This week at Fear the Sword, we are kicking off our first theme week writing about non-Cavaliers that we love. Second is the series is one of the league’s very best characters. Find the whole series here.
Steven Adams is the NBA’s best yeoman. Everything he does, he does for the betterment of his team, even if it means sacrificing his own numbers and personal accolades to help his teammates and aid the Oklahoma City Thunder’s chances of winning. An overarching narrative surrounding the Thunder is Russell Westbrook’s rebound hunting (despite the fact that it’s proven that they’re better when he grabs rebounds and can push in transition), but none of that would be possible without Adams’ work in the trenches.
Adams is one of the worst rebounding centers in the league…if all you look at is individual rebounding numbers. Because it shows up in a standard box score, it’s easy to conflate high individual rebound numbers with a good rebounder. In reality, rebounding is as much a team activity as any other on a basketball court. Adams creates rebounding opportunities for his teammates at an elite level — only three players in the league average more box outs than his 9.6 per contest. His selflessness on the glass is apparent in everything the Thunder do in that area. When Westbrook skies in for a rebound and jets up the floor, the focus is on his immense athleticism and dynamism in the open floor and how many rebounds from a triple double he is, but how is it that he gets all those boards? Adams is a key reason why Westbrook is able to do what he does on the glass.
It shows up in the numbers as well. Westbrook’s defensive rebounding percentage on field goal attempts drops by three percentage points when Adams exits the game, per nba.com. The big Kiwi carves open the space Westbrook needs to wreak havoc on the glass and on the record books and the Thunder are better as a whole for it. Westbrook’s rebounding opens up all sorts of transition opportunities, where he and Oklahoma City thrive.
On the offensive end of the floor, he’s allowed to be a bit more selfish, inhaling offensive rebounds like the world’s best basketball vacuum. He clears space for Westbrook on one end of the floor; he clears space for himself on the other. Adams has never grabbed less than 11.1 percent of available rebounds off Thunder misses from the field and is the league’s very best offensive rebounder off of Oklahoma City’s missed free throws. The gentle giant turns into the Hulk on the offensive glass, where throwing guys out of the way with a flick of the wrist is a common occurrence throughout a Thunder game. His work on the offensive glass makes it clear to anybody who’s ignorant enough to disparage his defensive rebounding numbers that he’s one of the great rebounders in the NBA today.
Just because he plays within his team’s strategy on the defensive end and doesn’t go out of his way to steal rebounds from his teammates doesn’t mean he’s not a massive part of their success in that area, it means he’s a fantastic teammate who’s willing to sacrifice his numbers for the betterment of the team.