October 27, 2012. Memorable to me for several reasons. First off, it is the date of birth of one of my children. Secondly, OU was facing off against Notre Dame in Norman. After being down for much of the game, OU was finally starting to make a comeback in the fourth quarter. As is usually the case with most red-blooded Americans, I was watching the game while also going through my social media on my phone.
Then a weird tweet popped up on my timeline. “Harden, wow!”, was all it said. After further researching, I found out, like most of the sports world, that James Harden had been traded to the Houston Rockets. The shock and awe of the trade would last about four years. Sports writers would ridicule the trade. Media pundits would bash Oklahoma City Thunder ownership for exhibiting cheap tendencies. And the Thunder, who were just coming off a trip to the Finals, would never return to the promise land.
The pieces the Thunder received from the Rockets were the points of contention as to why the trade appeared to be so lopsided in Houston’s favor. While Harden was off in Houston becoming an All-NBA player and possible MVP candidate, players like Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and Mitch McGary were completely under performing based off their potential. Another piece from the trade, Alex Abrines, was a literal unknown because he (and the Thunder) decided that he should developing in Spain while playing for one of the top EuroLeague teams.
The only saving grace for the Thunder from that trade was a 7-foot center from New Zealand via Pittsburgh. When he was drafted with the 12th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, many thought he would spend much of his first season playing on the Thunder’s developmental team. He was very athletic, but also, very raw. Instead, he played in 81 games for the Thunder his rookie year, never even logging a minutes on the Thunder’s D-League team.
He was given the reins to the starting center position his second season. In what was a tumultuous season for the Thunder, Adams was the steady rock in the middle for the Thunder. In his third season, he became more of a threat on the offensive end as he and Russell Westbrook developed a two-man game that would make Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan proud.
But it was in the 2016 playoffs where the narrative of the Harden trade began to change. Throughout the Thunder’s playoff run, Adams became the Thunder defensive anchor. His memorable stand in the final seconds of Game 2 against the San Antonio Spurs probably saved the season for the Thunder and gave them the momentum to make it to the Western Conference Finals.
Adams’ athleticism allowed the Thunder to play various styles without having to change their big man. Against the Spurs, Adams could bang in the post against the likes of Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge. Against the Warriors, Adams was able to switch out onto the perimeter and guard smaller, faster players for short amounts of time.
When the question comes up as to why I put Adams ahead of Oladipo, this is the reason why. There are plenty of guards in the league that can put up 15+ points per game and play some defense. In fact, the Thunder have had a few of them (Harden, Reggie Jackson, Dion Waiters) throughout the years. But a big man that can allow you to play multiple styles without having to change much of your personnel is a blessing most teams in the NBA don’t have. That’s what Adams gives to the Thunder.2015-16 Statistics
80 GP, 25.2 mins, 8.0 pts, 6.7 rebs, 0.8 asts, 1.1 blks, 0.5 stls, 61.3% FG, 58.2% FTBest-Case Scenario
Adams is still young enough to continue trending upward statistically. His two man game with Westbrook turned into an offensive threat that teams actually started to game plan against. He is developing some semblance of a back to the basket game with a hook shot and a shot-put shot. The best-case scenario for the Thunder is for Adams to continue on the current trajectory that he is on. He won’t ever be a one man wrecking crew on offense, but he should be able to score in double digits this season.
In addition, with Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka no longer on the team, the responsibility of rebounding will likely fall on Adams. For someone as athletic and strong as him, he should be grabbing 8+ rebounds per game. Which is what I see him doing this season. Adams is on the right track to be one of the better defensive centers in the league. If he actually gets there this season, and also adds a thing or two to his offensive repertoire, the Thunder will be in prime position to have one of the better centers in the league.Worst-Case Scenario
I don’t really worry about a regression for Adams. What I do worry about is injury concerns. While he’s never had a major injury outside of a broken bone in his hand, he did appear to be breaking down by the end of the playoff run for the Thunder. He plays a tough position, but it’s made even tougher by the fact that he’s the only defensive big on the team (that actually plays (sorry, Nick Collison)). He used to be flanked by two 6’11” players who were grizzled vets. Now he’ll be flanked by a 6’7″ perimeter defender and, likely, a 6’10” rookie. He’ll be busy this season protecting the paint for the Thunder.Percentage he’ll be traded sometime this season:
0.1% – I think there’s a better chance Westbrook gets traded this season. Adams is viewed by the organization as a pillar of the team moving forward. He’s the transitional gateway from the past to the future. He’s not going anywhere for a while.Adams’ Season Preview
Adams will come into this season as one of the leaders of the team. Kevin Garnett handed the defensive leadership baton to Kendrick Perkins, who then handed it off to Steven Adams. The Big Kiwi will be one of the best defensive bigs in the league and will mentioned as one of the top defenders when the season ends. His offensive output will increase, but it won’t be anything out of this world. But defensively is where he will make his mark on this team.