The Oklahoman’s staff writers discuss three topics surrounding Steven Adams:
1. What was the most impressive aspect of Steven Adams’ rookie season?
Darnell Mayberry (beat writer): His mental fortitude. He didn’t care whether he was going against a rookie or a future Hall of Famer (maybe because he didn’t know who these guys were for much of the season). Adams never changed. He played hard and never backed down. Maybe it stemmed from his big-family background or his rugby-playing days. Whatever the reason, it was awfully impressive.
Anthony Slater (beat writer): His love for physical play and his stoic, robotic look in the midst of surrounding drama. Stone Cold brushes off shots to the face from grown men like they’re love taps from a kindergartener. Vince Carter elbow? “Cool.” Zach Randolph left jab? “What happened?” He irritates opponents, taking them off their game or completely out of the game — via ejection — while always remaining emotionless and focused. Rare poise for any player, unheard of from a 20-year-old rookie.
Berry Tramel (columnist): Adams’ renaissance. Hard for a rookie to rally, but that’s what Adams did. He was surprisingly impressive early in the season, capped by that big game (17 points, 10 rebounds) in Detroit. But Adams slumped in midseason and didn’t play well at all. Even when Kendrick Perkins was injured and Adams started, his play didn’t improve much. But starting with Game 6 of the Memphis, Adams was superb in the playoffs. He showed that he can be an impact starter at center, with vast potential.
2. What’s his realistic ceiling in the NBA?
Mayberry: I thought we were already penciling him into the Hall of Fame, according to Reggie Jackson? But let’s just say he falls short. I’ll say he’s a longtime starter and borderline All-Star. With the right circumstance, I could see him averaging a double-double and two blocks a game.
Slater: In the final month of the playoffs, it felt like he elevated it by the day. Already a physical force and solid rebounder, he emerged as a rim protector, contributed steadily on offense and channeled his incredibly rare athleticism in better ways. And he did it all on a showcase stage, completely unfazed by the playoff spotlight. In the next few seasons, I think he could develop into a Robin Lopez type (11 points, eight rebounds, two blocks for the Blazers this season). But deeper into the future, the sky’s the limit.
Tramel: He doesn’t have one. That’s the fabulous thing about Adams. His potential is vast. Right now, he’s a decent defender and good rebounder. His offensive game consists of putbacks and dunks off pick’n rolls, but he’s good at those. But Adams is not yet 21. His offense still could develop. Big men are notoriously slow developers, so Adams’ quick ascension could indicate he’s got an accelerated learning curve. No one really knows how good Adams can be, and he’s not bad now.
3. Should Adams be a starter on opening night? Will he be?
Mayberry: Yes, he should be. I have no idea if he will be. It’s the thing I’m looking forward to most on opening night. I underestimated Adams’ role once. And I’m tempted to do it again for the same reason: Scott Brooks. I just don’t believe Brooks will pull a veteran, championship-winning player from the starting unit for a second-year player, even though the whole world can see that’s what needs to happen. If it does, I’ll be stunned.
Slater: Yes and yes. There’s no reason not to start and play Adams 30-plus minutes a night, barring foul trouble. His vast potential gives the Thunder another level to grow. He’s the future at center. Nobody’s doubting that. So why not pepper him with as much experience as possible now. Seems like a simple decision, really.
Tramel: I will guess yes, Adams will be the starter. And he should be, provided his defensive commitment is strong. Kendrick Perkins has set a high standard for plugging the middle. No way Adams will match Perk’s defensive prowess immediately, but his better offense made up for it much of the postseason. Next season, it should more than make up for it.