Welcome to The Craft, a serial look inside the world of player development in the NBA.
Steven Adams chugs along. Bumps from opposing defenders barely register. The grabs and hand checks common among grappling big men are dispatched quickly. Adams absorbs these physical manipulations and keeps moving, turning a crowded lane into a path of little resistance.
This is an invisible superpower. Even the most brilliant, well-scripted offense can fall apart in the face of challenged logistics. The hang-up in running layered, coordinated action is that it demands synchronicity. Smart defenders know this—and just what they can get away with off the ball to disrupt it. A great defense gets stops by constantly jostling, contesting not just shots and passes but actual movement. By putting bodies in the way of where opponents aim to go, a defense controls the terms of engagement.
Adams ensures that at least one train always runs on time. No matter what’s in his path, Adams will get to his spot to screen or dive or carry out his specific responsibility within the Thunder offense. Opponents are shrugged off so casually that Adams appears to move around the floor unencumbered. It took years to get to this point. Years of building strength and adapting to the physicality of the league, the sum of which opened up the game for Adams. There would be no more patiently waiting for space or opportunities. Adams had the means to create lanes for himself and from that came a capacity to see beyond the immediately available.
“I can see it but I'm still gumpy, mate,” Adams said. “I’m uncoordinated. I still can't do the cool stuff.”
“Even the stuff I'm supposedly like OK at now,” Adams said, “it still needs a ton of work.”