The Emergence of Steven Adams

April 2, 2018



The Big Kiwi. Steven Adams has been a fan favorite since his arrive in Oklahoma City but this season he has upped his play. Last season, there was talk that Adams hadn’t played up to his 4-year $100 million contract but the stats tell me a different narrative that I’d like to share with you.


In 2016, the year Kevin Durant left OKC, Steven Adams averaged 11.3 points per game on 57% shooting. He also grabbed 7.7 rebounds. Compared to 2015, these stats reflect exactly what the tape shows: the loss of an outside threat like Kevin Durant smothers Adams in the lane. In 2015, Adams shot over 60% from the field but only grabbed 6.7 rebounds and averaged 8 points. Remember, these numbers are total season averages.

This season thus far, Adams has had a career season. His average through 69 (nice) games has seen career highs in field goals (63%), points (14 per game) and rebounds (9). In a league that has guard driven play and fast transition offense, Steven Adams is a traditional big that actually makes a difference. If we compare other big time bigs in the league, Adams is big time talent. Guys like Jokic (18-10 on 50% shooting), Embiid (23-8 on 43% shooting), and KAT (22-12 on 53% shooting) are staples of their offense. Adams has Russ, PG13, and Melo to take off the scoring burden. Adams doesn’t have to be an offensive threat; he gets to be house money.


Where Steven Adams makes his money is on the defensive end. He anchors the post defense and can switch on to most point guards in the league. This season, Adams sits at a nice 1.2 defensive plus/minus and is averaging 3.3 blocks per 100 possessions. The guy blocks 3 shots every 100 possessions and that is cool. Comparatively, Jokic is averaging 2 blocks a game and has a similar plus/minus. KAT’s defensive plus/minus is a lackluster 1.1. (Side note: this is actually an improvement. KAT was bottom 3 as a rookie last year behind Isaiah Thomas and Enes Kanter). Embiid out performs Adams defensively.


If Adams’ quantifiable stats are comparable to other bigs, why is he such a big deal? I have a few reasons here.

  1. Adams contributes where his team needs him at. He maximizes the defensive side of the ball with his rim defense and his rebounding capacity. When Adams is the primary defender, he only allows 55% to opponents shooting inside 6 foot. The league average from inside 6 feet is 60%; his defense at that range is pretty good.

  2. Adams is a monster on the offensive glass. OKC ranks first in offensive rebound percentage and first in second-chance points. The Thunder average 31% in the offensive boards per 100 possessions when Adams is on the floor but only 21% when he is not. Adams gives OKC a lot of second chances.

  3. Adams is a perfectly compliment to Russ and PG. He is big, he rebounds and he runs the pick-and-roll perfectly. Adams is second in the league with 4.8 screen assists per game. And anyone who watched the Thunder play knows they run the PnR between Russ and Steven quite a bit.

So why the resurgence since last season? OKC has more outside shooting with players like Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton and a newcomer in Corey Brewer. Steven Adams has so much more room to work in the paint. Last season, OKC was very paint-scoring driven and it smothered Adams’ game. This season, opponents have to honor the 3-ball which leaves plenty of pick-and-roll opportunities for Russ and Adams.  


I know a lot of this may be self-evident to a lot of people who know more about basketball than I do and I want to remind fans of something that is equally obvious; the rugged brand of basketball that Adams contributes to this team is the kind of basketball a team needs in the playoffs.


Stephen McCleskey is the Band Director at Elmore City-Pernell Public Schools. His Twitter handle is @BandDirectorOK.


                                                       Photo Credit (Top of Page): USAToday




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