COMMENT:

Surprise, surprise; the Oklahoma City Thunder look set for another first-round exit in the NBA playoffs.

But let's pump the brakes on the notion that they're going to trade Steven Adams. The Kiwi centre is simply becoming the scapegoat of another failed season that will be quickly forgotten.

Adams is on a hefty contract that the Thunder would struggle to move. A defensive, pick and roll centre who doesn't stretch the floor isn't exactly a desirable commodity to an NBA team. Those who could have a place for a player of that sort already have that spot filled - the Utah Jazz have Rudy Gobert, the Houston Rockets have Clint Capela, the Brooklyn Nets have Jarrett Allen and so on.

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If the Thunder looked to trade Adams, they'd more than likely be set to receive a lesser player and maybe a late draft pick if they're lucky. But why would they trade him? He's not the problem.

Adams' impact on the game during the playoffs has been judged by commentators based on his unflattering plus/minus numbers. Given the Thunder have been easily beaten in three of their four games so far, of course it isn't going to look good for a guy playing 30-plus minutes a game.

But Adams' calling card is his defensive output, and that hasn't faltered in the playoffs. Opponents are shooting six per cent worse overall when guarded by Adams in the playoffs, and a massive 19 per cent worse within six feet of the hoop.

Scoring has never been one of Adams' key responsibilities for the Thunder; he's paid to defend, set screens and grab offensive rebounds – and the odd defensive rebound when it's out of Russell Westbrook's reach. He's been doing all of that to a high level during the series against Portland.

So while Adams' play has been called out by commentators, the pressure should be falling on the shoulders of coach Billy Donovan.

Portland aren't exactly an enigma. Elite guard duo Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are going to get their shots up, but having good shooters across the floor allows them to work for high percentage looks. They're a solid defensive unit, particularly on the perimeter; forwards Al-Farouq Aminu, Rodney Hood and Evan Turner held opponents to around 30 per cent on three-point attempts in the regular season.

Evan Turner has been one of several lockdown defenders for the Portland Trailblazers. Photo / Getty Images
Evan Turner has been one of several lockdown defenders for the Portland Trailblazers. Photo / Getty Images

But coming into the post-season without the services of their star centre Jusuf Nurkic, who was injured late in the season and ruled out of the playoffs, Portland were forced to start Enes Kanter – a very good scorer and rebounder, but a liability on defence. In the regular season, players shot about four per cent above their average when guarded by Kanter, but the Thunder have been reluctant to run plays for Adams to attack the Portland big man in the post.

Instead, Adams has been used sparingly at the offensive end of the floor. Taking just 34 shots across the first four games of the series, Adams has converted at a high rate but is being forgotten in the Thunder's love of jump shots.

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Could Oklahoma City Thunder coach Billy Donovan be using Steven Adams' services more? Photo / Getty Images
Could Oklahoma City Thunder coach Billy Donovan be using Steven Adams' services more? Photo / Getty Images

This year, all-stars Westbrook and Paul George have struggled mightily with their shots from the floor in their first-round series against the Portland Trailblazers. The pair have taken almost half of the Thunder's total field goal attempts in the series, converting on just 36 per cent of their combined 161 shots and just 30 per cent of their three point shots.

In the past couple of seasons the Thunder have been touted as a real contender in the tough Western Conference, only to be dismantled in the first round of the post-season. Relying on jump shots is seeing them follow that all too familiar narrative once again.