Steven Adams took the court following a timeout in the Thunder's preseason finale last week against Chicago and nestled himself next to Mike Dunleavy Jr.
For a moment, Adams prepared to defend the Bulls' sharpshooter, perhaps assuming Dunleavy's 6-foot-9 frame meant he played down low. Had it not been for Kevin Durant coming over and redirecting Adams to an actual post player, the rookie center appeared to be ready to give it a shot.
The scene, while comical, shed light on how much Adams has to learn about the NBA, particularly individual matchups.
That's why, for the past month, the 12th overall pick has been playing catch up. Adams has worked closely with assistant coach Mark Bryant, watching film on opponents and himself after every game to gain a better understanding of defensive schemes and player's strengths.
“I'm definitely trying to study the opponent to get any sort of advantage I can,” Adams said. “(I'm watching for) just their tendencies, what do they like doing on the post, what percentage they are if they catch it further out from the block, where they make most of their shots. Stuff like that. I'm still trying to figure out what to study on players, but M.B. has helped me out a lot in saying ‘You got to look for this.”
Adams' effectiveness throughout the preseason and, to a lesser extent, the first two games becomes more impressive when you consider he's had success in spite of his ignorance.
“It's a process for every player that comes into this league to understand what you do as a group and then understanding the opponent that you play against,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He's no different than any other rookie that's been in this league. The thing I love about him is he's going to work hard. And he's going to earn his opportunities. And when he's called upon, his minutes are going to be played with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of effort. And if you have that, you're going to keep improving. And he's improved the last three or four months we've had him.”
Brooks said the coaching staff will judge Adams by what he does each month rather than on a game-to-game basis. For now, Adams said he's most pleased with how he has picked up small things on the defensive end such as communicating, setting screens and understanding pick-and-roll coverages.
“I didn't actually know it,” Adams said of those things. “In the NBA, you have to actually change your whole mindset when you get into it. That's what I'm most proud of and have made the most progress in.”