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SPORTS: Oklahoma City Thunder

Thunder Encouraged By Adams' Strong Play

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There was plenty to be excited about after the Thunder wiped the rival Mavericks off the Chesapeake Arena floor Wednesday night.

Russell Westbrook looked like his explosive self again. Serge Ibaka was a dominant inside force on both ends. But there was one ultimate encouraging sign for a Thunder team that desperately wants to remain relevant in the Western Conference: OKC might finally have a center.

He's only 20 years old and was the first player in the history of his native country to ever be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. He was drafted as a project, yet here he is.

Just four games into his career, Steven Adams is the Thunder's best center. And he may just be the piece that holds this Thunder team together.

If you didn't watch the Dallas game, you missed quite the show. Of course, Kendrick Perkins remained the starter. And Perk played until the 5:22 mark of the first quarter, but after that he was done for the half. In fact, OKC's starting center only played 14 minutes Wednesday night, while Adams ran for 20.

And for good reason. Adams gobbles up rebounds like a giant Pac Man. In fact, through four games, Adams is No. 1 in the entire league in Contested Rebound Percentage at 75 percent (basically the % of rebounds a player grabs when he's within 3.5 feet of the ball). In comparison, Perkins has only hauled in 37.5 percent of such opportunities, ranking him 76th in the NBA.

Adams is also averaging 16.3 rebounds per 48 minutes. Perkins averaged 11.5 per 48 minutes last season while managing an 8.2 Player Efficiency Rating, good for fourth-worst in the NBA. Perk's PER so far this season is 7.75, while Adams has more than doubled that level of play, recording a 17.34.

There's no question, the sample size is small. But this isn't an "any given day" sport like baseball. And Adams' success isn't coming on inconsistent activities like 3-point shooting and it isn't based off the performance of others, like assists. His success is based off his 7-foot-5 wingspan, great instincts and superb hustle. It's based off his physical and mental toughness, his ability to never quit on a play, and to run the floor hard regardless of whether he thinks he has a chance to impact the play. Skill is susceptible to small sample sizes, effort isn't.

The aforementioned effort, instincts and toughness remind many of a 7-foot Nick Collison. The real Nick Collison spoke about the New Zealand native after Wednesday's win and was very optimistic about his potential impact this season.

"I really like his demeanor; he just plays," Collison said. "He shows up every day and does his work. He plays hard, he tries to do the right thing, he doesn't have a problem with physicality, and contact doesn't bother him. I just really like his approach for such a young player. He's gonna be really good for us, we're lucky to have him."

Kevin Durant was also impressed with Adams, declaring that "he gets better every time he steps on that floor."

That's certainly an encouraging sign for a guy who is already playing at an above-average level for an NBA center.

The Big Kiwi probably won't become the starter this season unless Perkins is traded; seniority and locker room politics might prevent that. But if keeps improving, there's no doubt he'll emerge as OKC's primary center.

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