With Serge Ibaka out for the remainder of the playoffs due to a calf injury, the Oklahoma City Thunder must rely on Steven Adams to help fill the void left by Ibaka’s absence. The normal four deep big man rotation for the Thunder features Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison and Adams. Ibaka is a great two-way player. He protects the rim and his developing offensive game now features a solid mid-range jump shot. Perkins and Collison are known quantities, each providing reliable defense and pick setting on offense. Out of the big man group, Adams is the wild card. His game is raw and annoying to opponents. The Thunder will need him to provide at least some of Ibaka’s rim protection in order to beat the San Antonio Spurs and advance to the NBA Finals.
While Oklahoma City Coach Scott Brooks does not expect Steven Adams to fill the void of Ibaka’s absence on offense, Adams must pick up the slack on defense. The rookie center is not afraid to shoot, but the team can ask others to assume an additional offensive burden. Caron Butler or Reggie Jackson could use more touches to add to their scoring totals. The team really needs Adams to use his athletic ability and toughness to provide shot blocking and rim protection. Adams averaged about 15 minutes per game during the regular season and logged 3.3 and 4.1 in points and rebounds. His best skill in his young NBA career, aside from annoying opponents, is shot blocking. His .7 per game shot block average projects to 1.7 per 36 minutes. Ibaka averaged 2.23 blocks per game by comparison. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili need to know they will be met with resistance as they drive into the lane. If they can drive without a backstop in the middle for the Thunder, the series will be short and uncompetitive.
In his playing time this season, Adams made a name for himself for physical play that takes opponents out of their games. In five instances, he caused players to overact to his aggressiveness to the extent of causing ejections. The most recent ejection was Zack Randolph of the Memphis Grizzlies punching him in the face during game six of the first round. Randolph was suspended by the NBA for the pivotal game seven win by the Thunder. No doubt the unflappable Tim Duncan will not succumb to an overreaction and Tiago Splitter is not known as a hot head either, but Adams’ fresh legs and aggressiveness could help to wear them down so they are less effective in the paint.
While most NBA observes focus on the specific matchups by position, the Western Conference Finals could be decided by the matchup of drivers and rim protectors. If Adams proves to be a difficult obstacle for Parker and Ginobili to overcome, then the Thunder have a good chance of advancing. Steven Adams must fill a significant portion of the defensive void left by Serge Ibaka’s injury in order for the Oklahoma City Thunder to make the NBA Finals.
Commentary By William Costolo