The Oklahoma City Thunder just topped one of their most formidable opponents, the Miami HEAT. Granted, the honors came during the 2014 Orlando Pro Summer League on Championship Day, but Thunder supporters relished in the fact their seventh-place finish beat Miami’s eighth-place showing.
Summer League provides a great opportunity to check out rookies, players trying to make rosters and relatively inexperienced players already under contract. Steven Adams, the Thunder’s seven-foot center who was drafted with the Thunder’s 12th overall pick in 2013, falls into the latter group. Adams said at the beginning of his rookie season that he would focus on improvement and simply learning as much as possible. Now entering his second year in the league, what are his stated goals for his sophomore season?
“Same thing. Exact same thing,” Adams said. “It’s real cliché. It’s kinda like reading plays over. Last year I just had to adopt the system and figure out how I could really help the team out, and that was really defense. It still stands. I still need to really work on my defense. It’s my number one goal and also working on my offensive end. We worked on it a lot last year.
“It’s all the same thing, man. I’m trying to be a sponge.”
Last year, Adams, who turns 21 later this month, turned heads with an understanding of the game and level of play far more developed than previously believed. Averaging just 14.8 minutes per game, he logged 3.3 points and 4.1 rebounds. In a Per 36 Minutes format, those numbers jump to 8.0 points and 10.0 rebounds.
The Thunder elected to utilize him in just three of the five games played at Summer League, where he averaged 9.7 points and 4.7 rebounds. However, we saw a new and welcomed back-to-the-basket side of him. Adams displayed some nice offensive moves in the low post, such as hook shots and pump fakes, plus good passing abilities.
“Me and MB (Thunder assistant coach Mark Bryant) been working at it for a year, all last year, so now it’s just putting it into the games and trying to get comfortable in the games,” Adams said. “So yeah, just tried out moves, trying to get comfortable. It’s turning in the right direction, I feel.”
With center Kendrick Perkins in his final contract year, Adams will likely take over starting duties in that position – perhaps even this season – and is projected to grow into featured player for years to come. He knows he has much work to do in order to master that reliable low-post offense that Oklahoma City is missing. Adams sounds quite ambivalent about bringing the needed commodity as early as next season or even getting the ball thrown to him in the post.
“It’s just like, I don’t know,” Adams said. “I’ve got to get comfortable with it though and try to be more confident in getting the ball. So right now, I’m getting it quite far away and I ain’t as demanding, so it could be an option next year, but I’m not sure. If I was more confident in my moves, then I would definitely be more demanding because I know that I’ll be able to score straight away, so that’s what I’m trying to get to from there.”
The truth is, Adams is quite a distance from possessing a solid comfort level with low-post offense.
“Oh, I’m still a newbie,” Adams said. “Still a newb. It’s still not coming … Well, I’m getting better from where I started off, but I still have a long way to go in terms of reading my man and what I can get away with.”
Oklahoma City, eliminated in the Western Conference Finals last season by the eventual champions San Antonio Spurs, showed a lack of consistent effort during the Summer League games, not too unlike what some observed last season. They won just two games in Orlando.
“Intensity’s still there, that’s what we’re trying to work on,” Adams said. “You know, as a Thunder, you’ve got to play to a certain standard. So we all try to play at that standard, the playoff standard, throughout the whole entire…through everything. So we’ve got to try and carry it on.”
The Thunder demonstrated focus on beefing up their front court by drafting former Michigan big man Mitch McGary in June. OKC’s Summer League head coach, Darko Rajakovic, experimented with the two bigs for certain stretches in hopes they can play off each other next year.
“Yeah, that’s what we’re depending on,” Adams explained. “As long as it’s in the system, they got a certain way. We’re trying to do the best we can. We’re trying to get used to each other. We’re moving in the right direction.”
Creating and sustaining chemistry between players has always been of paramount importance to this team.
“It helps if you’ve got chemistry with the other dudes,” Adams said. “I’m kinda familiar with them, but it’s just getting around the system, all the new guys coming in, trying to play a certain way. It’s a learning process, and I went through it last year, getting frustrated. The young fellas are going through the same thing.
“Young fellas,” he added with a chuckle. “I’m younger than them, (and) I’m calling them young fellas.”
Adams seems particularly impressed with McGary, calling him a hard worker and good teammate.
“He’s just real energetic,” he said. “He’s a good dude. He’s going to turn out good.”
What specifically stands out to him in the 6’10 Thunder rookie?
“Just how hard he works and how much energy he brings, which is huge. It’s definitely huge,” Adams shared. “His whole personality as well, just around the locker room, kinda brings everyone up. Those are the two main things especially I was looking for, just trying to impact with the energy.”
Rajakovic, former Tulsa 66ers head coach and now assistant Thunder coach, imparted a clear message to the group.
“Just developing,” Adams shared. “We’re trying to play a certain way which is, you know, the Thunder way. We’re getting better as a team as the chemistry comes. Everyone’s taking the right steps forward to playing to the Thunder way, so that’s what he keeps saying and reminding us.”
Another area Adams must work on over the summer?
“Free throws, bro,” Adams said. “Free throws. Straight free throws.”
He recorded a dismal .478 average in free-throw shooting in Orlando. Last year, he averaged .581.
“At the end of the season, I was kind of like ‘ah, he sucks at free throws’, but now it’s like ‘Oh my God, this guy’s rubbish’,” Adams said. “I’ve got to get back to being sucky at it.”
Now Adams is headed back home to New Zealand for a break; here’s hoping he spends time practicing at the foul line along with those new low-post moves.
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