TULSA — It's been nearly a year since we've seen a Thunder center do what Steven Adams did Thursday night.
That was, as coach Scott Brooks put it, post All-Star numbers.
The exact date was Nov. 26, so long ago you probably don't remember it.
But that's when Hasheem Thabeet recorded a double-double. His 13 points and 10 rebounds that night came in a 45-point blowout of the Charlotte Bobcats.
It was the only double-double by a Thunder center all season.
But with 10 points and a game-high 15 rebounds in the Thunder's 105-102 preseason loss to New Orleans inside a sold out BOK Center, Adams showed fans what the future might hold.
The rookie out of Pittsburgh was as impressive as we've seen him this exhibition season, and by night's end Adams' performance left everyone pondering how much regular-season playing time could be in store for the 12th overall selection.
“He had a great game,” Brooks said. “It's going to be hard to duplicate 10 points, 15 rebounds. Those are All-Star numbers.”
When you consider how none of the Thunder's centers last season could post such figures, it stands to reason that Adams deserves the chance to try.
It's taken just four preseason games for Adams to stand out as the team's best offensive option at center. He consistently catches drop-off passes, lobs and bullets fired out of pick-and-rolls, finishing each with regularity. And he has a soft touch around the rim, which, coupled with his athleticism, makes him a threat at all times in the paint.
Against the Pelicans, Adams again showed his offensive-rebounding ability, snagging a game-high six, including one near jaw-dropping putback attempt that missed only when the forcefulness of his attempt caused it to ricochet off the rim.
“He's very active,” Brooks said. “He clogs the paint defensively and he rebounds the basketball. Those are the things we like about him.”
The defensive end is where Adams seemingly must develop before garnering consistent minutes. He shows good awareness in pick-and-roll situations, cutting off the ballhandler before retreating to his man. But consistency is an issue, as he still gets lost at times, like he did on one fourth-quarter possession when he lingered in front of Pelicans reserve point guard Brian Roberts far too long and allowed his man to catch a pass just outside the paint. As soon as Adams recovered, the ball swung to the opposite side of the lane for an easy dunk.
“He has to continue to understand all the details of the game, and that's going to work itself out with all the work that he puts in with our staff,” Brooks said.
Teammates also are stressing to Adams that communication is critical for his position.
“It's gonna come,” said Kendrick Perkins, who didn't play for the third straight game due to a dislocated finger. “He's a rookie. The biggest thing I try to teach him is that it's all right to talk. You're the last line of defense, so even when you're not in the play, just talking is intimidating.”
Thabeet, who started in place of Perkins, is the incumbent backup. But it seems Adams is quickly narrowing the gap, especially after Thabeet finished with two points, three rebounds and five fouls in 14 minutes.
When asked what's most important from the backup center spot, Brooks regurgitated a familiar refrain.
“Putting us in positions to win, making winning basketball plays,” he said. “Those are positions that we have to make winning plays.”
In the next breath Brooks rattled off a list of things, all of them things that Adams did Thursday night.
Setting screens … Diving on the floor … Blocking shots … Boxing out on the free throw.
“Those are important things that we talk about, paying attention to the details,” Brooks said. “And I think he's done a good job with that but, still, he has a lot to learn. But he's eager. He's willing to put the work in every day.”