How can a player who is averaging 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds be such an important factor for a playoff contender?
It all comes down to defense, defense, defense. The Thunder haven’t been playing much of it recently, but it is an aspect that must be improved come playoff time.
And who better to spearhead that defensive effort than Oklahoma City’s up-and-coming big man—Steven Adams.
Not only does he own some of the NBA's best facial hair, but Adams has proven to be one of the brightest young talents on the team. GQ Magazine interviewed Adams, specifically asking him about his hair-growing technique:
“The Big Kiwi” doesn’t put up the best numbers when compared to other post players, in fact he only plays roughly a half-game on a nightly basis.
Adams and fellow center Enes Kanter each average less than 25 minutes per game, but they have formed a solid tandem that gives the Thunder plenty of options down low.
Kanter is regarded as the more polished player on offense, but Adams is equally as important to Oklahoma City's success.
Adams is no slouch on the offensive end, though, as he has shown an affinity for dunking on some of the league's best players.
The 22-year-old has also greatly improved his passing, which leads to easy shots for his high-scoring teammates.
When Adams teams up with one of the game's best shot-blockers, Serge Ibaka, the Thunder’s frontcourt becomes downright dominant on the defensive end.
Establishing a more intense defensive mentality will be key as the regular season wraps up and the Thunder try to keep pace with San Antonio and Golden State in the Western Conference.
Scoring isn’t Oklahoma City’s problem, as it scores the second-most points in the league (110.1), trailing only the Golden State Warriors.
The 101.9 points per game the Thunder allow on defense are their problem. This allowance has proved to be a major flaw as of late.
Over the last 12 games, Oklahoma City has only held three opponents to fewer than 100 points, which includes poor offensive teams such as Brooklyn and Minnesota.
Being able to outscore opponents has worked in the regular season, but it cannot be viewed as a reliable strategy against the Western Conference's elite teams.
Eventually, the Thunder are going to have to beat the best to be the best, so finding a defensive identity behind Adams could be paramount in turning them into contenders.
The boys from OKC have lost by single digits on the road against Golden State and Cleveland, while they defeated San Antonio in their only meeting this season, so the Thunder have proved they can play with anyone.
However, defensive breakdowns have haunted this team throughout the regular season and will need to be fixed in the postseason.
Potential playoff matchups against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs or the juggernaut Golden State Warriors offense will make defense a key concern for the Thunder.
Having a 7-footer who can block shots and lock down opponents' big men is a significant advantage for the Thunder, and it's one they must exploit if they're to reach their goal of an NBA championship.
The talent is clearly present in Oklahoma City, but how Billy Donovan chooses to utilize that talent could ultimately decide how far of a run the Thunder make in the postseason.
We know what Durant and Westbrook can do to keep the Thunder close, but if Steven Adams is given an opportunity to lead Oklahoma City's defense, don't be surprised if they make an NBA Finals appearance this year.