Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 50 players in the NBA. To be clear, these are 50 best players for the 2016-17 season, regardless of team situation, past performance or future potential. If you’re trying to win a championship in 2016-17, these are the 50 players you’d want most.
Why He’s Great: How valuable is Steven Adams’ rebounding? Well let’s see. The average team received around 23.8% of their own offensive rebounds, per Nylon Calculus. Adams was worth 12.5% last season… by himself. The average qualifying center, per ESPN’s Hollinger numbers, gets around 9.9%. The Thunder scored 1.1 points per possession last season, and Adams’ rebounding gave them 2.6 more touches per 100 possessions. That’s 2.86 free points per 100 possessions Adams generates on the offensive boards… and it’s not even the most important thing he brings to the table!
That would his defense, and holy mackerel does Adams defense. Opposing shooters made shot 5.2% worse from the field against Adams than they did against a league-average defender, a number that’s impressive on its face but even more so when you think about Oklahoma City’s scheme. Adams was, more often than not, the big caught in opposing pick-and-rolls, forced to switch onto guards. Serge Ibaka got the cushier general rim-protection gig while Adams was jumping out onto the perimeter. As we saw in the playoffs, he does that very well.
Oklahoma City’s defense flat out died when Adams sat, with their defensive rating dropping from 99 points per 100 with him to over 107 without him. For all the credit Ibaka gets, Adams was really the linchpin of the Thunder defense that nearly toppled Golden State.
And hey, he’s turned himself into an effective roller! The Thunder scored an excellent 1.12 points per possession on Adams pick-and-rolls, obviously due more to Russell Westbrook, but the big man still has to do his job. Adams has found ways to generate value on offense where none previously existed, making himself far more playable late in games.
Why He’s Below No. 42 (Derrick Favors): Think of Favors as a slightly better version of Adams who can score on his own. They rebound similarly for their positions (Favors grabs 10% of offensive rebounds, but is also a power forward). He’s a little bit quicker on defense and his rolls are largely as effective as Adams’. Combine that with Favors’ low-post scoring and Adams is just a hair worse.
It’s not even that Adams is bad in the low post. The Thunder just don’t use him there. He’s more valuable as a screener offensively, so the Thunder move him around to facilitate other players. That’s fine, but there’s a cap on how important any offensive player can be when they aren’t scoring. Favors isn’t subject to it. In fact, the Jazz dump the ball into Favors and tell him to score four or five times every game.