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Center Of Attention: Thunder Has Plenty Of Options With Adams

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When the Oklahoma City Thunder drafted Steven Adams with the 13th pick in this year's NBA Draft, it appeared to be a pick geared toward the future and not the present.

Adams had great size and athleticism out the wazoo, but came out of Pittsburgh very raw, carrying a laundry list of things to improve upon.

However, Adams' play in the preseason has given many pause about where he will spend this season. The overwhelming opinion was that Adams would spend the majority of this season in Tulsa with the 66ers, playing against stiffer competition than the college ranks, honing his skill set and becoming the quality center the Thunder thinks he can be.

It's a big conundrum for the Thunder and coach Scott Brooks, who has said the minutes at backup center are still up for grabs between Adams and Hasheem Thabeet.

If the Thunder wants Adams to develop quickly (read: to the point where they feel comfortable using the amnesty clause on Kendrick Perkins next offseason), they need to put him in Tulsa for at least half of this season.

Last year, Jeremy Lamb spent 21 games in Tulsa, averaging 21 points in 33 minutes per game. When he was with the Thunder, he only saw 6.4 minutes a game in 23 games.

With the loss of Kevin Martin, the Thunder is counting on Lamb to produce in a big way this season, and Lamb isn't being counted on because of those 6.4 minutes of garbage time per game.

While with the 66ers, Lamb was able to gain confidence and play against competition that more closely resembles the NBA than NCAA. That's why the Thunder is counting on him to be a big contributor this season.

The same could be said for Adams, who has been impressive this preseason, perhaps more so than anyone expected him to be. He leads the team in rebounds, averaging eight boards per game. He's averaging 7.9 points per game and had a double-double of 10 points and 15 rebounds against New Orleans.

He's a very good, gifted player and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who didn't think so when the Thunder took him in June.

However, Adams isn't going to be playing 23.4 minutes a game in the regular season like he has in the preseason. The only place where he'll get that kind of court time is in Tulsa. Yes, he could be the backup center and take over Thabeet's role. Thabeet appeared in 66 games a year ago and averaged 11.7 minutes per game.

That's good run for Adams, but if you're putting the future of the center position on his shoulders, don't you want him playing as much as possible? You don't want him sitting on the bench watching for 40 minutes a game.

Admittedly, the competition Adams would face in 10 minutes a game with the Thunder would be stiffer than what he would face in the D-League, but during the development process, you're going for confidence, not a trial by fire.

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It's also impossible to gauge how Adams would respond in each situation. If better NBA players consistently dominate him in his short time on the court, it could be a big discouragement for him and stunt his development. At the same time, playing against noticeably easier could lead to poor habits and hinder his growth even more.

Is Adams currently better than Thabeet? Maybe. Thabeet may have the edge in on-court knowledge—such as defensive rotations—but Adams gives the Thunder more options thanks to his athleticism and ability to run the floor.

Is he even better than Perkins? Absolutely not on the defensive end, but probably so on offense.

The problem is the Thunder has quietly become one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. Adams isn't ready to step in and help the Thunder keep up that pace. However, his teammates have praised him for how quickly he is learning and how much he has surprised him by how hungry he approached things.

Could Adams be starting by the end of the season? It's certainly possible. Everything about him has been surprising so far, so why not expect another surprise? No one thought he'd spend much time in Oklahoma City this season; no one thought he'd look this polished in the preseason; no one figured this debate would happen.

It's looking more and more like Thunder general manager Sam Presti has hit another home run in the draft. It's still a bit early to declare that definitively, but things are trending in the right direction. Now, the decision has to be made about what to do with Adams this season.

It could be tempting to stick Adams in OKC for the season and give him scraps of minutes every now and then. But if the Thunder wants to expedite his growth, they need to put him in Tulsa for 20 games or so.

This is the future of the center position for Oklahoma City. Presti and Brooks don't want to mess this one up.

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