The Most Improved Player award is the hardest award to try and predict at the beginning of the season due to so many players putting in the work and constantly getting better during the off season, There are other factors that can shape the outcome of this award too such as roster adjustments and front office movements that can provide a player the spark they have needed to make a genuine splash in the NBA landscape. The player I’m writing about for this accolade is one that I feel will be benefiting from these particular things even though on the surface they are damaging to his team.
There are multiple dark horses in the race for the Most Improved Player award, the easy selections are sophomore players coming off of a rookie season. However I try to avoid these players because if you aren’t improving from your rookie year to your second season something might be a bit off. So that leaves players such as Zach Lavine, Jordan Clarkson, Dennis Schroder and a lot of the conversation is centred around Bucks Point-Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (A player I was very close to writing this article about) However, I have backed a player who is more than ready for a breakout season on their own merits, but also due to their superstar teammate. Who is lying in wait, preparing for the season to start so his impending rampage upon the rest of the league can commence. This player is Steven Adams and his running mate Russell Westbrook.
The Thunder’s season ended having gone from being up 3-1 against the Golden State Warriors and one game away from the NBA finals. Too eventually losing that series and waving goodbye to their franchise cornerstone and darling of the City Kevin Durant, as he packed his bags and headed over to that same team that had knocked them out of the playoffs only 1 months earlier. So the landscape of OKC basketball has completely shifted now that Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka have both moved onto different teams.
So team superstar Russell Westbrook and Cult Hero Steven Adams have been left to fight for themselves this season. For this reason Westbrook has been tipped to have yet another MVP calibre season and potentially do enough to win the award itself. However the teams win total is ultimately going to play a part in whether he does receive this award or not, so another player who is able to benefit directly from Russ’s other worldly play is Adam’s.
Westbrook and Adams have always had a chemistry on court that is deeper than just basketball, There is a mutual respect there and in a recent Rolling Stones interview Kevin Durant said that when he was at the Thunder he and Westbrook had their own “cliques” within the team, and you can bet your last penny that Adams was one of Westbrook’s right hand men.
Adams is the youngest of 18 siblings so he is naturally a fighter and he has had to learn assert himself from day-one. His older sister recently won a second Olympic Medal for NZ in the Shot Put event so it’s not as though he is the stand alone physically gifted child of the family. Only at a surprising 23 years old Steven Adams’s age is often forgotten due to his size and build, up until this point in his career he has averaged 6.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 0.7 apg but this was upped to 8 ppg, 6.7 ppg, 0.8 apg and 1.1 blpg during the regular season last year, however Adams again built on these performances further averaging 10.1 ppg, 9.5 apg, 0.7 apg, 0.8 blpg during the play-offs, this is where Adams really found his feet in the OKC line-up he was utilised a lot during the playoffs averaging 31.2 minutes a game and playing a major role in a number of the team’s victories. Especially in the first game of the series against the Golden State Warriors where Adams registered 16 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks in 37 minutes of game time. Adams and Ibaka came together as the perfect counter to the Warriors small ball ‘Death line-up’ and now that Serge Ibaka has moved on to Orlando we can expect Adams to continue as he was, playing in a role with increased minutes and increased responsibility. In his two most recent preseason outings he registered a very respectable 20 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks off of only 23 minutes against the Timberwolves followed by a 17 points, 9 rebounds in 25 minutes against the Denver Nuggets. With Westbrook looking for any kind of assistance this season in the attempt to keep OKC’s head above water he will be looking to Adam’s a lot this year when he gets into the lane, draws defenders and kicks out to other players in a position to score. Or on those nights when Russ attempts to do too much and jacks up a lot of low percentage shots, Adams will be hanging around under the rim ready to rebound, kick out to the perimeter or put-back and score.
Adams is ready to continue his play-offs form and build that into a season in which he averages a Double-double and becomes OKC’s new long-term rock in the paint. The way that the playoffs played out acted as a wake-up call for Adams, he realised during this period that he is more than capable of holding his own against the rest of the NBAs and with Russell Westbrook driving and motivating you each day it’s clear that Steven is only going to develop further from this point on. In behind the access videos posted by the Oklahoma City Franchise you can really see Adam’s appreciation for the OKC fan base, a humble man from Rotorua New Zealand he speaks lovingly about their relentless support shown by the fans. This connection between player and fan base has only grown stronger after team cornerstones Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka left during the summer. Leaving Adams with a perfect opportunity to announce himself to the rest of the NBA and make as large an impact as he will need to if OKC are going to continue to make the play-offs in the fashion they have grown so accustom too. Coming onto a contract year too with the salary cap expected to rise once again this season really does have a perfect storm brewing over head for the Thunders Steven Adams.
Having the 2nd best Career Win % of all teams in the NBA (1st is San Antonio) the Thunder fans expected good results and so do there players. So it is going to be incredibly interesting to see how they go about maintaining the status quo. But one thing is for sure the fans and the City have come together over there newly formed roster and Adams is ready to reward that loyalty with a career year that I believe has an excellent chance in ending up with him being crowned the Most Improved Player, and the first NBA big man to win this award since Kevin Love and Ryan Anderson in 2011 and 2012.