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.”
The film sessions have helped.
“It definitely does,” Adams said. “When you think about it, you're playing and in your mind you're picturing what you look like. And then when you see yourself you're like, ‘What the hell?' It's a reality check. You're like, ‘Dang, I do that?' So it's definitely good to watch video so you can see yourself. You can get the criticism and understand where the coaches are coming from. They see it and you don't.”
TURNOVER TROUBLE THROUGH TWO
The Thunder had 21 turnovers in Friday's 19-point loss at Minnesota, and the Wolves scored 25 points off of them.
By halftime, the Thunder had as many turnovers (13) as made field goals.
“We got to take care of the ball,” Brooks said. “We're giving a very good offensive team easy possessions by our turnovers …We got to do a much better job of really valuing the basketball. We can't talk about it. We got to start doing it.”
Through two games, the Thunder has just 25 assists against 35 turnovers.
The Thunder plays its home opener Sunday night against Phoenix, providing OKC with an opportunity to bounce back quickly from Friday night's massacre in Minnesota.
But the Suns, projected to be one of the worst teams in the league, are off to a surprisingly good start at 2-0.
The Thunder, however, has won 10 straight against Phoenix, including the last five at home.
Guards Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic lead the Suns, averaging 20 points and 15.5 points, respectively.
“They're fast,” Brooks said. “The last two games, 31 and 24 in fast break points. There's no question they want to get up and down the court and play aggressive basketball. And their pick-and-roll game, they've got two point guards that start in the backcourt that are very aggressive and love to create for themselves and their teammates off of pick-and-roll action. We have to have good coverage there. So transition and pick-and-roll coverage are very important.”
Brooks on choosing to not review Friday's loss at Minnesota: “There's no reason to watch the film. They know we got our butts kicked. There are some times throughout the year that you have to not watch the film as a group.”