Steven Adams is one of only two active NBA players born in New Zealand. Despite his unlikely background, Adams is putting his stamp on the playoffs. For instance, he scored 43 points in Oklahoma City’s final three games against the Spurs. Adams has also been a major source of frustration for the defending champion Warriors as their series heads into a seventh game. While Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have supplied the offense, Adams was able to make Draymond Green lose focus and help the Thunder grab an early 3-1 series edge.
According to some observers, Green’s frustration contributed to uncharacteristic play from Steph Curry as well. Curry’s balky knee hasn’t helped, but Adams is a major reason why Golden State has had so much trouble with the Thunder.
It’s well known that Green plays with a lot of emotion, and his anger boiled over in his confrontations with Adams. Green denied intentionally kicking Adams in the groin, but the kicks did occur during Games 2 and 3 of the series. There were numerous calls for Green to be suspended after the latter incident.
As Adams said in a postgame interview: “It happened before, mate. He’s pretty accurate.”
Coach Steve Kerr defended the Game 3 encounter as unintentional and the NBA did not bar Green from playing, but Green’s conduct was a reflection of his mental state playing against Adams. It also reminded fans of Adams calling the Warrior guards “quick little monkeys” after the Thunder defeated Golden State in Game 1. Adams later claimed no malice, saying in an apology that his dialect and “poor choice of words” led to the backlash. Still, it’s not hard to imagine his comments riling up the entire Warriors team including the mercurial Green.
Adams is skilled at exploiting the double teams that opponents like to employ against his teammates.
Against San Antonio, Adams scored uncontested on multiple occasions simply because Westbrook drove to the hoop or Durant threatened to knock down a jumper.
Adams surprised everyone during Game 4 of the current series when he made a baseball-style throw from behind the arc to lead Andre Roberson for a dunk. He’s adept at put-backs and slams, but his finesse game made an appearance as well when he sank a third-quarter hook shot in the paint.
Adams is not a volume shooter but has scored efficiently, registering 65% on field goals in the playoffs. The big man can also be dangerous off the pick-and-roll, especially when Westbrook is involved.
The Thunder’s trade of James Harden to Houston in 2012 led to some negative press for the franchise. However, Oklahoma City did receive a first round pick in in the deal. In 2013 that turned into Adams, who quietly became a factor at the center position during his season at the University of Pittsburgh.
General Manager Sam Presti scouted Adams at Pitt, recalling: “It was clear that he had a physical rigor to him that made him someone we had to be aware of.”
Adams is a force on the glass as demonstrated by his postseason average exceeding 3 offensive rebounds per game. He doubled that output during Saturday’s Game 6 defeat and soared over Green for one of the most memorable dunks of the series.
On several occasions in the series, Adams has found himself playing help defense against Curry himself. Forced to switch due to a screen, Adams thwarted a step-back attempt by raising his arms and keeping Curry in front of him, eventually forcing him into an air ball. During another sequence, Curry attempted to drive the lane but was flustered by the presence of Adams and missed a layup. Unsurprisingly, Adams was there for the rebound as well. He has been good for a block per game all year long.
Dikembe Mutombo said it best: “He’s one of the most surprising big men today.”
Adams has a generous side, donating scholarships to students at his former high school in Wellington known as Scots College. He also runs a summer program called the New Zealand Basketball Camp for children of lower-income families. As one of eighteen children, Adams knows the importance of teaching kids the right lessons on and off the court.
A recent documentary film produced by the Thunder called The Kiwi Way also revealed his independent spirit.
According to his friend and teammate Nick Collison: “He’s always up to learn new things like how to play guitar and reading about European economies.” Durant also appreciates what Adams brings to the mix, calling him “a fun soul” and “a great basketball player.”
These days, Oklahoma City is so consumed with basketball that even the youngest fans are sporting faux mustaches in Adams’ honor. Game 7 will be a big test, but it’s hard to imagine the pressure getting to him. Nick Collison likes to talk about how Adams is still surprised when he gets recognized around town. Then again, basketball wasn’t such a big deal in New Zealand while Adams was growing up. Even that fact is changing now thanks in large part to the success of the Kiwi center himself.
photo via llananba