OKC Thunder: Rest should serve Steven Adams well
Every time Steven Adams rests, takes off a game or misses a few because of some ailment, I have two completely opposite reactions.
Horror and delight.
Horror because I have never have confidence the Thunder can function without Steven Adams. It’s been better this year, in the post-Westbrook era, but before this season, every time Adams sat, I wondered who would run back on defense, who would clean up the aisles caused by lazy defense, who could make a 34-percent shooting night passable with offensive rebounds.
It really wasn’t a feeling grounded in data. The last four seasons, since the Kevin Durant exodus, the Thunder is 10-6 without Adams and 174-120 with him. The winning percentage is slightly better without him (.625) than with him (.591), though he’s missed so few games, it’s not a viable comparison.
It just seemed like the Thunder couldn’t play without Adams. A defensive anchor. A steady rebounder. A guy who didn’t care if he ever touched the ball. All kinds of entities have people like Stone Cold. Businesses. Families. Teams. Things just go smoother when he’s around. It’s always a little strange when he’s not.
But I’m also delighted when Adams sits. Because I know he’s resting. Adams is big and physical. He deals out plenty of punishment; some day, make yourself watch an entire game without following the ball. Just keep your eyes peeled to Adams and watch how many shoves and bumps and collisions he causes. But for every one of those skirmishes, there’s punishment coming back his way. Adams hits the deck a lot, in part because he does play hard and he doesn’t give up on plays, and it doesn’t take too far into the season before you can see him rising gingerly from the hardwood.
Worries me greatly. Adams hasn’t missed much time – like I said, 16 games total over the last four years and just 31 in his entire seven-season career. But Adams always looks injured. Wrapped up. Worn out. Then like Samson tied to the pillars, his feats of strength break through.
Adams always appears to need about two weeks off, though he never gets it.
So now we’ve hit the pandemic stoppage, and if the season resumes, it’s not likely to come until July, in which case the rest for Adams will be 3-1/2 months. Shouldn’t that fortify Adams as much as any player in the league other than those trying to return from injury?
You would think so. But Adams is an enigma.
I checked a bunch of his performances, and there’s no great correlation to a well-rested Adams and a top-performing Adams.
I checked Adams’ numbers over the last four years, when dealing with a variety of different rest days. Using nba.com’s player impact estimate, the best Adams is Adams on at least six days rest. That fits my theory well, but that’s a tiny sample size. A couple of games per year. On four or five days rest, Adams has his worst performance. Again, a small sample size.
On two days rest, Adams is a little better than on one day or three days of rest, and substantially than on no days rest.
Using basketball-reference.com’s game-score function, Adams was more productive in the 30 games he played before New Year’s than in the 28 games he’s played since. But Adams has been more productive in his nine games since the all-star break, which was eight days for the Thunder.
Three of Adams’ best seven games came in his first three games after the all-star break: 19 points/17 rebounds in a 12-point win over Denver on February 21, 21 points/14 rebounds in a rout of San Antonio on February 23 and 16 points/9 rebounds and just two missed shots in a two-point win at Chicago.
I don’t know what it all means for the rest of whatever this NBA season becomes. But I still feel better that Adams will be fresh. Some players will need to find their rhythm. But Adams always needs to rest up. He’s had that chance since March 11.