Adams grows as de­fen­sive an­chor

The Oklahoman - - SPORTS - Brett Daw­son bdaw­son@ok­la­homan.com

He’s barely 24 years old, but it’s not too soon for Steven Adams look back fondly on the good old days.

Times were sim­pler in his bas­ket­ball youth — as re­cently as his NBA rookie sea­son — when, as a 7-foot cen­ter, his de­fen­sive re­spon­si­bil­i­ties were de­fined and con­fined.

“It used to be way eas­ier, to be hon­est, just guard­ing post guys, tra­di­tional bigs,” Adams said. “You’re just stuck to that dude and it’s like, ‘He’s gonna duck in now.’ Re­ally slow. Easy. Not easy, but you know what I mean.” Un­com­pli­cated.

In the in­ter­ven­ing years, the game has changed. The Nuggets run their of­fense through Nikola Jo­kic. The Tim­ber­wolves have Karl An­thony Towns slash­ing to the rim and shoot­ing 3-point­ers.

As the po­si­tion has shifted, so has Adams’ role. This sea­son, he’s be­ing given more flex­i­bil­ity than ever to make his own de­fen­sive de­ci­sions, Thun­der coach Billy Dono­van said — when to close out on a 3-point shooter, when

to stay in­side and pro­tect the rim and when to float in help de­fense to “fill in some gaps.”

“I think if any­thing it’s been more try­ing to put him in po­si­tions de­fen­sively where he can uti­lize his length, his size, his in­tel­li­gence and re­ally help an­chor our de­fense from that back line,” Dono­van said.

In four pre­sea­son games, at least, Adams is filling that role nicely.

Dur­ing Adams’ 71 min­utes on the floor this pre­sea­son, the Thun­der outscored its op­po­nents by 36 points, and by an av­er­age of 19.4 points per 100 posses­sions. Ok­la­homa City al­lowed 84.1 points per 100 posses­sions with Adams on the court in pre­sea­son and 94.9 in 67 min­utes with­out him.

That’s in­dica­tive of a role that’s grow­ing.

But in a way Adams’ job is eas­ier, too.

The Thun­der added ex­pe­ri­enced pieces to its start­ing lineup in Paul Ge­orge and Carmelo An­thony, and Adams has found him­self shar­ing the front­court with de­ci­sive, com­mu­nica­tive de­fend­ers.

That’s a change from most of last sea­son, when Adams started at cen­ter along­side a rookie in Do­man­tas Sabo­nis who showed de­fen­sive prom­ise, but for whom the game hadn’t slowed down.

Rook­ies, Adams said, of­ten aren’t good com­mu­ni­ca­tors be­cause by the time they re­al­ize they need help — or be­come aware a bone-crunch­ing screen is com­ing — it’s too late to tell a team­mate.

“The good thing with Melo — he’s get­ting old, mate,” Adams said. “Mostly the old guys are good at talk­ing be­cause they have to. They have to make up for their move­ment. It would suck if he didn’t talk and he didn’t move. He can talk, which is re­ally good. It solves a lot of problems.”

Adams solves some, too, with the di­ver­sity in his de­fen­sive game.

“It makes it eas­ier for my­self and other guys out there on the court to know that we have an agile big like that, a very ag­gres­sive big,” An­thony said. “And we can play off of that, and we can be ag­gres­sive know­ing that he has our backs, too.”

Adams’ job is hard — and get­ting harder by the year.

A self-de­scribed “large mass of mol­e­cules,” Adams said clos­ing out to the 3-point line is “the hard­est thing in bas­ket­ball,” and it’s in­creas­ingly a part of a role that’s ever-ex­pand­ing.

But Adams is a stu­dious de­fender who’s long been ef­fec­tive and is “get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter with his aware­ness,” Dono­van said, even as he takes on more re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“Study and rep­e­ti­tion makes it in­stinc­tive,” Adams said. “It’s not like in a game I’m think­ing, ‘OK, po­ten­tially they might ...’ You can’t think about it. There’s too much s*** in your head. You have to rely on in­stinct, and that all comes from hav­ing con­fi­dence from the buildup that you’ve had be­fore.”

[PHOTO BY SARAH PHIPPS, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

Ok­la­homa City’s Josh Huestis, left, and Steven Adams, cen­ter, de­fend against Mel­bourne’s Casey Prather in the fourth quar­ter of a pre­sea­son game on Sun­day at Ch­e­sa­peake En­ergy Arena.

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