Before Sunday night, Steven Adams' stiffest competition this preseason had been Spencer Hawes, an underachieving former lottery pick who's spent much of his career toiling on terrible teams.
There have been brief bouts with a few other notables, like Denver center JaVale McGee and New Orleans post man Anthony Davis.
But by and large, Adams had yet to face top flight competition, something that quietly clouded encouraging performances he assembled in three of the Thunder's first four exhibition games.
That all changed Sunday night, however, and turned an otherwise painful preseason slugfest against Utah into a must-see matchup.
It was Adams versus Enes Kanter, the third overall pick in 2011 who is widely projected to establish himself as a premier player now that he's free from Al Jefferson's smothering shadow.
And by the time the final buzzer had sounded, signaling the end to Oklahoma City's 88-82 victory over the rebuilding Jazz, you could score another one for Adams.
The 12th overall selection out of Pittsburgh continued his impressive preseason by starting in place of Kendrick Perkins (dislocated finger) and dominating Kanter for the 18 minutes they were matched up.
In the time he shared the court with Kanter, Adams scored four points with seven rebounds (three offensive), two blocked shots — both coming against Kanter — and one steal.
Kanter mustered just two points on 1-for-5 shooting with two rebounds and one foul in that time.
“He's been giving us good minutes,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “I thought he had another active game. He needs to continue to play like that.”
Adams finished with six points and a game-high 10 rebounds, his second-straight double digit rebounding game. In five preseason games, Adams is averaging 13.6 rebounds per 36 minutes. For context, Dwight Howard's career high is 13.9 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Numbers like those will only amplify the call by Adams supporters for the rookie to receive regular season minutes.
Even crazier is Adams is performing on pure instincts.
“I don't actually know all the players and who's considered skilled and whatnot,” said Adams, perhaps explaining why he pulled up a chair and spent his pregame sitting in the middle of the locker room, directly in front of the projection screen studying tape of the Jazz.
Late in Sunday's game, Adams had similar success against Derrick Favors, also a No. 3 overall pick but from the 2010 class.
“The main thing is, even with our team, we don't really play to (the opponent),” Adams explained. “No matter who it is, we're going to play how we play. So that's the mindset I take. I don't care who I'm facing, I'm just going to play how I play, which is run, get rebounds and play defense.”
Adams' ability to provide extra possessions by securing offensive rebounds jumps out at you. But so does his screen-setting. He allowed Reggie Jackson (team-high 18 points) to squirt free for one scoring opportunity after another thanks to screens that totally swallowed up John Lucas III and took him out of numerous plays.
“I knew he was good,” Jackson said. “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.”
With the passing of each game, Adams also is proving his performances are not a fluke.
“I do feel like I'm improving,” he said.
Asked his favorite aspect of the game, Adams matter-of-factly said winning. When pressed to point out a specific area that leads to that goal, Adams turned giddy over execution of offensive and defensive plays, when the entire team does something properly to either score or stop the opponent from scoring.
Then Adams was asked if he is satisfied with his preseason showing thus far.
“I'm never pleased,” Adams said. “I always try to stay hungry.”