Steven Adams spent his coronavirus hiatus in New Zealand doing farm work, boxing out cows, and awaiting the call to practice with his Thunder teammates. Instead of pummeling defenders in the paint for 30 minutes a night, he’s been getting the one thing he typically needs come playoff time — rest!
As a result, I think the time away will be highly beneficial to his postseason play.
Even just this season, Adams has been banged up. From ankle sprains to knee contusions to back pain, he pushed through 58 of OKC’s 64 games prior to the shutdown. Too often, I’m watching Steve play and thinking “he must be working through injuries,” but I shake it off because he plays through everything and never complains. However, it’s not entirely uncommon to see Adams’ production slide as the season progresses and the bruises add up.
For example, here are Steven’s pre and post-All-Star break numbers from last season (2018-19):
2018-19 Pre All-Star Break: 14.7 PPG, 9.5 REB, 60.7% FG, 55% FT
2018-19 Post All-Star Break: 11 PPG, 9.6 REB, 56% FG, 35% FT
Over the last three seasons prior to this one, Adams averaged 13.6 PPG prior to the All-Star break and 11.7 PPG afterward. The rebounding, shooting, and free throw percentages also take a noticeable dive after the break. One would assume mounting injuries play a part in that.
However, as the Thunder prepare for play to resume, Adams packs a clean bill of health in his luggage and will be a key piece in any of the potential playoff matchups.
If the playoffs started today, OKC would play the Utah Jazz, pitting Adams against the Stifle Tower himself, Rudy Gobert. Gobert is one of the few guys Adams does not dwarf in size, and he just so happens to be a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Gobert generally outplays Steven on the stat sheet, but more often than not OKC comes away with the victory. Gobert is 5-15 against the Thunder in the regular season for his career and 4-2 in the playoffs. Steve’s athleticism is a big help on the boards in this matchup and I’d expect much of that in Orlando.
The other likely playoff matchup for OKC will be against the Denver Nuggets. Easily the most intriguing part of this matchup is Skinny Nikola Jokic. The man who used to slam 3-liters of Coca-Cola every day has lost a ton of weight in his time away from the NBA. This is interesting because a big part of his game included using his weight to burrow into a defender and then crafting some miraculous pass or post-move out of the space he created. Can he do that anymore? I’m not so sure, and Adams is not the guy you want to adjust to. This matchup will be an exciting nugget to look out for if it happens to be OKC’s fate.
Another thing to keep in mind is both Gobert and Jokic tested positive for the coronavirus. Jokic recently tested positive after already losing a tremendous amount of weight, and Gobert was the catalyst for the NBA shutting down in March. Gobert says he’s still not regained his sense of smell months after his worst symptoms. We truthfully don’t know what the long-lasting effects of this virus are, so these guys may not be physically well enough to get out there and battle with Steve (though we wish them the absolute quickest recovery imaginable).
A healthy Adams is a force of nature on the court. He can finish lobs out of the pick-n-roll, make smart passes from the elbows, and be the anchor on defense. You can bet this rest will toss aside the fatigue we normally see in the tail end of the regular season. Let’s all be sure to thank the cows for helping the Big Kiwi get fresh.