OKC Thunder evaluation: Adams doing his job, but is it enough?

Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) shoots as Portland Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu (8) defends in the first half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Sunday, April 21, 2019, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

In five playoff games against the Portland Trail Blazers, Thunder center Steven Adams averaged 11.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, made 66.7 percent of his field goal attempts and 37.5 percent of his free-throw attempts.

The other team’s center, Portland’s Enes Kanter, Adams’ best friend and former teammate, whom Oklahoma City chose not to re-sign in favor of Adams following the 2016-17 season, averaged 13.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, shot 57.4 percent and 80 percent from the free-throw line.

Kanter’s average plus-minus over the series’ five games was plus 6.2. Adams’ was minus 5.8.

That’s one way to look at Adams’ 2018-19 season. At the end, when it really mattered, he was arguably not the equal of the man the Thunder jettisoned in favor of him.

Even defensively, no real case can be made Adams was any better than Kanter in the postseason.

At no point have media or fans hammered the Thunder for choosing the wrong center when only one could be afforded, but it’s funny how things work out and the final picture of Oklahoma City’s season is not a great one for Adams.

It’s also funny how things work out because a hot pre-All Star game topic was whether the Thunder might land three All-Stars, the last among them Adams.

Prior to the All-Star break Adams averaged 14.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, shot 60.7 percent and 55 percent from the free-throw line. Twenty times he notched double-doubles.

His numbers dipped slightly following the break, but not nearly as dramatically as, say, Paul George’s or, as a collective unit, his team.

Adams also proved durable, playing 80 of 82 games, averaged half a rebound — 9.5 to 9 — more this season than last and scored the same 13.9 points.

Like so much in the aftermath of Oklahoma City’s season, putting a grade on Adams comes down to narrative.

Is he a young center who continues to improve, who other teams legitimately fear for his toughness and clear-outs on the boards, or is he a throwback, damagingly limited on the offensive end, where among the things he’s hardly developed is a jump shot, who’s no good at spreading the floor because he has no mid-range or beyond game beyond setting picks for teammates?

Adams will take the first one.

“It’s still my role to do what I’m doing … Mid-range and 3-pointers aren’t in there … I could develop it, great, but then that’s just for individual gain or whatever it is,” he said. “Again, for the team, still have to just focus on what we think, what you’re role is. I was really just trying to lock down on those things.”

Indeed, listening to Adams further, he’s all about the team.

“I just like to have a successful play. That’s just the bottom line,” he said. “Sometimes it’s me scoring, but a lot of times it’s like me kicking out, to whoever, guards cutting or whatever it is. That’s all I’m trying to push myself to do is more just what the right play is.”

The best question concerning Adams may be what is it the Thunder want from him?

Given his shooting percentage, they might want more shots. Give his free-throw struggles, perhaps not.

Adams, like George, said the team is engaged in trying to figure out how to be better.

“We’re sticking together,” he said. “And, again, you’ve always got to go in there and just try to figure out a solution. Every one is trying to do the right thing.

“That’s what’s good with top players we have. Good locker room guys. When you go out there, they’re not trying to be selfish.”

Perhaps Adams, and his teammates, will figure it out.

Editor's note: This is the fourth of a 13-part series evaluating Thunder personnel under contract heading into the 2019-20 season. Next: Jerami Grant, Thursday.