The Thunder’s first two preseason games came against Fenerbahce Ulker, a solid Turkish league team, and the Philadelphia 76ers, a potential 60-loss squad that’s serving as the face of what some are referring to as this season’s NBA Tankapalooza.
But it doesn’t matter. They could have been against the San Antonio Spurs and the Eastern Conference All-Stars. They’re still preseason games. And when evaluating the developments, they should be treated as such.
That said, and with that huge grain of salt taken, allow me to completely ignore those past two paragraphs: Thunderheads, you should’ve been extremely encouraged by your first glimpse of rookie center Steven Adams.
I wrote about the 20-year-old New Zealander in Friday’s paper, basically asking the question: Can he break into the OKC rotation right away? You can read that story by clicking here.
But what is summed up in 700 words can often be easier to explain with seven seconds of video.
So with that, let’s examine some of Adams’ more telling plays from the recent overseas trip in our first edition of film study:
-Catch and finish – Here’s a pretty basic, but well-run, two-man game between Adams and Kevin Durant. Adams uses his big frame (7-feet tall, 255 pounds) to set a solid down screen on Durant’s man. KD receives the pass, curls and is immediately met with a double-team. Adams smartly recognizes this and cuts toward the basket, receiving a perfect pocket pass from Durant, hitting him on the run. Adams smoothly gathers and powerfully finishes with the dunk. The play looks simple, but really speaks towards the trust KD seems to be developing with the rookie and his fluid offensive movements. I’m not sure he even attempts this pass if it’s Kendrick Perkins.
-Finish in traffic - As Reggie Jackson drives the lane with the initial intention of shooting, Adams’ man converges, causing Jackson to improvise. Caught in the air, Jackson slips a low and tough-to-handle bounce pass towards Adams’ feet. After an initial fumble, Adams is able to quickly secure, rise through traffic and bank it in off the glass. Not an easy play.
-On the move - In many ways, this next play sums up where Adams is early in his career: Talented but young. Showing his court versatility, he executes another two-man game with Durant, this time stretched out to the three-point line. As he comes over to set the screen, Adams senses the impending Durant double-team and immediately slips to the basket. Smart move. KD hits him right away and Adams, a bit out of control, then barrels toward the hoop, committing an uncalled travel and uncalled offensive foul, before nailing a smooth banker. In six seconds, he showed athleticism, touch and some footwork that needs to be shored up.
-Post-up: Here’s another example of Adams’ developing footwork. It’s his only post-up of the trip. And it results in a travel.
-Defensive aggression – In just 32 minutes, Adams committed eight fouls. That’s a trend that’ll give you plenty of bench time in the NBA, regardless of whether your coach wants to play you. He’s a bit overaggressive, jumpy and, by his own admission, overthinking things as he tries to learn the team’s coverages. And at this point, that defensive confusion is probably the strongest argument for leaving him off the court, with what he’s shown on offense. Here’s an example of one of his fouls:
-Reverse layup - This final play serves as maybe the best example of what type of dynamic Adams could bring this team offensively. As Berry Tramel mentioned in this roundtable, we’re not talking about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar…or even the next Al Jefferson. But Adams seems to have a natural feel for the game and all the necessary hand-eye coordination around the basket. One-handed, he stops a bullet pass from Durant (it looks like KD’s going to love him), quickly gathers it and easily spins it in for a reverse layup. Just not the type of play we’ve seen out of the center position in OKC for some time.