By James Kerti
Getting to know: Steven Adams
Thunder fans have heard a lot the last few days about how raw the 19-year-old Adams is.
But enough generalities. Let’s take a closer look at the Pittsburgh big man.
What does Adams really bring to the table?
Of course, he has the physical tools (length, athleticism, mobility) that everyone knows about.
At 7-foot-0, 255 pounds, he has the size and strength to defend well in the post. Opposing bigs converted only 25 percent of field goals while trying to post him up last season, according to Synergy.
He has also some remarkably good fundamentals and instincts for a young center.
In finishing fourth in the Big East with 2.0 blocks per game, he managed to commit only 1.6 fouls per game. And he committed shooting fouls only 6.1% of the time opposing big men posted up.
For comparison’s sake, fellow Big East center and first round pick Gorgui Dieng had more fouls than blocks, and committed shooting fouls 8.3 percent of the time an opponent tried to post him up.
The key for Adams is that he understands the value in holding his position and not leaving his feet to block shots. He moving his feet well, he stays in position to contest shots without having to over-extend himself.
Few young big men — particularly those as inexperienced as Adams — grasp those concepts so easily. That he has that understanding at his age is very encouraging about his ability to keep learning and developing.
Now, he has a ways to go on the defensive side before he can be a consistent contributor. He’s still learning how to defend away from the basket, and is particularly vulnerable when he has to quickly decide when to switch.
Around the basket, though, he shows a ton of promise.
He dominated the boards in his one college season. He posted the sixth-best defensive rebound percentage in the Big East in 2012-2013.
Adams did a great job crashing the glass on the offensive side as well, placing second in the conference in offensive rebounding percentage. He fights hard for position, times his jumps well, and has a knack for judging where the ball’s going to ricochet.
His enormous hands help him snare the ball on rebounds and receive entry passes from teammates.
And though he’s very raw as a scorer on offense, he’s shown nice finishing touch.
Despite struggling with his footwork and often being forced into tough shots, he shot 49 percent out of post-ups and 64 percent of shots off cuts at Pitt, according to Synergy.
The important thing with Adams is that he has so many of the things you look for in a center prospect – size, good hands and feet, instincts, and a terrific motor.
With good teaching and some more experience, he’ll improve with his footwork and his defensive understanding. Hopefully for Thunder fans, he’ll also show marked improvement at the free-throw line, where he shot 44% in college.
Though he’s probably not ready to contribute much right away because of those limitations, the Thunder have a lot to look forward to with Steven Adams.
Getting to know: Andre Roberson
In Andre Roberson, the Thunder have added a rebounding and defensive game changer.
A lot’s been said about him as a rebounder, and the praise is completely deserved.
Roberson combined good instincts and fundamentals on the glass with a 6-11 wingspan and good leaping ability to be one of the NCAA’s elite rebounders the last few years. He finished third in total rebounds in 2011-2012 and tenth last year.
However, in discussing his rebounding prowess, people tend to forget about what a difference maker he is on defense as well.
For as terrific of a defender as he is one-on-one, his biggest contribution in Oklahoma City might be as a linchpin in the Thunder’s perimeter defense, which has been vulnerable at times to the three-ball the last couple years.
Roberson closes out on shooters so quickly that he often induces them to try to score off the dribble rather than taking the jumper. However, he’s so long and quick that he’s able to recover easily and force them to take difficult pull-up jumpers.
Indeed, opposing shooters converted only 29 percent of field goals out of spot-ups against Roberson last year, per Synergy.
Roberson’s notable lack of offensive skill surely limits the opportunities he’ll get to contribute, but his prowess in other areas ensures that he’ll help the team in key areas.
The Thunder have enough weapons on offense that they’ll be able to get by on the offensive end with Roberson on the floor. He could be particularly valuable in Westbrook-led lineups that feature Ibaka, whose jump shooting offsets some of Roberson’s deficiencies. Playing Roberson with Ibaka would allow the Thunder to maintain their spacing on offense.
Getting to know: Grant Jerrett
The 6-foot-10, 232-pound 19-year-old Jerrett surprised people with his entrance into this year’s NBA Draft, given that he’s coming off a season at Arizona in which his contributions were limited.
However, the stretch four brings some crucial skills to the table for Oklahoma City.
Jerrett is an outstanding jump shooter who averaged 1.172 points per possession on jumpers last year, which placed him in the 91st percentile nationally according to Synergy. He’s especially lethal shooting corner threes.
That shooting is even more helpful when you consider that his 7-2 wingspan allows him to easily shoot over most defenders on the perimeter. Per Synergy, he made 44 percent of “guarded” jumpers, meaning that even when defenses try to contest his jumpers, they don’t have much luck slowing him down.
He’s also a strong, active off-ball screener.
He hasn’t shown much comfort yet as a jump shooter in the pick-and-pop, but if he’s able to develop that area of his game, he’d be able to carve out a very valuable role.
As is, he’s a big stretch four who can space the floor for Oklahoma City’s dribble penetration, knock down threes, and set screens away from the ball to free players like Durant.
Wrapping it up
Even if these three prospects don’t develop the way the Thunder hope, they have valuable roles they can fill for the Thunder over the next couple years.
The worst-case scenario for the Thunder is that they’ve added a rim protector, a defensive and rebounding specialist, and a floor-spacing power forward.
And if things go according to plan, Oklahoma City has added some great complementary pieces to their stellar young core.
James Kerti is a basketball scout and consultant for college and NBA teams on player evaluation. For more basketball analysis from James, follow him on Twitter @jameskerti.