It hit me as I was looking at the final box of the Thunder’s 119-110 win over the Pistons on Friday. Kevin Durant went for 37 points on 9-15 shooting (!!!), with eight rebounds and seven assists, yet the story of the game was Steven Adams. Or at least it felt like he was the story.
That’s the kind of player KD is, and that’s how much we take him for granted. His performance was as dominant about as you’ll see from any player this season but it doesn’t register. Or maybe that’s more of a statement about how excited people are about Adams, but still. Durant had everything going tonight, working over any defender the Pistons tried throwing at him. It was effortless, efficient and unfiltered excellence.
But Steven Adams, you guys. He just keeps getting better and better, every time out. Each game he looks that much more confident and comfortable, and smarter. He’s understanding how to roll, what angles to take, how to hedge in the pick-and-roll, how to use his length and not overplay, how to recover on the weakside, how to use his size — he’s figuring it out. In 31 minutes, he picked up the first of what appears to be many double-doubles: 17 points (7-10 shooting), 10 boards, three blocks, three assists and a steal. He finished a +20 for the game, and got as high as a +29 at one point.
And almost fittingly, on the other end of the spectrum, Kendrick Perkins was a team-worst -15, finishing with zero points, three rebounds, zero assists and two blocks in 17 minutes. And not just that, but Adams was the Thunder’s finishing center. As Perk sat and watched, Adams played essentially the entire fourth quarter with Durant and Westbrook. So… let’s talk about this.
I think Perk should still start. The Thunder starting five has been a constant of this team going on four years and even when James Harden was blossoming, Scott Brooks stuck with Thabo Sefolosha as his starter for chemistry and continuity’s sake. Brooks saw it more about using Thabo as a starting specialist, while Harden earned his spot in the Thunder’s closing lineups. It was less about who started, and more about who finished.
That’s how I’d approach this with Perk and Adams. Leave Perk the starter and if it becomes obvious he’s better suited for a post matchup or is playing really well or something, let him have the bulk of the minutes and Adams back him up. But if it’s the other way around, let Adams get the big minutes and finish games (which seems like it will happen more often than not). To me, it doesn’t matter if Perk starts, as long as Adams is getting his time and is playing in the most meaningful moments and lineups. There are times Brooks does this with Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka, like for example, tonight. Collison saw a bunch of minutes in the fourth and Ibaka eventually checked back in around the three-minute mark. Just play it by ear, and go with what works that night.
You want to keep Perk feeling like he’s an important member of the team, because I think he is, or at least can be. He’s not the player he was four years ago before his second knee injury, but he has value in certain scenarios like in the locker room, and as a second center he’d fit really well. But it’s going to be on him to be the leader and veteran he claims to be, and everyone acts like he is, to realize his role and place on this team. If he’s really the leader he’s been built up to be, he’ll be the one knocking on Scott Brooks’ office door tomorrow morning telling him to start Adams. If he takes this personally and lets it affect him, then that’s when you have a problem. Because the better player has got to play.
I don’t think it was Brooks’ intention to play Adams more than Perk, especially this soon. But Adams is just forcing his hand. Which is a great thing. The fact we’re even asking these questions about Perk and Adams is an excellent sign for the Thunder. It’s just about how everyone internally handles it. For the health and future of the team, a Perk/Adams productive combo makes the Thunder a much, much better team. And it shouldn’t matter who plays more if they’re all focused on the common goal. Feelings can get hurt and everybody’s got an ego, but if the leadership and chemistry of the team is as strong as we’ve been led to believe it is, then that kind of stuff should get tossed aside because all eyes are on the prize.
- This was a really nice win for the Thunder, beating an improved Pistons team on their home floor while not playing especially great all night.
- The Thunder’s bench was a question-mark coming in to this season. It’s rapidly becoming a strength. There’s just so much depth with it, it seems. Jeremy Lamb was again very good (10 points on 3-6 in 16 minutes and a +17). Reggie Jackson had Satan’s statline, going for six points, six rebounds and six assists in 18 minutes while finishing a game-high +23. Collison was excellent, per usual. And then there was Adams. As a unit, the Thunder bench compiled 42 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists, and they were all pluses, and outside of Derek Fisher, who only played in the first half, were all better than a +15.
- The Pistons had taken control of the game in the third quarter, up 74-69 with 3:40 left. But a lineup of Jackson, Lamb, Durant, Collison and Adams finished the quarter on a 15-2 run, giving the Thunder a big edge heading to the fourth. Then they picked right up where they left off and playing together until Brooks came back with Sefolosha and Westbrook with 5:26 left in the fourth.
- Perry Jones, who had appeared in the first four games, didn’t play tonight. It appears it was more of an odd-man-out situation as the Pistons played big with Smith-Monroe-Drummond for much of the game, making it difficult to find a smallball lineup or place where Jones made sense. I’d expect him to see time Sunday against the Wizards.
- Adams completely outplayed Andre Drummond, who is considered to be one of the league’s better bigs. Adams, 17-10 in 31 minutes; Drummond, four points, three rebounds in 23 minutes.
- Russell Westbrook didn’t play very well (20 points on 5-19 shooting, zero assists, five rebounds and four turns) but his impact was still entirely obvious. His frenetic attacking opened up a lot for the Thunder on the offensive glass, and kept Durant free to operate. Tonight, it was just an issue of Westbrook not finishing. I’m too lazy to look it up, but I’m guessing he missed seven shots at the rim.
- This was the first game Westbrook didn’t have an assist since April 12, 2010. And only the second time in his career he didn’t have one.
- Durant could’ve had 12 or 13 assists had Thabo been able to make an open shot. Seriously, what happened there? He went just 1-6 from deep, dropping him to 3-19 on the season from 3.
- Brooks had been subbing Jackson for Thabo in the first quarter, but he went with a straight swap tonight.
- The starting lineup tonight was a -12 and the best lineup was the one that finished the third (a +10). The starter’s offensive rating tonight was a horrific 64.4. The third quarter lineup? They were a 140.6 and a defensive rating of 75.9 in 10 minutes, for a smooth net of 64.7. Yowza.
- Adams had three shots that were just terrific. His first bucket was a smooth right-handed baby hook (as Josh Smith yelled “hell no!” as it swished through). The second was a calm little floater in the paint on a pocket pass from Durant and the third was a nice left-handed baby hook from the other block that rolled in. Guy has some offensive game to him.
- Fear the Funaki? Fear the Kiwi?
- Here’s what the Harden trade has done to Thunder fans: They’re already freaking about Adams’ free agency in 2017. I’m serious.
- Jon Hamm with the tweet of the night: “The Rockets didn’t get nearly enough for Steven Adams.”
- Kyle Singler’s hair. That’s the joke.
- Ibaka was solid: 11 points (5-9), nine rebounds and two blocks. He’s keeping up his strong rebounding so far. Hasn’t had fewer than nine in a game yet.
- Lamb stepped in and knocked down a 3 in the first half, but Brooks subbed him out for Fisher, most likely because Lamb was having trouble sticking with Detroit’s quick guards. I didn’t really agree with the decision because I think you can trade a little of that for good offense, especially since Lamb was off to a good start.
- A play in the first half was probably the most impressive tonight from Adams. He was open for what should’ve been a lob, but wasn’t paying attention as Westbrook threw it. He caught a really high pass in transition one-handed, gathered, then as Drummond came to stop him, Adams was patient, head-faked and went on the other side of the rim to finish. It showed off how good Adams’ feel is. A lot of guys would’ve caught that and hurried to get it up. Adams understood his circumstance and just smoothly finished with confidence.
- Daps to the guys that wore dark shoes with the alternate uniforms. Boo to the guys that didn’t. Dark shoes make them look significantly better. Still don’t like them, but better.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: Honestly, I didn’t hear one that stood out. I was too busy yelling “FUNAKIIIIIIII!!!!” in my living room as loud as I could all night.
Next up: Home against the Wizards on Sunday