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.

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Who Can Tame the NBA’s Western Conference?

As the 2018-2019 NBA season trudges on, it is becoming increasingly clear who is a real contender and who is not. There is still plenty of stratification that has yet to occur, but in the meantime, many pundits have been asking who they believe is the West’s 2nd best team (presuming the best is still the Golden State Warriors, which is the right assumption in my opinion).

I find this question problematic for a number of reasons. For starters, win/loss record is not always indicative of who the “best” team is. The best team might have the 2nd best record (like GSW last year) and the 2nd best team might have the 4th best record. 

The consensus answer for the West’s second best team at the moment seems to be the Denver Nuggets, who sit at the top of the WC standings with a record of 18-9. While I do think the Nuggets aren’t a bad choice, I disagree with the logic that they are the West’s second best team because they have the best record near 25% of the way through the season. I think there is a much more accurate and interesting way to find out who’s for real in the West: Who is likely to host a first round playoff series? In other words, who will finish with one of the top 4 records in the Western Conference?

The reasoning behind posing the question in this way is two-fold. First, it allows for a lot more room for interpretation of how you determine who is the “best.” Second, with the depth of the Western Conference as currently constructed, you need every advantage you can get, and home court advantage in the first or second round can be the difference maker. Styles make fights, and you don’t want to be taking any risks when you might be playing against Anthony Davis or the deep, deep LA Clippers in round 1. Not necessarily in any seed-based order, here are the 4:

Warriors: The first team that I believe will keep a top 4 spot is obviously the Warriors. I think they likely take the 1 seed, as I don’t think any team can beat their long term win/loss record. Regardless, they are easily a lock for a top 4 seed even with taking some minor injuries along the way. With that said, if Steph Curry were to suffer a season-ending injury (knock on wood) the Dubs could be in trouble. I still think they’d be fine, though.

Nuggets: The second team that I think is taking a top 4 seed is the Denver Nuggets. As I said before, they currently lead the West and look poised to keep on rolling over mid-tier teams. They have racked up impressive wins, and star big-man Nikola Jokic really can do anything except jump. He still shows weaknesses defensively, but the team has stepped it up as a whole in that regard making it less of an issue. They will likely add even more depth as the season goes on, as they look to incorporate Isaiah Thomas as he returns from injury soon, and we still haven’t heard a peep about Micheal Porter Jr. whose status is still pretty unclear as far as this season is concerned. Regardless, the Nuggets are one of the more flexible, amorphous teams in the league. Denver has shown they’re more than a statistical anomaly and shows no signs of slowing down in their current state.

Thunder: The Oklahoma City Thunder, who started out the season painfully sluggish, have displayed that they can do it with or without Russell Westbrook, and this team looks like a defensive bastion as of late. Steven Adams is top 5 in the league in offensive boards, and with weapons like Paul George around the perimeter, that pays dividends. Speaking of George, he leads the league in steals, and continues to show his prowess as a two-way player. Now that they’ve worked the kinks out, the best way to describe the Thunder appears to be one word: consistent. Of course they have their fluke losses like all teams, but for the most part the Thunder eat mid to low-tier teams for breakfast. That alone should be good enough to keep them in the playoff bubble, and the teams’ upside as a whole gives me reason to believe they’ll land in the top 4.

Paul George’s night to night production allows a necessary buffer for the other primary scorers on the team.

Lakers: I did some light research on this one, and last I checked, LeBron James is still on the Lakers’ roster. They have definitely figured out their defense, and since the start of the season have completely turned around on that front. More importantly, the team has figured out which players of their young core function next to LeBron, which is basically the key to succeeding with LeBron. It’s not easy to play on-court with the King, but if they figure it out and stick to their guns from there (the guns seem to be Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma) then they can make waves. Not to mention, even the guys they have that aren’t particularly good fits with LeBron are still solid, athletic players. If they can rest LeBron a few more minutes per night without that throwing the game into the fire, that could go a long way in terms of wins through the rest of the season and into the playoffs. LeBron will turn it on when he needs to, and albeit this may be an earlier time to do so than in years past, nothing is guaranteed in the West right now. Having home court matters way more this year than in his past decade of being in the East.

So, there are my 4, not in any order. I could see any of those 4 in any order being logical at the end of the regular season.

Some notable omissions would be the Houston Rockets who topped the seeds last year. They look stronger, but if they want to even see the playoffs this year, they need to get it together-and fast. 

I think the surprise teams of the Clippers and Grizzlies will stay strong, but I think they will have to falter a little bit, the Grizz especially. They are one multiple-week injury away from a serious losing streak. The Clippers are one of the deepest, most well-rounded teams in the league, meaning they are less prone to regression and more likely to adapt long-term, but I also think they are due for a little bit of cooling off. That said, Doc Rivers is making a Coach of The Year case. 

Aside from those two, who have flirted with top positions thus far this year, everyone else is in the hunt to even make the playoffs. The Spurs, Jazz, Pelicans, and Trail Blazers all have the talent to make it, but cannot spare a single loss. Those are the types of teams that I’d be skeptical of being able to win consistently enough from night to night to clinch a top 4 seed.