Steven Adams Is Essential For The Oklahoma City Thunder
By Ian Levy
Nylon Calculus, brought to you by The Step Back
An extremely active offseason for the Oklahoma City Thunder brought star power -- Paul George and Carmelo Anthony -- as well as much needed depth from players like Patrick Patterson. The Thunder currently hold the No. 4 seed in the West and are on track to surpass last season’s win total, but that depth hasn’t materialized as intended.
Anthony has been inconsistent, Patterson has struggled to return to form after offseason knee surgery and Andre Roberson was lost for the season to a torn patellar tendon. The Thunder are still ahead of last year’s pace because Westbrook has been Westbrook, George has been as good as advertised and because Steven Adams has emerged as a crucial piece at both ends of the floor.
On defense, Adams has two jobs -- defend the rim and help maximize possessions. He does both with incredible effectiveness. Adams is not quite in the elite rim protector category but he has allowed opponents to shoot just 55.1 percent when he is the closest defender inside of six feet from the rim, against a league average of over 60 percent. In terms of anchoring Oklahoma City’s defense by securing possessions, he’s very effective at creating disruptive events. He’s fourth among all centers in loose balls recovered, deflections, and steals per game.
But while Adams’ low shot totals and points per game averages would make him appear to be a defensive specialist, he’s actually incredibly important to the Thunder’s offense as well. Adams is fourth on the team in field goal attempts but Oklahoma City’s offense is 6.3 points per 100 possessions better with Adams on the floor, the second-best mark for the Thunder.
Like on defense, his role on offense is to control the middle of the floor and help his team maximize possessions.
Offensive Rebounding Machine
This all starts on the offensive glass. The Thunder are not an elite shooting team like the Warriors or Rockets -- they rank 19th in the league in effective field goal percentage. That means lots of opportunities for second shots around the basket. Adams is tied with Andre Drummond for the league-lead in offensive rebound chances per game, although his total comes in slightly fewer minutes than Drummond.
Of the 149 players who average at least 3.0 offensive rebound chances per game, Adams is fifth in the percentage of those chances he converts into actual rebounds. He is the primary reason the Thunder rank first in the league in offensive rebound percentage, by a wide margin, and first in second-chance points per game, Consider this, the Thunder have an offensive rebound percentage of 31.8% with Adams on the court, but just 20.9% when he’s off the court.
Perfect Complement In OKC’s Offense
But Adams isn’t just waiting around for his teammates to miss, he’s actively working to create space for Westbrook and George and looking to make himself available as well. He’s in the 76th percentile in scoring efficiency as the screener in the pick-and-roll and ranks second in the league with 4.8 screen assists per game. Whether as a finisher or as a decoy, he’s become one of the best pick-and-roll bigs in the NBA.
On average, the Thunder possess the ball for 20.2 minutes per game. For more than half of that time, about 11.9 minutes, the ball is in the hands of either Westbrook or George. For the sake of comparison, Adams has the ball in his hands for less than a minute per game. However, his skill set makes him an incredibly efficient scoring option on those occasions where he does touch the ball.
As a screen-setter, finisher and cleaner on the offensive glass, Adams is the perfect tool to augment the driving ability of Russell Westbrook (first in the league in drives per game) and the shooting ability of Paul George (making 40.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s). When those three have been on the floor together, the Thunder have scored an average of 111.0 points per 100 possessions, a mark that would rank fifth in the league across the entire season.
Moving defenders, creating space, scoring efficiently, getting his team extra chances -- Steven Adams may not look like an offensive star, but he’s been playing like one for the Thunder.
Nylon Calculus covers basketball analytics for The Step Back, a premium NBA vertical at FanSided.com