing peacemaker, and WCS grabbed me by the neck and pushed me away, I’d sure as hell go earn myself a technical. Plenty of players act a fool in the NBA, one not the least of which is his star teammate, and Adams is unmoved in their presence.

It’s honestly impressive the number of fights you can find Steven Adams breaking up just by searching “Russell Westbrook fights.”

Conclusion: There’s no doubt: Steven Adams is not only an impressive basketball talent and smart player, but his personality makes him more than an ideal fit for this team and its personnel. In terms of the “intangibles,” he hits it out of the park.


Why This Jimmy Butler News Means Next To Nothing

In the mainstream NBA medias undying desire to create story-lines where none exist, the Jimmy Butler saga has earned a new chapter. The news comes as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne report that Butler had questioned Brett Brown over his role and usage within the team’s offensive system.

My major issue with this reporting is the very intentionally harsh word choice. The ESPN piece described the incident as Butler “challenging” Brown during a film review, which some witnesses described as “disrespectful,” as well as describing the Big 3’s chemistry as “tenuous.”

Of course, if you’re a part of the casual NBA fanbase’s hivemind who takes every headline at face value, your mouth is probably watering at the proposition that things are heading south for Butler and the 76ers. Except they aren’t. If you read any further into the article than the headline, you would understand that once again, there’s a whole lot of something being made out of a whole lot of nothing.

A short thread about my thoughts on the matter, from Twitter.

There are many reasons that I think this is entirely no big deal. First of all, Brett Brown himself said so. Per ESPN’s own article, “Brown has told people within the organization that he had no issues with that exchange and considered it within the confines of the relationship that he’s developed with Butler, sources said.” So Brett Brown did not believe the confrontation to be disrespectful, and very clearly finds it to have been within the informal rules of his relationship with the star Forward. If you ask me, Brett Brown’s opinion of the dialogue is more important than anyone else in the room.

The second reason this is a mountain being made from a molehill is that the team chemistry is not “tenuous.” Sure, Simmons, Butler, and Embiid aren’t clicking perfectly on the court. But it’s barely been more than a month since the trade, so of course there are still kinks to work out. The major sports media groups love to take conflicts of play-style and turn them into conflicts of personality and mentality. The Sixers have so few shooters that Embiid is being used to space the floor, and when he expressed disinterest in that, the media made it sound like he hates having Butler around and like things better before the trade. In reality, all he was saying is the change in the system have made him find different ways to get his shots off.

Another bothersome bit of word-play in this headline is the word “challenging” which carries a connotation that implies that Butler was questioning Brown’s authority or expertise, which clearly was not the case. Could it have been confrontational? Possibly, we don’t know exactly what happened. But more likely than not, Butler expressed some qualms about his plays and maybe went about it in the wrong way. This isn’t a bad thing, however.

One of the key reasons the Butler trade was a positive for the Sixers was bringing in a player with veteran expertise at multiple levels of play including the post-season. He’s played with a lot of guys, on multiple teams, and he’s seen a lot of NBA basketball. So I find it a gross over-reaction that people are describing Butler offering his opinion on a matter to his coach as a problem. Anyone who has ever been a fan of a LeBron-led team knows that player input is important.

Of course, this comes with the obvious assumption that such dialogue is productive, respectful, and within the bounds of the team’s culture. Is it possible that Butler violated some or any of those 3? Sure, but Brett Brown doesn’t seem to think he did.

More importantly, Butler must know as well as anyone that him getting the contract that he wants, as well as contending for titles, relies upon him having a constructive and open-minded relationship with Brett and the organization. I don’t see another team that’s in as good a situation as Philly is giving him the money he wants and the competitive future that he wants.

I for one was very concerned about team chemistry post-Butler trade. Since then, things have gone well, but I still have that itch in the back of my head that things could go wrong, and that worries me about it a little bit. Until then, however, as long as Butler, Embiid, Simmons, Brett, and the whole organization continue to be professional and engaged with their goals, there will be no problems. This whole chemistry issue, up to this point and most likely for a while, will be no big deal.

Jimmy Butler Ejected in Sixers’ Win

In what ended up being an unprecedentedly stupid game, Jimmy Butler was ejected after a quick scuffle with washed-up Clipper Avery Bradley.

How was this game stupid? Allow me to break down all of the moronic nonsense that went on during the late stage of this game. Butler was ejected with 7 minutes remaining in the 4th, and in the time following that:

  • The Sixers did not shoot a free throw until an intentional foul under 2 minutes left (they hadn’t shot any all quarter prior to the ejection, despite about 5 Embiid double teams, but whatever)
  • The team went on a 4 minute-long scoring drought
  • Ben Simmons went 0-2 at the line, but a lane violation from Gallinari gave him a third shot, which he also missed
  • The rebound on the third miss was miraculously recovered and TJ McConnell was fouled, and he only went 1-2 at the line
  • Montrezl Harrell went 0-2 at the line when down only 5

On top of the fact that Butler and Bradley getting ejected probably shouldn’t have happened, the fact that the Clippers shot double-digit free throws in the 4th quarter, while the most foul-able player on the court (and the whole rest of his team) took 0, is pretty suspect.

Included in this clip are not only the altercations, but the supreme idiocy that followed.

A simple double technical would have sufficed for the Butler scuffle, and while I understand the bad optics of Butler’s hands on Bradley’s neck, that was clearly not his intention. Not to mention, Bradley was clearly the one causing the confrontation after the made 3-pointer from Mike Muscala. If Jimmy Butler wanted to choke out Avery Bradley, he would have done it.

Opinions on the officiating late in the game aside, this game was objectively bad basketball. The Sixers shouldn’t have blown their lead in the first place, and the Clippers had all the chances necessary to take over, and still failed.

Even so, the Sixers’ bench had an abnormally good game, especially from Jonah Bolden with a 3 and a power dunk, as well as an overdue good night from 3 for JJ Redick.

James Harden’s Play Puts Him Right Back In The MVP Conversation

Since the turn of the millennium, 3 players have recorded back-to-back MVP seasons, in Tim Duncan, LeBron James, and Steph Curry (LeBron did it twice). As the reigning MVP, the honeymoon for James Harden is over, and the expectations for him entering this season went up after the Rockets’ historic (and not in a good way) season finale in the WCF.

The Rockets’ disappointing end to their all-time-great year was compounded by their rocky start to the current season by going 1-5 in their first 6 games. They lost as many games in their first 6 this year as they did their first 31 in the previous season. At the time, it was safe to say they weren’t going to win 60+ games this year, and they still almost certainly will not. But the Rockets have turned themselves back into a playoff team with their recent run, and Harden is the man responsible.

James Harden, in the last 2 weeks, has averaged 40.43 (!) points per game in 6 wins and 1 loss in that time frame. A win Monday night against the Grizzlies would cap off two 5-game win streaks in the month of December, despite Chris Paul’s absence for much of their recent schedule. If this team is able to put forth a record earning a top 4 seed in the West, after the start that they had, would certainly put Harden in the MVP conversation.

My only concern with all of this is Harden’s history of disappearance in the post-season. In the past 2 weeks, James Harden is averaging nearly 39 minutes per game, among the absolute highest in the leage. Chris Paul has yet to return from his hamstring injury, and who’s to say he doesn’t have another short-term absence for injury after he returns?

If this Rockets team is to accomplish what they would need to in order for Harden to be in the MVP conversation, what would be the point? He could be completely out of juice come playoff time, and they wouldn’t be able to earn full home field advantage last year, unforeseen circumstances aside. So what really is the use of earning a top 4 seed if it means Harden has so little left to give? You never know with Chris Paul. Harden might be running the show come April, anyway.

Harden’s play took a close game to near-garbage time against the Celtics.

There is also a question surrounding even the short-term sustainability of the type of play Harden has exhibited recently. Harden is nearly a lock for 35+ a night at the moment, but without CP3, is this team winning games without production from the bench? If Gerald Green didn’t go 3/7 from 3, and Austin Rivers didn’t score 10 points off the bench in short minutes, do the Rockets beat the Celtics? Harden does about as much on a night-to-night basis as any man could, but if Harden drops only 37 instead of 41, or if Eric Gordon doesn’t drop 21, do they lose to the Pelicans?

Speaking of Gordon, he will undergo an MRI on his right knee as I write this, meaning one of the most pivotal role players for Houston might take a leave of absence. Harden could put up 45 points every single night, but will that be enough against their upcoming schedule of Memphis, Golden State, Portland, Denver, and Milwaukee? As good as the Beard is playing, it makes you wonder whether or not the minutes load is justified by the potential return on investment.

Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe on 39 minutes Harden leads the Rockets past all 5 of those teams, but what will that really accomplish for their playoff aspirations?

All of these questions aside, one has to believe that there are still moves to be made by Houston before the trade deadline, or perhaps free-agent signings off of waivers. This team needs contingency plans in the event that anything happens to Chris Paul, limiting his ability to balance Harden’s minutes. But in the meantime, the Houston Rockets can let their diamond shine and step up his MVP contention.