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Kanter, Adams A Symbol Of OKC's Big Man Resurgence

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OKLAHOMA CITY -

There are times when situations dictate change. Sometimes that change is good and sometimes, not so much.

In the case of Oklahoma City, change has been very good.

The situation is the Thunder's big man rotation, a position of concern just two years ago and now, one of the brightest spots on the team.

Drafting Steven Adams and Mitch McGary plus the acquisition of Enes Kanter has worked wonders for the Thunder's big man rotation. Sunday against Chicago, we saw the latest manifestation of that change: a starting combination of Kanter and Adams that resulted in double-doubles for the duo in an important 109-100 win over the Bulls at The Peake.

Going up against the Chicago post tandem of Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, Kanter and Adams were not intimidated and dominated the paint all afternoon.

In the first quarter alone, Kanter grabbed a Thunder team-record 10 rebounds. By the end of the game, Kanter had racked up 18 rebounds to go with 18 points. Adams had 11 rebounds of his own and 14 points.

32 points and 29 rebounds from the two centers on the roster used to be a pipe dream for Oklahoma City. Just two seasons ago, it wouldn't have been a huge surprise if the entire big man group of Kendrick Perkins, Hasheem Thabeet and Daniel Orton at the center position, plus Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka at power forward didn't combine for that in a game.

Ibaka's growth has been a big part of the position's rise, but ironically, it was Ibaka's absence with a sore knee that allowed us to see what Kanter referred to as “The Bruise Brothers.”

“I thought they've done a good job in the last couple of practices we had last week so that gave us a little confidence going into it,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We didn't want to throw something on the court we hadn't worked on.”

Adams and Kanter have seen action together over the past few games, but Sunday was the first time we'd seen extended minutes for the pair.

The result was domination on the boards. The Thunder came into the game already the best rebounding team in the NBA, and Sunday was another reason why. Oklahoma City owned a 52-33 advantage on the glass and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, which led to 19 second-chance points for the Thunder.

It's been a strange season in Oklahoma City, but the plethora of injuries has probably been the biggest reason why the Thunder has upgraded its big man rotation so well. If the Thunder have a fully healthy Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook the entire season, it's possible OKC never trades for Kanter.

Instead, the injuries called for change and flexibility, especially in the starting lineup.

“That's just the way this year is going to be,” Collison said. “It's just not a year where we can get a starting five, build a rhythm with a ton of continuity; it's just not happening with all the injuries we've had.”

As the unquestioned elder of the big man group, Collison can easily see what makes Kanter and Adams such a lethal combination.

“They're smart players,” Collison said. “They can figure out how to play with anybody you put in there. Enes has good ball skills. He can pass and catch and dribble handoff. Steve can do a little bit of that too. Steve is big and physical and plays hard.”

It may have seemed redundant to have the pair together in the starting lineup, as neither are particularly adept at stretching the floor with a jump shot like Ibaka can. But the way the two players complement each other is as impressive as it is disheartening for the opposition. Kanter can stretch the floor just enough to prevent the duo from completely clogging the driving lanes for Westbrook and company.

And speaking of Westbrook, he chipped in with 11 rebounds of his own and it's his ability to crash the boards that allows the Thunder big men to play a bit looser and not feel the responsibility to grab every rebound.

Just imagine the Thunder's rebound numbers when a certain lanky player rejoins the team.

From being a clear weakness to a major bright spot, the Thunder's big man rotation has been completely transformed in just two short years. Whether or not the fun, new tandem of Adams and Kanter is enough to overcome the injuries and push OKC into the playoffs remains to be seen.

But one thing's for sure: there's no longer a big hole on the Thunder roster.

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