Steven Adams had a big task ahead of him last night, literally.
Defend Dwight Howard, keep him off the offensive glass and disrupt Houston’s pick-and-roll game.
Howard in 33 minutes: nine points on 4-12 shooting, 10 rebounds, two turnovers and one technical foul.
Good job, Steven Adams.
The young Kiwi rookie has shown plenty of flashes, most notably five games into the season putting up 17 points and 10 rebounds against the Pistons. But while he’s remained firmly in the rotation all season, his time has often been sporadic playing behind Kendrick Perkins, along with the fact opposing teams like to play OKC small.
There’s been no question that Adams has shown the necessary flashes to not only justify his No. 12 overall selection last year, but also the potential to be the Thunder’s long-term solution at center. There has been ample amounts of grumbling about Perk the last few years, and while the excitement about Adams is obvious, and warranted, the consensus mostly is that the rookie isn’t quite ready to handle the starting job yet.
But his performance against Howard goes a long way saying that he may be ready sooner than later. I’ve said it myself multiple times: Perk has his flaws, but the Thunder desperately need him right now for the fact they may have to go through Houston, or Indiana, or Memphis to win an NBA title. Adams isn’t ready to be relied upon in a potential NBA Finals matchup against Roy Hibbert, but he’s not nearly as far off from that as once thought. His progression has been rapid, and just in these last seven games he’s started you can see the comfort level and confidence rising. His physicality sets an incredible tone, and his size and brawn clear a lot of space, on both ends.
It’s just the beginning for him, though. He only played one season at Pitt, and he’s only had 64 NBA games under his belt. He still fouls too much and the numbers don’t entirely back him quite yet (OKC’s allowing 102.6 per 100 when he’s on, and 99.4 when he’s off). But the potential is obvious. He has great hands, and underrated touch around the basket. As he continues to grow and learn and develop, he’ll play more on instinct and less on trying to remember everything he was told at shootaround that morning.
Adams performance against Howard was a great illustration of what he can do, and how good he can be. And he’s only going to get better the more time he gets.
One of the main issues for Adams’ future is that he’ll always be attached to the James Harden trade, with so much of the evaluation about him being whether or not he turned out to be adequate value in return. But look at the results from last night. Yep, Harden had 28-8-9 to Adams’ two points and eight rebounds. His real line though, was nine and 10, on 4-12 shooting.
Because ironically, the Harden trade gave OKC a potential starting center for the future, and one that proved he’s more than capable of handling someone like Dwight Howard. And if at least for a night, with Adams shutting down Howard, it was the Rockets, not the Thunder who had to rue that trade for once.
On the defending Dwight Howard: “We mainly just did a bunch of homework on Dwight, really. The coaches did a good job. Perk was just giving me a couple of tips on gameday, stuff to look out for, refreshing my memory. Worked out pretty good.”
On Serge Ibaka helping: “That was part of the gameplan. Just force him baseline underneath the rim so Serge was there. Serge is a scary dude, you know what I mean? And that’ll kind of make anyone miss. That was the gameplan.”
On Pau Gasol: “He’s the man. He’s good. He’s skilled. He’s really smart, good with the ball. I’m going to do my homework again, ask Perk.”
On defending Gasol: “Extending the ball, catches. Don’t let him get a deep catch or whatever. Just try and contest his shots. Bump him out. I don’t think he likes contact too much. So I’m going to try and bump him up as much as possible.”
On why people go after him so much: “I don’t know. I just do what the coaches ask me, man. They just don’t like it, I guess. It’s just physical. The coaches just ask me, ‘Look, you’ve got to go hit this guy.’ And I’ll go hit that guy, and then that guy hits me and I’m like, ‘It ain’t my fault.’ Know what I mean? I’m just doing my job. Sorry. I’m just trying to do what I’m told.”
Shouts out to Randy Renner for the audio. Follow him on Twitter here.