Steven Adams presents an interesting evaluation challenge. Detractors look at his “limited” skill set and assume that because he doesn’t possess the outside shooting and playmaking present in many modern centers, he doesn’t do enough to deserve the near-max contract he signed in 2016. Supporters hone in on what he does well: He’s a monster within his role and the fact that he doesn’t try to stray outside of it is a positive, not a negative. The phrase “complementary star” isn’t often used to describe basketball players, but it’s perfectly apt for Adams, who does all the dirty work to ensure his Russell Westbrook and Paul George shine as brightly as possible.
Much is made of Adams’ relatively poor defensive rebounding numbers. He rebounded just 12.8 percent of opponent misses last season, a number that ranks him in the 11th percentile among big men. There’s a school of thought that Adams isn’t an impactful defensive rebounder because his numbers aren’t up there with the best in the league, but that ignores the very nature of rebounding.
Rebounding is not an individual activity that we can measure in a single statistic, even one as useful as defensive rebound rate. Rebounding the basketball is a team activity requiring and affecting multiple players, much like the defensive possession that led to the missed shot in the first place. Boxing out for Westbrook is almost always a good thing for the Thunder as a whole, as evidenced by their post-rebound statistics. Here’s a table of the Thunder’s 2017-18 offensive rating after a defensive rebound by Westbrook, by Adams, and by everyone else.