Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 is a ranking of returning NBA players. For a full explanation of our methodology, read our intro. Next up is No. 52, Steven Adams
After a tremendous postseason, Steven Adams was “discovered” by the casual NBA fan, but his performance was the culmination of three years of player development. It was a not a meteoric rise, it was a steady one. And it was one which matured at the perfect time.
The Oklahoma City Thunder traded Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic for Victor Oladipo and parts, Kevin Durant bolted to join the nemesis Golden State Warriors and Russell Westbrook decided to stick around for a couple of more years. With all that happening, how will Adams’ role change for the Thunder? That’s a big question.
A great deal here depends on what Adams can do in a role as a full-time starter with more touches. Even last season, he averaged just 25.2 minutes per game and had a usage of only 12.6 percent. His career high there is 14.3 percent in 2014-15. One imagines that with Durant and Ibaka gone, the number of shots he’s getting will go up.
Since 2014-15, he played 566 minutes with Westbrook but without Durant or Ibaka according to NBAWowy.com. He averaged 11.2 points and 10.9 boards per 36 minutes on with a 52.7 field-goal percentage. If we look at just last year, his scoring climbs to 13.1 points on 62.5 percent shooting, but only 8.3 rebounds.
Factoring in for normal growth, averaging a double-dozen is within his wheelhouse, provided he gets the minutes and the touches.
The thing working against him is that Enes Kaner, his backup, is making too much money to be sitting on the bench for long periods of time. While the Thunder were able to use their version of “Twin Towers” effectively in the postseason, it remains to be seen if that is something that can be upheld for a full season. If not, it could start to have a negative impact on the Kiwi Phenom’s minutes.
If we’re being honest here, and we are, to say Adams has limited range would be a hyperbolic understatement. In his three-year career he has scored 24 points further than 10 feet from the basket, according to Basketball-Reference’s shot finder. His 55.1 free-throw percentage doesn’t bode well for him developing in that area, either.
He is decent as the roll man in the pick-and-roll — he scored 1.12 points per play, good enough to place him in the 76.7 percentile. But his underwhelming 166 total points on them accounted for more than a quarter of his offense. He only notched 39 on post-ups. He was, however, tied for 10th in the league on points scored off cuts, with 232 points, and had another 112 on putbacks.
All of that confirms the obvious from watching him. He’s not a guy who is going to score a lot of points with the offense going to him. Rather, he’s at his best when he’s opportunistically creating by cutting to basket or stabbing home offensive rebounds. To climb to the next level, he’ll need to develop more of post game, and at least a semblance of a jump shot.
While Adams’ offensive repertoire is limited, his offense is not why he’s ranked this high. He is emerging as one of the best defensive big men in the league. His Defensive Real Plus-Minus of +2.77 confirms that, as does the fact opponents shot 5.9 percent worse within six feet of the basket when he was the man protecting the basket.
But perhaps the best argument for Adams’ defense is that the Thunder’s defensive rating was 99.0 when he was on the court and 107.1 when he sat.
Adams has a real shot at All-Defensive team next season, particularly if the Thunder can stay in contention without Durant.