The Oklahoma City Thunder have gotten off to a disappointing 10-12 start to the new season.
After adding Paul George and Carmelo Anthony this past summer, it’s safe to say that things haven’t exactly been smooth in OKC, even with reigning MVP Russell Westbrook running the show.
However, the team might have turned the corner, with back-to-back wins against the Minnesota Timberwolves and the San Antonio Spurs, both formidable opponents.
The common denominator in those two wins was the elite offensive play of center Steven Adams. On Friday against the T-Wolves, he had 27 points on a perfect 11-for-11 shooting night to go along with six rebounds. On Sunday against the Spurs, he went 8-of-13 from the field for 19 points with 10 boards.
Averaging career-highs in points (13.2), shooting percentage (63.9 percent), rebounds (8.1) and minutes (31.2) per game, the 24-year-old center is in the midst of his best professional season yet and could end up being the most important player on the Thunder this year.
Adams’ recent offensive ascension is no coincidence. It comes as the result of a deliberate attempt to gain high-percentage looks through improved ball movement.
Carmelo Anthony recently revealed that he’s fine with sacrificing shot attempts for the greater good of the team.
"For me personally, it's just about doing something different, seeing where the team really needs me on a night-to-night basis. And just be willing to do that and being willing to sacrifice, not every night having to score 20 or 30 points, and I'm good with that, it's a good feeling as long as we're winning. I think these past couple games that we've been winning, we've been moving the ball well and putting a complete game together, and as a result, have won two in a row,” he said after Sunday’s win via ESPN’s Royce Young.
Paul George echoed that sentiment and mentioned that getting Adams some additional looks is a positive.
"I think we're building in the right direction," George said. "We're not caring who's getting shots. The ball is just moving. I mean, you see it, Melo's been taking a huge sacrifice, in terms of his shots and his ability to move and make plays. Russ, myself, man, it's moving. And you're going to see guys like Steven [Adams] being on that better end of it from us playing this attack, penetrate and kick and try to find our teammates.”
"I think we're trusting. There's a lot more trust being built," George added. "Which is what was going to come around. We've been in the battles, been on the losing end, certain stuff not working, and you just tinker stuff, work off stuff and figure out ways to win.”
At the beginning of the season, it was clear that the Thunder struggled when they primarily featured the three-headed monster of Westbrook, Anthony and George, who took a majority of the team's overall shots. The offense centered around isolation-based looks and everything seemed to be disjointed. Now, it appears as though Billy Donovan has preached a more team-centric approach that features ball movement until the best-possible shot is created.
An obvious adjustment has been using Adams more in pick-and-roll situations with both Westbrook and George, thus allowing for more activity and spacing on the offensive end as a result.
If Adams can continue his productivity on the offensive end and the team continues to make an emphasis on gaining high-percentage offensive looks without a particular name attached to the points, the sky’s the limit for the Thunder, even in the packed Western Conference.