Adams and his enor­mous ilk in­creas­ingly cen­ter of at­ten­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

OK­LA­HOMA CITY — Steven Adams is in­valu­able to the Ok­la­homa City Thun­der.

He’s also a re­minder: Big men in the NBA are still vi­tal.

The im­pos­ing 7-foot cen­ter from New Zealand is help­ing change the re­cent nar­ra­tive that NBA cen­ters are an en­dan­gered species, some­thing that — based on spend­ing and draft­ing this sum­mer — is ev­i­dently not the case.

The perime­ter-ori­ented and de­fend­ing NBA cham­pion Golden State War­riors landed All-Star DeMar­cus Cousins this sum­mer, al­beit on a $5.3 mil­lion bar­gain deal. NBA teams went big at this year’s draft, with De­an­dre Ay­ton and Marvin Ba­gley go­ing No 1 and No 2 and cen­ters tak­ing four of the first seven spots.

And this sum­mer, $285 mil­lion worth of con­tracts went to three cen­ters — Nikola Jo­kic, Clint Capela and Jusuf Nur­kic.

Not bad for an of­ten un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated bunch.

“I just think guys are just get­ting more op­por­tu­ni­ties to play their game, play out­side the box,” De­troit’s An­dre Drum­mond said. Adams is a great ex­am­ple. He doesn’t get many, if any, plays called for him — but he’s es­sen­tial, set­ting ef­fec­tive screens for Rus­sell West­brook and Paul Ge­orge and gob­bling up re­bounds. He’s a 255pound bruiser and en­forcer, though the Thun­der rave about his abil­ity to move.

“The one thing that en­ables Steven to be so ef­fec­tive is his over­all ath­letic abil­ity and his quick­ness and his foot speed for a guy his size,” Thun­der coach Billy Dono­van said.

“At times, we’ll have him switch onto guards, and we feel pretty good about that. He runs the floor and gets of­fen­sive re­bounds. I think his feet — as good as his feet are — will al­low him to play in a game that has got­ten a lot smaller.”

True, big men ev­ery­where are rein­vent­ing them­selves.

Drum­mond, Mi­ami’s Has­san White­side, Bos­ton’s Al Hor­ford, New Or­leans’ An­thony Davis, Min­nesota’s Karl-An­thony Towns, Den­ver’s Jo­kic, Philadel­phia’s Joel Em­biid, Hous­ton’s Capela and Utah’s Rudy Gobert are all key to their re­spec­tive teams’ hopes this sea­son. And Wash­ing­ton is count­ing on Dwight Howard, when his in­jury woes al­low his de­but sea­son with the Wizards to be­gin.

They all have ex­tended their de­fen­sive range while still pro­tect­ing the rim. They all shoot jumpers, and, yes, some knock down the oc­ca­sional 3-pointer. And they do it while of­ten feel­ing a bit dis­re­spected.

“It seems like they don’t want us here,” Los An­ge­les Lak­ers cen­ter JaVale McGee said, talk­ing about his per­cep­tion of a league-wide lack of love for big men . “They’re try­ing to get us out of here. The prime ex­am­ple is them tak­ing us off the All-Star bal­lot. They lit­er­ally took the whole po­si­tion off the All-Star bal­lot. So just think about that.”

McGee’s right. Prob­a­bly no more than one or two true cen­ters will be All-Stars un­der the cur­rent vot­ing for­mat.

But chances are, how­ever, no team will get to the NBA Fi­nals with­out a good big cen­ter, ei­ther. That’s why Thun­der gen­eral man­ager Sam Presti holds 25-year-old Adams in such high es­teem.

“Steven’s got like five years be­fore he’s in his prime,” Presti said. “You think about the cen­ters in the league that are still go­ing to be in their prime five years from now — it’s a small group.”

Much of the new­found big­man ver­sa­til­ity comes from the 3-pointer.

Cousins made 11 3s in the first five years of his ca­reer, and then be­gan shoot­ing them reg­u­larly. His 2.2 made 3s per game last sea­son were a ca­reer high. He also av­er­aged a ca­reer-best 5.4 as­sists. Em­biid has be­come the face of the 76ers with his ver­sa­til­ity — he dom­i­nates in­side, shoots 3s and av­er­aged 3.2 as­sists per game last sea­son.

Drum­mond said Em­biid is a per­fect ex­am­ple of the new cen­ter.

“He came in and started shoot­ing 3s and han­dling the ball, and the next year ev­ery­body’s do­ing it,” Drum­mond said. “Ev­ery­body’s do­ing a good job of evolv­ing to the new style of bas­ket­ball.”

At 6-foot-10, Jo­kic is part of that new wave of cen­ters, earn­ing a $148 mil­lion, fiveyear ex­ten­sion with the Nuggets.

Last sea­son, he av­er­aged 18.5 points and 10.7 re­bounds. But he also shot 40 per­cent from 3-point range on 3.7 at­tempts per game and av­er­aged 6.1 as­sists.

“I don’t know if he’s rein­vent­ing the game or not,” Den­ver coach Michael Mal­one said. “All I know is he’s a Nugget and he’s go­ing to be here for a while.”

Adams said the big­gest change de­fen­sively is that cen­ters are more likely to pop out on pick-and-rolls than in the past.

“The main thing was just chang­ing foot po­si­tion and kind of habits com­ing off the pick-and-roll de­fense,” he said. “Other than that, mate, it’s just all the same stuff, be­cause that’s where prob­a­bly all of them re­ally get their shots off.”

It’s not a man­date that bigs must shoot 3s in this NBA. But it helps.

“You leave me open, I’m shoot­ing,” Drum­mond said. “I’m go­ing to make it even­tu­ally, so you keep leav­ing me open, I’m go­ing to make them.”

Clint Capela of the Hous­ton Rock­ets

But suc­cess­ful mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in the coun­try’s north­west near the Afghan bor­der and crack­downs in ur­ban ar­eas, in­clud­ing the restive port city of Karachi, have im­proved the sit­u­a­tion.

In cricket, the coun­try has twice hosted the Pak­istan Su­per League fi­nals fea­tur­ing in­ter­na­tional stars plus suc­cess­ful limited-over se­ries against Zim­babwe, a World XI and Sri Lanka in the past 18 months.

Those events have cleared the way for more sports, with squash, ten­nis and now golf fol­low­ing suit.

For­mer Asian Tour win­ner and In­dian na­tional Digvi­jay Singh said ar­riv­ing in Pak­istan felt like home, sug­gest­ing sport could play a part in im­prov­ing re­la­tions be­tween Is­lam­abad and Delhi.

“I am re­ally feel­ing home here and we are so over­whelm­ingly wel­comed here. We are see­ing the same faces not dif­fer­ent to us,” Singh told re­porters.

“Sports should bring the in­vis­i­ble walls down be­tween the two coun­tries,” he added.

In­dia-Pak­istan ties, in­clud­ing sports and cul­tural con­tacts, plum­meted af­ter deadly 2008 at­tacks in Mum­bai, which Delhi blamed on Pak­istani mil­i­tants.

While cricket re­mains Pak­istan’s undis­puted No 1 sport, golf is pop­u­lar with the coun­try’s army, with mil­i­tary ar­eas fre­quently home to some of the coun­try’s best cour­ses.

Pak­istan’s Navy is host­ing this week’s Asian Tour event, which has a $300,000 prize fund. “There is a very over­whelm­ing re­sponse by for­eign play­ers and that sur­prised us,” said naval com­modore Mush­taq Ahmed.

Pak­istan hosted its first Asian Tour event in 1989, which was won by Filipino Frankie Mi­noza.

The coun­try’s only win­ner on the cir­cuit re­mains 44-year-old Taimur Hus­sain, who tri­umphed at the Myan­mar Open in 1998.

Steven Adams of the Ok­la­homa City Thun­der

FILE

Ex-Eng­land and New­cas­tle striker Alan Shearer has voiced his de­men­tia fears af­ter years of head­ing soc­cer balls.

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