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Steven Adams doing dirty work that bolsters Russell Westbrook’s reputation, helps Thunder

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DETROIT – A belief gained steam earlier this season that players perform worse when playing with Russell Westbrook.

Former Thunder players Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis were having career years with the Pacers. Ex-Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter was thriving with the Knicks. Meanwhile, hyped Thunder newcomers Paul George and Carmelo Anthony were struggling. Oklahoma City stumbled to a 4-7 start.

This indictment of Westbrook also effectively served to invalidate his MVP case last season. Westbrook’s Thunder won fewer games (47) than James Hardens’ Rockets (55). Naming Westbrook MVP implicitly acknowledged he had lesser teammates than Harden. But what if Westbrook were the problem with his teammates all along? Nobody could take away Westbrook’s MVP, but it sure was getting re-litigated.

What does Westbrook make of that narrative?

“I don’t make nothing of it. Through this ear,” Westbrook, raising his left index finger to his left ear, “out this one.”

Westbrook lifted his right index finger to his right ear then pointed out – incidentally, toward Steven Adams‘ locker.

A player’s success depends on far more context than whether or not he plays with Westbrook. Perhaps, nobody better illustrates than than Adams, who has spent his entire career with Westbrook and the Thunder.

Coming off a down season, Adams is having a career – and unique – year.

Last year’s Thunder were still built to win with Kevin Durant. His departure left them without enough scoring and floor spacing, deficiencies that compounded each other.

Adams tried to compensate. He developed his floater and posted up more. But those extra shots were largely inefficient, a symptom and cause of Oklahoma City’s overextended offense.

With George and Anthony in town, Adams has returned to the grungy role that serves him so well.

That starts with rebounding, where Adams is producing historically quirky numbers.

He leads the NBA in offensive-rebounding percentage (17.8), but he ranks just 148th – behind Stephen Curry, James Harden and J.J. Barea – in defensive-rebounding percentage (13.8).

A problem on the defensive end? Not at all. The Thunder defensively rebound much better with Adams on the floor (78.7%, equivalent of seventh in the league) than when he sits (76.1%, equivalent of 27th in the league).

Adams contributes on the defensive glass by boxing out, sometimes to absurd degrees. Using the full force of his 7-foot, 255-pound frame, Adams sticks opponents.

“My whole mindset is just to hit them as hard as I can,” Adams said. “Really. Because it’s more just a psyche thing. Because no one likes getting hit. I don’t like getting hit. So, you get hit quite hard, then you’ll kind of second guess like, ‘Maybe, I’ll just take a couple steps back.” So, make the job in the long run more easier.”

Does it work?

“They all brace,” Adams said. “Everyone always braces, because I come in quite hot when I come in for a defensive box out.”

A few of his box outs:

Adams is hardly the first player to grab more offensive rebounds than defensive rebounds. Jason Maxiell did it with the 2009 Pistons, though he’s the only player to do so in the previous 15 years.

But the spread between Adams’ offensive and defensive rebounding is dramatic.

The 4.0-percentage-point difference between Adams’ defensive-rebounding percentage (13.8) and offensive-rebounding percentage (17.8) has been surpassed by only Mike McGee and neared by nobody else:

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But McGee was a plucky wing for the mid-80s Lakers. Adams is a center, far more heavily involved in rebounding.

On scale, Adams’ season is unprecedented by a wide margin.

He’s averaging 3.8 defensive rebounds and 5.2 offensive rebounds per game – a difference of 1.4. That difference is nearly three times larger than anyone else’s:

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Adams’ tenaciousness on the offensive glass shows his ability to grab rebounds himself. But he has no problem letting teammates grab defensive rebounds. As he sees it, he usually guards the opponent’s best offensive rebounder. So, he can best help his team secure the defensive rebound by boxing out.

“My whole thing is we need to get onto the next possession,” Adams said. “Because I don’t want to play defense. It’s so f—ing difficult, mate. So, as long as we get the ball and we can stop playing defense, that’s great.”

But Adams boxing out while a teammate grabs the rebound doesn’t help Adams in the box score. Does that ever bother him?

“Since I’ve been over here, I’ve noticed that America is very stat-driven with a lot of sports,” said Adams, a New Zealand native. “I don’t know. I guess it could sway a lot of the kids growing up in this environment. Overseas, you tend not to see it at all.”

It probably doesn’t hurt that Adams is just starting a four-year, $100 million contract extension. Even if he doesn’t care about his numbers, NBA executives might. But Adams doesn’t need to chase financial security.

Does he have location security, though?

If George re-signs and Anthony opts in next summer, the Thunder’s roster could get too costly. Just Westbrook, George, Anthony, Adams and minimum-salary players would push Oklahoma City into the luxury tax.

And that doesn’t even account for above-minimum players with guaranteed salaries next season: Andre Roberson ($10,000,000), Alex Abrines ($5,455,236), Patrick Patterson ($5,451,600), Kyle Singler ($4,996,000) and Terrence Ferguson ($2,118,840).

Unless they avoid the tax this season – unlikely, considering they’re $13,313,518 north of the tax line – they’ll also be assessed the repeater rate next season.

Will ownership really cover such large costs? Could Adams eventually be the odd man out?

His rebounding and versatile defense are so important to this team, especially its stars.

“He make life easy out there,” said Anthony, who resisted moving from small forward to power forward until joining Adams in Oklahoma City.

Westbrook’s appreciation is self-evident. Adams’ box-outs helped Westbrook grab numerous rebounds that went toward his legacy-defining triple-doubles and MVP.

Now, Adams is showing how context beyond being Westbrook’s teammate matters. With George and Anthony drawing attention on the perimeter, Adams is getting all the way to the rim more often on pick-and-rolls rather then settling for less-efficient floaters. He doesn’t need to post up as often, because the Thunder have better options.

The rest of the narrative was overly simplistic and rushed, anyway.

Oladipo got into the best shape of his life and developed a highly effective pull-up 3-pointer (that, yes, he can use more without Westbrook). Sabonis is just 21, an age when many players improve rapidly. Kanter is getting more attention for starting in New York than he was for coming off the bench in Oklahoma City, but his production this season isn’t significantly outside his career baseline. Paul George found such a nice groove, he became an All-Star. Anthony, whose decline is probably tied to aging more than anything, is settling in as third option.

Are there challenges in playing with the ball-dominant, triple-double-chasing, notoriously intense Westbrook? Absolutely.

But that’s what makes a player like Adams, who unselfishly complements the Thunder superstar, so valuable.

NBA, players union working together to look at rapid testing devices for coronavirus

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If the NBA is going to create a “bubble” to restart the season — in Las Vegas or the Bahamas or wherever — there is a cargoship full of challenges, but they all start here:

How does the league test all the players, coaches, trainers, equipment managers, guys who mop the sweat off the floor, camera operators, hotel custodial staff, chefs, and maybe family members who also are inside this bubble? If one person carrying the coronavirus gets inside the bubble the entire plan comes apart.

The NBA and the NBPA (the players’ union) are working to find and check out new coronavirus tests that would be the first step to building the bubble, reports Baxter Holmes at ESPN.

Multiple league sources close to the situation said the league and players union have been looking at what those familiar with the matter describe as “diabetes-like” blood testing in which someone could, with the prick of a finger, be tested quickly, and results could be gained inside of 15 minutes…

The league sources stressed that this matter is in the exploratory phase and that there is no clear timetable as to when the efficacy of any such device might be proven.

“Rapid-testing results are key to return to work, return to sports, everything,” one NBA general manager told ESPN, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Whatever job you have and environment you work in, if you’re interacting with people, we’re all going to have to feel safe doing that. Sports isn’t any different.”

Holmes’ story discusses a test by Abbott Laboratories that is being looked at as an option, but others are being developed as well. However, with the desperate shortage of tests nationwide to assess the health of communities where outbreaks are occurring, how long it would be before there would be enough tests to use on a sporting event remains unclear. Right now there are much higher priorities.

The challenge in finding the right test is not just speed but accuracy — some existing tests have a false negative rate of 30 percent (meaning the test says a person does not have the virus when they are infected). It does the league no good to have a fast test that is not highly accurate.

To complete its season, the league would need to not only create a bubble but also maintain the integrity of the bubble for the two months or more it would take to run mini-training camps for about three weeks then play out a condensed version of maybe the regular season and the playoffs. Creating and maintaining the bubble does not involve only the teams and their staffs, it consists of the hotel staff that cleans the rooms, the cooks that prepare the food, security staffs, and others who likely would come in and out of the bubble. Plus, the league would need to make sure no players or staff decide to go outside the bubble in Las Vegas and play some craps or go to a club.

A rapid, accurate test is necessary to have any shot at making a return of the NBA — even just to televisions — possible. The league and players union are studying it. As they should.

But as Adam Silver said on Monday about the league as a whole, it’s just far too early to know if and when this might come together.

 

 

Adam Silver: No better feel for where NBA season stands than when play was suspended

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In a Twitter interview for #NBATogether with Ernie Johnson of TNT, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was asked if he has any better feel for where we are.

Silver answered, “The short answer is no.”

“When we initially shut down, we were calling it a hiatus or a pause. There was no sense our country would be shut down. In some ways, I know less now than I did then,” Silver added…

“I’ve told my folks that we should just accept that for the month of April, we won’t be in a position to make any decisions. That doesn’t mean on May 1st, we will be. It’s just, honestly, too early to project or predict where we will be in the next few weeks.”

Johnson asked if there was a date that it would be too late to finish the season and if the league was trying to finish the regular season.

“We haven’t made any decisions. In a perfect world we would try to finish the regular season in some form,” Silver responded. “In the first two weeks (of the hiatus) we were looking at specific scenarios. What I’ve learned is that it’s just too early to make those sorts of projections.”

“There does come a point in the summer where we would impact next season. Player safety and safety for everyone in the NBA family comes first. We may look at playing without fans. How would those games be televised? Would we go to a single site? We’re in listening mode right now. We’ve been contacted by several of those locations (for a single-site). It’s just too early to know anything right now.”

Johnson said he can live with the 2020 NBA season not having a champion if it’s for the greater good. Silver replied to that by saying, “Of course. Safety for everyone comes first. We’d love to be a part of restarting the economy. But it’s a public health matter. Health and safety have to come before the economic impacts.”

Silver finished up the interview saying he’s spent a lot of his downtime thinking about how to improve the NBA fan experience. He also said what’s been keeping him up at night is “the 55,000 jobs the NBA creates.”

Report: NBA teams given guidelines on pre-draft process

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Shams Charania of The Athletic reports NBA teams have been given parameters around the process leading up to the 2020 NBA Draft:

Per the report, teams can host virtual visits with prospects However, teams can’t ask those prospects to do any sort of live-video workout. Teams are also barred from hosting in-person workouts.

Each team is limited to up to four hours of virtual meetings per prospect. Teams are allowed no more than two hours with a single player in a given week.

The NBA Draft is currently scheduled for Thursday, June 25. Players have until Sunday, April 26 to declare as Early Entry candidates. Nearly 100 players have already declared as Early Entry candidates.

Some Early Entry candidates go through the draft process to find out about their chances of being drafted. This is a regular process, as each year several players will return to school, or overseas, in hopes of improving their draft stock.

Lakers guard Danny Green optimistic NBA season can be saved

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On his podcast “Inside the Green Room,” Los Angeles Lakers guard Danny Green expressed optimism the NBA season would resume. Green recorded his latest episode after NBA players had a call with the National Basketball Players Association.

“I think, by any means necessary, we’re going to try and salvage the season,” Green said. “And right now, we’re fighting. Most guys think that for sure we’re going to have a season. It’s just going to start later than we expected. And just trying to get the next season to be pushed back is not going to be as easy as people think it’s going to be. (Resuming this season) is probably going to start in mid-to-late May maybe, that’s what we’re hoping for at the earliest. Or maybe earlier than that, but that’s the earliest we’re looking at, mid-to-late May, and it’ll probably go through August/as late as September I, guess.”

These thoughts from Green are far more positive than recent thoughts given by several others around the NBA.

Broadcasters and league insiders have remained hopeful, but have said the NBA is approaching things with a sense of “realism” about saving the season.

Multiple NBA coaches, from Green’s own coach Frank Vogel to Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer, have said they are continuing to prepare as if the season will resume. The coaches who have spoken recently said they are preparing for both a shortened regular season, as well as going right to the NBA Playoffs. Budenholzer said he’s been spending time scouting both the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic, who are likely first-round opponents for the Bucks.