OKLAHOMA CITY: Steven Adams is a character. Perhaps out of a work of fiction. Or a super-hero comic book. Or a documentary on world travel.
With his wild, long hair, a world-class villainous mustache and tattoos, the 22-year-old New Zealand native is also the right character for the third-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder.
Adams plays his role well: defender, enforcer, sometimes scorer and giant personality.
“It’s been going quite well, mate,” Adams said of his season. “Just playing well my role and trying to win games. I thought I did a pretty good job of that.”
The third-year center averaged a career-high eight points, shot a career-high 61.3% and also averaged 6.7 rebounds. But more important, he was part of the Thunder’s two best five-man net efficiency lineups.
Adams, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Andre Roberson outscored opponents by 17.8 points per 100 possessions in 816 minutes, best in the league among five-man lineups with at least 300 minutes played.
Adams, Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and Dion Waiters outscored opponents by 13.4 points per 100 possessions, the second-most potent lineup in the league.
Asked about his contributions, he deflects credit or minimizes his importance. For example, he makes the Thunder a better team with low-post and pick-and-roll defense. He can even get out and defend power forwards on the perimeter if necessary.
But Adams thanks teammate Nick Collison for helping him improve defensively.
“Nick has been guiding me the whole way, telling me where to be so I can eliminate the play before you have to actually say ‘block a shot,’ ” Adams said. “He’s taught me how to do that. I’m not at his level. He’s Yoda.”
So Adams is the young apprentice?
“Skywalker, I am,” he said.
He has a reason, other than himself, for his high shooting percentage.
“Teams obviously double-team our best players, Russ and KD,” Adams said. “They attract so much attention. There’s no skill behind it. They do all the hard work, attract my player and dish it to me.”
So there’s no skill involved at all?
“Just catch a ball,” Adams said.
Adams got to this point with skills and work ethic. He learned the value of a hard day’s work as a teen on his brother’s dairy farm. Up before dawn, work until sunset.
“When you sit down at the end of the day, you’re ‘ahhhh.’ You feel great,” he said.
Pay attention to Adams in the playoffs. See if he ever clicks his jaw. If he ever notices himself losing focus, he will pop his ear by clicking his jaw. Even in the middle of an NBA game, a player’s focus will drift to a mundane topic, such as “Did I pack everything I need for this road trip?”
“In the regular season you can get away with not being focused,” Adams said. “You don’t intend it to, but that focus level drops. With the playoffs, you have to maintain a high level of focus and that’s the whole team. Kevin and Russ do a great job. That’s what All-Stars do, they keep their focus level at such a high place all the time.”
“If I catch myself kind of drifting away from the game, there’s stuff you can do to help you lock back in. I use environmental cues. I bring them on myself actually.”
In two playoff games against Dallas, Adams has scored 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting and collected 14 rebounds, seven on the offensive end. In 53 minutes with Adams on the court, the Thunder have allowed 78.6 points per 100 possessions.
Adams seeks a long playoff run, but after the season, he will plan an overseas trip. Last offseason, he traveled to Croatia and Switzerland, where his sister, Valerie, an Olympic gold-medalist in the shot put, trains.
This year, he plans to visit Japan and other Asian countries and maybe “hop over to Europe.”
Forget Rick Steves. Move over Anthony Bourdain. Send a camera crew with Adams, and he might just have the best travel show.