Meet Oklahoma City's Unsung Heroes

With MVP Russell Westbrook being joined this season by Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, a lot of attention centers around the Thunder's new big three. Many fans have started to forget exactly how important Steven Adams and Andre Roberson are on the Oklahoma City roster. Neither Adams nor Roberson is a star in their own right, but both players make significant contributions to the team. 

Steven Adams

After leaving the University of Pittsburgh and declaring for the NBA Draft in 2013, Steven Adams was selected with the 12th overall pick by Oklahoma City. Adams, who originally hails from New Zealand, has increased his scoring and rebounding every year since entering the league. The 7-footer offers a brand of physicality at the center position that many teams lack. Over the last two seasons, the Thunder have lost power forwards Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter, and Taj Gibson, making Adams presence that much more valuable. Should Adams go down with an injury, the Thunder would be forced to rely on the likes of Patrick Patterson, Dakari Johnson, and Nick Collison. Needless to say, Adams physicality and durability are much appreciated by the Thunder, and his shot blocking ability is something that opposing coaches have to consistently game plan for. 

Adams also operates as an extremely efficient scorer in the paint. Whether the Thunder gets out and run on a fast break, or slow it down in a half-court set, it makes no difference to Adams. He seems to excel in both situations, and unlike many other centers of his profile, he can get out and run the court. This versatility has led to excellent chemistry with Russell Westbrook.

Offense Statistics % Time Poss Points PPP Rank Rating FGM FGA FG% %SF %Score
Steven Adams Overall 100% 120 135 1.125 89% Excellent 58 89 65.20% 10% 56.70%
Transition 10.80% 13 20 1.538 93% Excellent 9 10 90% 15.40% 76.90%
Overall Half Court 89.20% 107 115 1.075 84% Excellent 49 79 62% 9.30% 54.20%
Play Types % Time Poss Points PPP Rank Rating FGM FGA FG% %SF %Score
P&R Roll Man 25.80% 31 37 1.194 62% Good 15 23 65.20% 16.10% 61.30%
Offensive Rebounds (putbacks) 25.80% 31 31 1 36% Average 15 26 57.70% 6.50% 48.40%
Cut 19.20% 23 33 1.435 73% Very Good 14 19 73.70% 13% 73.90%
Transition 10.80% 13 20 1.538 93% Excellent 9 10 90% 15.40% 76.90%
Post-Up 9.20% 11 10 0.909 50% Average 5 11 45.50% 0% 45.50%

Andre Roberson

Much is made of Andre Roberson's inconsistent shot and struggles on the offensive end. Fortunately for this Oklahoma City team, Roberson isn't needed to be a consistent scorer. A bucket here and there is icing on the cake, as the Colorado product's true role is being a shutdown wing defender. Roberson might even tell you himself that he is the "fifth starter" on this team. It's obvious to the opposition that he isn't going to be a focal point of the offense. At the same time, it is also obvious that he will likely cause a lot of disruption on the defensive end. In the playoffs last season, Oklahoma City was knocked out in the first round by Houston. The Thunder won only one game in that series, but arguably would've been swept if it wasn't for the heroic defensive effort by Roberson. Anytime the Thunder play the Rockets, Roberson is relied on to defend superstar James Harden for the majority of the game. In the playoffs, it was Roberson's length and harassing defense that kept Harden from dominating like he wanted to. There was certainly a narrative in play as well, as we saw Roberson bring his A game throughout the series. Roberson now occupies Harden's old role as starting Thunder shooting guard, which adds another layer to this rivalry. In addition, the Thunder were trying to solidify an MVP season from Russell Westbrook, who's main competition for the award was Harden. Shutting down 'The Beard' was the best way Roberson could help ensure Westbrook finished on top in the voting.  

Andre Roberson's defense on James Harden in the 2017 Western Conference Playoffs:

Moving Forward

Moving forward to this year, Roberson can arguably even more valuable than before, despite the additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. With so much of the scoring load falling on the latter two, Roberson can help ease the pressure on the defensive end, by continuing to guard the best opposing wing player. With Paul George being fairly highly regarded in his own right defensively, the Thunder now have a formidable defensive duo to match up against all of the elite wing talents in the Western Conference. 

Steven Adams has played well enough to be considered borderline untouchable in trade discussions. It isn't a common occurrence for a team to stumble across a 7-foot center with an imposing physical presence and excellent defensive abilities. It is even less common for that player to improve at such a rate, as Adams has beaten his career high in points per game and rebounds per game average every year.

Even the Golden State Warriors can't get by on sheer offensive talent. Scratch that. Yes, they can. But for the rest of the mortal teams in the NBA, it's important to team build with defense in mind, rather than sacrifice defense for an excessive amount of shooters and scorers. With Westbrook, George, and Anthony handling most of the scoring for Oklahoma City, the roles of Steven Adams and Andre Roberson are clear. The energy and defensive mindset they bring to the team are appreciated by teammates, yet lost on much of the media. Both players will need to continue making vital contributions to the team if the Thunder want to strike gold this year. 


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