Andrew Mulligan: Steven Adams is tough, not dirty

Steven Adams (right) tangles with the Lakers' Roy Hibbert. Photo / AP
Steven Adams (right) tangles with the Lakers' Roy Hibbert. Photo / AP

So let's get this straight; in an anonymous survey of 24 (only 24??) NBA players and coaching staff, seven claimed that Steven Adams was a dirty player.

Adams is not a dirty player.

He's tough and uncompromising but he's exactly what the Oklahoma City Thunder want him to be.

The NBA has grown as a league and subsequently the tolerance for dirty play or outright violence is considerably less than it was 20 to 30 years ago. Clotheslines, punches, jabs, tackling players - these were common occurrences.

What Adams does do as an unheralded starting centre is not compromise for position in the key for rebounding or bodying up on defence and that's where umbrage is taken. He's had the Memphis Grizzlies' Zach Randolph retaliate and Vince Carter too for locking them up on defence. His reputation preceded him against the Denver Nuggets when he was tangled up with Kenneth Faried and called for a foul on Nikola Jokic running back down court side-by-side, trying to separate themselves.

The attention he gained from the LA Times story takes away from what he's become very good at and that's getting better offensively, very quickly.

He was always going to have the size, the athleticism and hands to get to the NBA but his ability to learn and work towards a career is what has given Adams the opportunity to succeed.

He told the Oklahoman's Anthony Slater recently that he wanted to "punch myself in the face" because he was missing easy shots by not going hard enough to the hoop. Now he's trying to dunk everything and that has opened up opportunities with point guard Russell Westbrook for alley-oop plays and being a threat where once he was there only for defence while the stars in Westbrook and Kevin Durant did their otherworldly things.

If making the lob pass on a roll to the hoop has become a new little wrinkle in the Thunder offence by first year head coach Billy Donovan then it's Adams' ability to defend that very play that is his bread and butter.

Defensively he's also a lot better than backup centre Enes Kanter who many thought would be starting the Thunder's NBA season because of his rebounding rate and ability to score. But his lack of defensive footwork and physicality in that area means he's much better off the bench, splitting minutes with Adams and providing scoring for the Thunder second unit.

Adams' numbers won't jump out at you but he is improving and he's certainly not dirty. It's a label that will stick and considering his teammate Serge Ibaka is also on the Times' list at number five it is not evident that there's a dirty team in the mid-west of America. Instead it was simply a list from peers who probably held grievances.

The best quote about Adams' play has come from veteran centre, and a player who Adams could easily become, Phoenix Suns' Tyson Chandler, who ended up tangling with the Kiwi who received a technical foul.

"Nah, I love him man. We get into it every time, but I honestly love the way he plays. He's not necessarily dirty, he just plays hard as s***. You've got to respect that."

- NZ Herald

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