In his annual exit interview with the media, Sam Presti tried to temper the rapidly rising expectations surrounding his latest draft-day success.
Steven Adams had just completed his first postseason run, an eye-opening month-plus where the 20-year-old arrived on the national scene and solidified himself as one of the franchise’s most promising building blocks. But, Presti warned, he didn’t want to be a prisoner of the moment.
“The recency bias is to think about the last couple games that he played,” Presti said of Adams. “But ... if our run ended in Game 5 of the Memphis series, we wouldn’t really know what Steven was capable of and we’d be maybe looking at those questions differently.”
Presti is right. Adams had a solid rookie season, but wasn’t really a factor as the playoffs began.
In Games 2 through 5 of the Memphis series, Adams played a combined nine minutes, all in mop-up duty. He was out of the rotation. And if the Grizzlies had completed that first-round upset of the Thunder, Adams’ initial postseason experience would have been as little more than a spectator.
But that’s when things changed. That’s when Scott Brooks abandoned some of his trusted veterans and gave the rookie an extended chance. And that’s when Adams delivered.
It started in the Game 6 must-win in Memphis, when Adams rose from a deep freeze to swat five shots in 20 minutes, throwing his body around and altering the physical complexion of the game and series.
The performance was impactful enough for Brooks to stick with Adams for good.
Over the Thunder’s final 14 playoff games, Adams played 310 minutes, 53 more than starter Kendrick Perkins and the fifth most on the team, behind only Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson.
His youth, energy and skill gave the Thunder a needed boost. After playing a key role in the Memphis survival, Adams proved vital in a physical battle against the Clippers and their high-flying bigs.
Starting in Game 2, he began a run of nine consecutive games with at least one blocked shot. He had nine rebounds in 18 minutes in a big Game 3 win. And in the closeout Game 6, Adams may have had his most important professional performance.
With Serge Ibaka sidelined because of a calf injury, Adams played a career-high 40 minutes and compiled 10 points, 11 rebounds and a game-high plus/minus of +17.
He was lauded by all after the game, including Reggie Jackson, known for his occasional hyperbole, calling Adams a “potential Hall of Famer.”
“I think we can all look back on this season and say it was very productive for Steven,” Presti said.
Adams’ postseason renaissance continued in the Spurs series, where he remained a bright spot. And even though, externally, this was viewed as a “championship or bust” season, plenty of good came from the Thunder surviving a Memphis scare and advancing deep into the conference finals, despite eventual elimination.
And the biggest of those positives, arguably, was another month of development for Adams.
“The opportunity to be able to play gave us more opportunity to learn (about Adams),” Presti said. “But that 10-game stretch shouldn’t really change our thinking too much.”
Hard not to factor it in, though.