Kiwi Steve in the NBA #18: For The Bros

Screen Shot 04-04-19 at 07.56 PM.JPG

The Resurgence?

Keep it quiet, don’t want get ahead of ourselves here or anything… but the last few games have seen a big boost in the statties for a certain Steven Adams. The Thunder overall… not as much… but let’s bookmark that one for now. Following a ridiculous 2-point game in a loss to Memphis, Adams has rebounded, so to speak, with a vintage 25 points and 12 rebounds in a win over the Indiana Pacers. Doing everything he does at his best, here’s Maddie Lee from the Oklahoman

“Steven Adams was all over the floor. He grabbed the rebound off Russell Westbrook’s miss and tossed it out to Paul George on the perimeter. Adams set a screen for George, rolled to the basket, calling for the ball. Once he had it, he kicked it out to Terrance Ferguson, who made the extra pass to set Jerami Grant up for a corner 3-pointer.

Adams was all over the floor in that second-quarter possession, but also all game in OKC’s 107-99 win. He led the Thunder in points for much of the game, finishing with 25 and pulling down 12 rebounds. But just as importantly for a team that struggled from the 3-point line, Adams recorded seven offensive rebounds and three assists.

“Steven was really physical,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “He was really active. He really rolled to the rim hard. There was a presence at the basket with him on offense and defense.””

That game was followed by 16p/5r against Denver, 20p/15r against Dallas, and 13p/8r against the Lakers. In the 17 games before that since the All Stars he’d averaged 11.2 points per game. He’s topped that in four consecutive games since and while Adams isn’t exactly the defining factor for this team – they lost two of those games and won two – he’s also a product of the way they play. He doesn’t chase his own stats so if he’s getting numbers then it shows that the offence is operating the way it should and that suggests that things are getting back to where they need to be. Whether they get there or not in time to win a playoff series might not matter though, the damage has potentially already been done. But that’s one for later on in the piece.

RIP Nipsey

Nipsey Hussle died. The LA rapper, entrepreneur, and philanthropist was shot dead outside his store this week in a senseless killing that has affected plenty of souls in his community and around the world. One more than most is his mate Russell Westbrook, another LA upstart, who responded to the news by paying tribute in a way that only he possibly could.

The Lakers are mud, let’s get that out there from the beginning. And it took all of a couple of minutes to realise that the Thunder were going to be able to get their shots against this side, particularly in the paint. Paul George and Steven Adams cashed in with three dunks apiece as Russ dished out ten assists in the first quarter alone. Of course, OKC refuses to make things easy on themselves so six Lakers players hit double figures as the LAL crew kept things close for the entire first half. But the Thunder outscored them by 12 in the last couple quarters to win it comfortable enough.

But what’s crazy is that as the result became more and more likely, something else caught the attention of everybody who was following the game. Russell Westbrook’s stat-line, specifically. Russ was scoreless in the first quarter but he did add 7 rebounds to those 10 assists. He continued to largely shoot and miss in the second, however those assists and rebounds kept rising.. Rusty Buckets at his most primal. The triple-double was secured midway through the third.

Oh but we weren’t done there. Just as the Thunder were putting this one to bed, Russ hit a couple free throws and then a layup to push it to 20 points. He then chucked a dime to Steven Adams and that was 20 assists with three and a half mins to go. Soon enough Billy Donovan got to where it was time to pull the starters… but Russ remained out there. So did Kiwi Steve, as he had free throws to shoot. He missed the first… and then missed the second. Russ bagged the board. Twenty seconds later Russ bagged another board and completed an incredible stat-line: 20 points, 21 assists, 20 rebounds. 20/20/20… a double-triple-double… something only Wilt Chamberlain had ever achieved before in the NBA.

Erik Horne/The Oklahoman: “Russell Westbrook came down with a defensive rebound with 39.5 seconds left, the Thunder called timeout and the crowd and bench went into hysterics. It wasn’t about the Thunder winning a game. Steven Adams pulled himself up on the rim on the Thunder’s side. Towels waved. It was the most energy the Thunder has shown since pre-All-Star break, since before a 7-13 slog entering Tuesday, since before its offense cratered into bottom-of-the-league depths.”

The significance of that is Nipsey was Crenshaw lad from down LA, repping the “Rollin’ 60s Neighbourhood Crips gang”, as that Oklahoman article put it. What a lad, Russ.

Russell Westbrook, post-game IV: “Twenty plus 20 plus 20. They know what that means. That’s for my bro.”

Steven Adams’ name came up in that bit a fair amount. He had himself an eventful game against the Lakers. There was the big old bear hug with Alex Caruso, more on that later, the 10 points in the first quarter, the point in the second quarter when he had to leave the game after getting a knock that left him briefly unable to hear out of one ear… yeah, that was weird.

But there was also the fact that he only had one defensive rebound and that was with 9:30 still to play in the first quarter. Seven offensive boards to get those numbers to a respectable overall total but Russ had 15 defensive rebounds and his starting centre had 1. It’s all good, that’s the way they play… but anytime that Russ goes wild with these huge statistical nights there’s almost always the undercover presence of Steven Adams boxing out for him and running up and down the court in support. No teammate makes the individual brilliance of Russ more possible than Steve. That’s the combination they have and it’s why Russ will never not have his back when Adams gets that shallow criticism back his way.

The other thing that more accidentally helped the cause was that Steve, who only scored 13 all up despite the 10 1Q points, missed four of his five remaining shots in the last three quarters. Clearly they need to go to him more throughout the game but here he did actually get a few looks and he uncharacteristically missed most of them. It was just a bad shooting night in a lot of ways – most specifically his six missed free throws out of seven. But the accidental assist there was that it was a missed free throw that gave Russ one of his final rebounds at the point where everybody knew what we were waiting to see. Adams knows how to conveniently miss a free throw for a new possession, he’s done it before. Deliberate?


The Continuing Woes

Despite the badass tribute and the incredible numbers of that game from Russ though, it’s fair to say that it never should have taken that much from a starting point guard to get past a LeBron-less Lakers team that’s nowhere near the playoffs. But in recent games the Thunder have won impressively against the Pacers but then been dropped by the Nuggets before losing to a Luka Doncic missing Dallas Mavericks team. They’re all over the show and the inconsistencies out of the All Star break are showing no signs of dissipating.

The way they started against the Lakers was a good start. It was the best Paul George has looked for a while, though he soon took a back seat to Westbrook. And perhaps it’s actually Westbrook who is most on the line here. When he was shooting poorly earlier on in things but spreading the ball around swiftly for assists it was the best version of this team. Steve was involved, Ferguson was involved (Fergo who has started to hit his shots again), Schroder was involved, Grant was involved. The best incarnation of a Russ game might be 15/12/10 or something.

Rob Mahoney/Sports Illustrated: “Any case for a deep Thunder playoff run supposes a capacity to play focused, elevated basketball—the idea that in a seven-game series, George, Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams will be able to control the margins and dictate terms. The last six weeks have told a different story. Since the All-Star break, the Thunder’s usually dominant starting lineup (+11.3 before the break) has actually lost its minutes on the floor by a substantial margin (-3.7). If a team can’t create separation with its best players on the floor, what can really be said of its ceiling?”

There was a stat on Hoop Collective the other day about player efficiency. Westbrook had a PER of 30-odd when he won the MVP. That dropped to around 25 last season. Now it’s down at 20 or so. Those are the margins that can doom a team when they rely so heavily on the whims of their superstar point guard. This isn’t saying anything drastic because the Rockets need James Harden to show up to win same as the 76ers are struggling without Joel Embiid at the moment. Star players define their team’s outcome. But Paul George, even though he’s the one who got MVP buzz a few months back, simply doesn’t have the same control of impact as Russ does for whatever reason.

With four more games to go until the playoffs, the Thunder have two probable wins and two probably defeats on the schedule. Knowing them though, they’ll probably win the two tough ones and lose the two easy ones. Either way unless they win all four it’s highly unlikely they can get up to sixth in the West, although this recent slide from the Spurs is doing them a huge favour as it means they’re more likely to play the Nuggets in the 2v7 series instead of the Warriors. Which puts that loss to Denver the other day in more perspective…

He’s right too, because after getting swept by the Nuggets in four games during the regular season, there’s nothing that the Thunder could have done in this last one which would have changed the fact that they’re most likely going to get swept by them in the playoffs too. Nikola Jokic is a bitch of a player to guard for Steven Adams as his supreme skillset means the constant switching will ruin OKC. Denver’s amazing home record also means that when OKC throw in a dud performance or two as they always seem to then that’ll ruin things too. They’d have to win a game away from home when you can’t even trust them to win in their own arena. Paul Millsap is going to dominate Jerami Grant. Jamal Murray is an interesting matchup for Russ, at least. But, hey, it’s the playoffs. Crazier things have happened.

By the way, the only Thunder player with a positive +/- in that Denver game last week? Steven Adams. Only +2 but that’s better than any of the rest of them. The concern is that Jokic still hogged rebounds and that the Nuggets move the ball well and shoot strongly from outside. All things that tend to mean Thunder defeats when they go against them. Looking forward to the Steve vs Nikola matchup if it happens though.

Zach Lowe/ESPN: “The numbers don't suggest a problem. Oklahoma City gives up just 0.92 points per possession when it blitzes a pick-and-roll, one of the stingiest marks in the league, per Second Spectrum. The Thunder are not bleeding 3s; only 32 percent of enemy shots have come from deep, the 11th-lowest such share, per Cleaning The Glass.

All coaches mull the merits of adjusting game-to-game against sticking to one identity, and mastering it. The Thunder know who they are. They are built to play a certain way, and they are good at it. They are even better when they have fresh legs, and they looked tired in that Memphis game. There are no back-to-backs in the playoffs. They did adjust some against Utah in last season's first round, switching more. But they mostly corralled Ricky Rubio high on the floor instead of ducking picks, staying attached to shooters, and daring Rubio to beat them with jumpers.

Also: Only seven teams give up more corner 3s as a portion of shot attempts, and only two a larger share of shots in the restricted area -- suggesting there might be some cost to sending two to the ball so often. They also foul a lot. This is something to watch depending on postseason matchups.”


The Sportsmanship Award

Now, Funaki ain’t much for personal accolades. He doesn’t bother with his numbers and he couldn’t care less about sacrificing himself for his team. Which is why this one accolade is pretty much the perfect one for him. Steven Adams has been nominated for the Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award, as announced by the NBA this week.

Twelve players have been nominated for the award, which has been in existence since 2012-13 season, with past winners including the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, and Stevie’s idol Tim Duncan. It’s named after teammates Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes, who played together in the 1950s and after Stokes was paralyzed from a head injury suffered in a game it was Twyman who became his legal guardian up until Stokes’ death in 1970. Beauty of a story and a beauty of an award to recognise selfless and beloved players like Adams.

NBA: “The award recognizes the player deemed the best teammate based on selfless play, on- and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and commitment and dedication to team.”

Fellow NBA players decide the winner and that winner will have $25,000 donated by the NBA to a charity of their choice. Based on the list of fellow nominees, Mike Conley is a bloke that sticks out immediately. Andre Iguodala as well, to be fair. And everybody loves Channing Frye and Jared Dudley. But Steven Adams should have a decent shot at this one. No reason to get all hyped about these little ego boosts, however it’d be cool if he did win given it’s an honour that so perfectly encapsulates him as a player. Keep ‘em crossed.

But wait there’s more! He’s also been nominated for the Sportsmanship Award. One of six nominees, awarded to the player who most “exemplifies the ideals of sportsmanship on the court with ethical behavior, fair play, and integrity”. Sounds about right. Each team nominates one player and then a panel determines one nominee for each division from those 30 initial noms. Players then vote for the most deserving. Kemba Walker has won it the last two seasons. Al Horford, Khris Middleton, Kemba Walker, Mike Conley, and Harrison Barnes are the other nominees. 

D3FRzF6WkAA5xnB.jpg

And here’s the Oscar reel to clinch it…


BOX SCORES

vs INDIANA PACERS (W 107-99):

35 MIN | 25 PTS (11/14 FG, 3/6 FT) | 12 REB (7 OFF) | 3 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 1 PF

Daily Thunder: “As if he’d heard everything you’ve said about him lately, Adams laid the smack down on the Pacers — finishing his night with a dominant stat line of 25 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a block. The performance was quite a bounce back from his 2-point effort in Monday’s loss to the Grizzlies, with the 25 points being the most he’s scored in a game since December 14. Adams opened the game with a 10-point first quarter, but, more importantly, stayed productive after halftime. When the Thunder fell behind by double-digits early in the third, Big Kiwi steadied the ship by turning two Westbrook misses into points off the offensive glass. The game was teetering on the edge at that point, but the pair of buckets were the first of what eventually became the 24-0 run. After disappearing in the second half too frequently this season, Adams had 11 points and a +25 in the final two quarters as OKC came back to win it. With Adams shooting an efficient 11-of-14 against Indiana, the Thunder are now 20-7 this season when he attempts at least 12 field goals. That’s a winning percentage of 74 percent, and reason enough to continue looking for ways to get (and keep) him engaged on the offensive end.”

vs DENVER NUGGETS (L 115-105):

35 MINS | 16 PTS (8/12 FG, 0/1 FT) | 5 REB (2 OFF) | 2 AST | 1 BLK | 1 TO

vs DALLAS MAVERICKS (L 106-103):

39 MIN | 20 PTS (10/17 FG, 0/3 FT) | 15 REB (9 OFF) | 2 AST | 2 BLK | 1 TO

Daily Thunder: “Adams was a force to be reckoned with today, hauling in 15 rebounds and keeping Thunder possessions alive with his nine offensive boards. With the Thunder’s offense falling by the wayside since the All-Star break, this sort of effort out of the big man becomes that much more important. The Thunder would love to have this dominance on the glass for the postseason.”

vs LOS ANGELES LAKERS (W 119-103):

33 MIN | 13 PTS (6/11 FG, 1/7 FT) | 8 REB (7 OFF) | 3 AST | 1 STL | 5 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PF


NEXT WEEK

vs DETROIT PISTONS, Saturday at 1pm (NZT)

at MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES, Monday at 7.30am (NZT)

vs HOUSTON ROCKETS, Wednesday at 1.30pm (NZT)

at MILWAUKEE BUCKS, Thursday at 12pm (NZT)


SLAM DUNKS

Keen on the Steven Adams chat? Support TNC on Patreon so we’re able to keep serving it up

And whack an ad whenever you read something decent, plus spread the word however you can