The Oklahoma City Thunder have an evolving identity and with these changes, longtime starter Steven Adams will adapt to a different role.
This season will be the first of his career playing away from Russell Westbrook. During their time together, the New Zealander established himself as one of the best rebounders in the NBA. Now as fans prepare for their fantasy basketball seasons, it is possible Adams will produce even more rebounds without the 2017 NBA MVP.
More likely than not, the biggest difference will be on the defensive side of the floor. The big man has ranked in the 80th percentile or better on offensive rebounds in each of his first six seasons in the league, per Cleaning the Glass. However, he has finished in the bottom 25th percentile or worse for defensive boards in five of those campaigns.
The center recently told Royce Young that this was because the Thunder preferred Westbrook to grab defensive rebounds so that the former MVP could take the ball up the floor and immediately begin their transition offense (via ESPN):
“The aim was to just get the ball down as fast as possible, right? So one of the things that was good with Russ is he could just go get the ball … He’d just go get it, and then we’d start right away. We’d just sprint … Now it’s just a bit more traditional sort of joint: You rebound, try to find the closest guy to outlet.”
Based on what he told ESPN, it seems Adams will more likely than not just grab the board himself when he boxes out his man. As noted by Young, he ranked Top 10 in defensive box outs last season. Meanwhile, as Young adds, Adams finished 58th in defensive rebounds per game.
Adams has previously spoken about how he doesn’t mind focusing on boxing out as long as the team gets the board. From a fantasy basketball perspective, however, he will increase his value coming into the new year.
We can see the change implemented during the minutes Adams has not played with Westbrook during his career. According to research from Forbes’ Nick Crain, the big man had a defensive rebound percentage three points higher when he did not play with the point guard compared to when they did share the floor.
Overall, over the past three seasons, Adams averaged 9.9 rebounds per 36 minutes when Westbrook was on the court as well. By contrast, the big was able to grab 11.1 rebounds per 36 without the guard alongside him in that same span.
With increased usage as the longest-tenured star of the team, the 26-year-old projects as one of the NBA’s top rebounders next season — even more than usual.