Delving into Kiwi Steven Adams' mysterious impact on the NBA

By Grant Chapman

Steven Adams of the Oklahoma City Thunder shoots against DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings, Photo/Getty Images
Steven Adams of the Oklahoma City Thunder shoots against DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings, Photo/Getty Images

If we ever needed a reminder of Kiwi NBA star Steven Adams' growing stature on basketball's biggest stage, we got a couple of timely glimpses this week ...

Iconic US magazine Sports Illustrated has tried to capture Adams' rapid development in a piece entitled "The Craft: The Invisible Superpowers of Steven Adams".

It's part of a series exposing those secret basketball abilities that hoops-heads really revel in, the unseen nuances of the game that often escape Joe Public ... like the dark arts of rugby scrummaging, if you prefer.

Since leaving University of Pittsburgh in 2013, after his freshman year, the young seven-footer has improved every season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, to the point that he is now an indispensable part of their starting line-up and, at just 23, arguably their frontcourt leader.

Bear in mind, if he had stayed his full term at Pitt, this would be his NBA rookie season. He's averaging 12.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game.

In terms of basketball development, Adams was still a complete novice when he was drafted. He had come to the game at a relatively late stage of his childhood, during his mid-teens, and while he was well mentored by Wellington-based NBL legend Kenny McFadden, Adams arrived in the United States with little more than his 2.13m physique, great genes, ridiculous hops, a wide wing span and an appetite to learn.

He was an empty vessel, begging to be filled, and coaches love that. It means they don't have to waste time undoing bad habits.

His brief college career was somewhat underwhelming, but those that knew better could see his potential. Another long-standing coaching mantra is 'you can teach basketball, you can't teach height'.

The Sports Illustrated on-line feature charts Adams' steep learning curve. Turns out one of most important "invisible superpowers" is his ability to run through brick walls.

"Steven Adams chugs along," it begins. "Bumps from opposing defenders barely register.

"The grabs and hand checks common among grappling big men are dispatched quickly. Adams absorbs these physical manipulations and keeps moving, turning a crowded lane into a path of little resistence."

Essentially, Adams has developed a talent for easily navigating his way through the opposition defence and still be where he's supposed to be within his team's offensive structure.

"Adams ensures that at least one train always runs on time. No matter what's in his path, Adams will get to his spot to screen or dive or carry out his specific responsibility within the Thunder offence.

"Opponents are shrugged off so casually that Adams appears to move around the floor unencumbered. It took years to get to this point."

What this analysis doesn't really touch on is his knack for antagonising rivals into losing their cool and we saw another great example on Monday (NZ time).

When OKC met New Orleans Pelicans, Adams needed just 32 seconds to irritate old adversary DeMarcus "Boogie" Cousins into a technical foul ... but not just any technical foul.

This was Cousins' 18th of the season. He received an automatic one-game suspension after reaching 16 and cops another for every two additional "T's" thereafter.

His latest brush with Adams saw him miss yesterday's encounter with the Detroit Pistons.

As you can see, Boogie, who had just been traded from the Sacramento Kings, is an extremely slow learner, which is why he'll never be considered one of the game's greats, despite his 21-point/10-rebound career averages.

A couple of seasons ago, he refused to shake Adams' hand after a game and the young Kiwi quickly responded by shaking his own hand in a moment of pure comic genius.

But Cousins is, by no means, the only player to fall foul of Adams' powers. Grizzled veterans like Vince Carter, Zach Randolph (at least twice), Andrew Bogut, Raymond Felton and Nick Young have also taken shots at him, and suffered the consequences.

Another cool aspect of Adams' play - he hardly ever retaliates to the rough stuff, he just takes it and plays on.

Last season, his capacity for getting under a player's skin arguably cost Golden State Warriors an NBA title. Warriors forward Draymond Green twice kicked Adams in the groin during the Western Conference finals and was tagged with a flagrant foul for the second offence, putting him on the brink of suspension.

In the NBA Finals against Cleveland Cavaliers, Green earned another flagrant in a scuffle with LeBron James and copped an automatic sit-down. Golden State led the series 3-1, but without Green, lost Game Five and all their momentum.

Cleveland won three straight to steal the crown.

Ironically, last week also saw the launch of a video game entitled "Draymond Green's Shut Up And Slam Jam Karate Basketball", another back-handed tribute to Adams' game-changing gifts.

- NZ Herald

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