The realization that Steven Adams is still just 24 years old and a peer to the likes of Kyle Anderson, Buddy Hield and Malcolm Brogdon raises the eyebrow almost as much as the fact that Kendrick Perkins is the same age as Lebron James. It seems that this good-natured giant entertained us with his “mate”-flavored quotes for at least twice as long as his four relevant NBA seasons, and that impression is at least partly influenced by the extreme physical transformation Adams underwent between 2015 and 2016.
It was not just his hair and beard that grew – over the course of his young career, Adams consistently evolved in all aspects of the game, most prominently in statistical categories that are usually in the spotlight for his position.
Among centers who play at least two full quarters per game, Adams ranks top 20 in points and rebounds, and top 5 in field goal percentage. His success rate from the charity stripe leaves much to be desired, but given the fact that just 4% of his career shots came outside of 10 feet, the current trend of two out of every three free throws made is quite satisfactory.
Based on those numbers, Adams could easily be considered a slightly above average NBA center, but there is one area in which he has truly excelled this season that makes him an indispensable piece for Billy Donovan, and a perfect complement to the Thunder Big Three. He is currently grabbing a tad under five offensive rebounds per game, which is the highest mark in the league, and is on pace to become the first player ever to reach that mark while securing less than ten total rebounds per game.
While Russell Westbrook claims the majority of clanked shots on defense to pad his numbers / quickly initiate the Thunder offense, Adams boxes out, runs in transition, and saves his impeccable positioning and imposing physicality for the other end of the floor. He already pulled more offensive than defensive rebounds 22 times this season, and it’s becoming more likely by the day that he will become the first player in NBA history to average more offensive than defensive rebounds among players with 8+ boards. The only player that came close to achieving that feat was Nikola Peković, the medically retired enforcer who is still on the Timberwolves payroll. He posted 3.9 offensive and 3.5 defensive rebounds back in 2011-12.
Funaki’s incredible presence on the offensive boards has allowed the Thunder to score over 14 second chance points per game, and considering how they slowed down their game this season (they are playing at the slowest pace since 2011-2012), it is evident that each miss he grabs potentially has a huge impact on the outcome of the game.
Sceptics might say that his teammates are conveniently putting him in an ideal position to achieve those historical numbers; high volume shooting (86.5 shots per game, 9th in the league) coupled with below average field goal percentage (45.3%, 18th in the league) naturally yields an inflated number of offensive rebound opportunities for Adams. On the other hand, having such a dominant force on the offensive boards definitely allows the Thunder trident to be easier on the trigger and take some ill-advised shots while trying to get into the rhythm. After all, anyone who’s ever played organized basketball at any level is aware that seeing a teammate in an optimal position to grab the eventual miss provides a certain confidence boost while shooting the basketball.
Offensive rebounding is slowly but steadily becoming a lost art in the NBA. In fact, the 2017-18 will most likely be the first season in NBA history in which the league average will fall under ten offensive boards per game. Fast paced basketball which requires defenses to be set early in the shotclock, an ever-increasing number of big men roaming the perimeter rather than the paint, spike in three point shooting with unpredictable bounces following missed shots… It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly is making coaches and players abandon that aspect of the game which, in its essence, has the same value as a steal. Fighting for an offensive rebound is, however, considered an unwise investment in the modern era of basketball.
The Thunder, and primarily Steven Adams, have decided to go against the grain in that regard this season, and it that has been one of the bright spots in an otherwise disheartening half-season stretch. Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are getting a ton of second looks at the basket – they have just been unable to convert them at the rate that would translate to winning percentage expected from such an abundance of firepower. One positive detail is that they are still one of the top NBA defenses, and having things sorted out at that end will make it easier to fix the glaring offensive and chemistry woes.
Adams’ historical presence on the boards has already provided more opportunities to do just that, but the ultimate goal will be to decrease the number of offensive rebound chances he gets via less stagnant play and better shooting percentages. His unique skill will, however, remain one of Billy Donovan’s secret weapons, and we all know what is the potential of a single, well-timed offensive rebound in the crucial moment of the game. Just ask Chris Bosh and Ray Allen.