'Steven is so selfless': Thunder center Steven Adams flexes his passing muscles
DENVER – The Thunder is preparing to face one of the NBA’s best passing big men, Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. But unlike other years, OKC has its own assist-generating centers to counter on offense.
Thunder centers Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel are averaging a combined 4.5 assists per game. The increase stems from a change of offense. This season, OKC’s half-court offense often relies on hand-offs and screening actions at the top of key that center around its big men.
Noel, who is averaging 1.5 assists per game, played in a similar style of offense in Philadelphia, early in his career. He has yet to top his 1.8 assist per game from his second year in the NBA. But Adams, who until this season had always played with pace-pushing Russell Westbrook, is on pace to almost double last season’s assist total.
“I think Steven is a natural basketball player,” Noel said after practice Friday. "Steven is so selfless. You see with his passing ability that it’s nothing new for him to be able to get 4, 5 assists a game. I think Steven just knows how to play the game, period. No matter what system he’s been in."
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In the Thunder’s 94-93 loss at Sacramento Wednesday, Adams recorded four assists, each to a different teammate in a different situation.
He bounced a pass into the lane as Luguentz Dort made a backdoor cut.
He grabbed an offensive rebound and threw the ball back to Chris Paul on the perimeter.
He tossed a one-handed pass to Abdel Nader as Nader rounded a screen set by Danilo Gallinari.
He handed the ball to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and set a pick to open a lane to the basket.
“I think it’s a combination of two things,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “It’s not only Steven’s passing but it’s those guys getting on the same page cutting. And you’re going to have some trial and error, you’re going to have some mistakes or turnovers. But I see them getting more and more comfortable playing in that, and playing off of each other that way. And I think the more Steven’s in those situations, it’ll be better."
Adams’s three assists per game rank No. 11 among centers, according to NBA.com. But Jokic is still the undeniable leader with 6.3 assists per game.
The Thunder plays the Nuggets at 8 p.m. Saturday.