Acquiring Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams would be a mistake for the Boston Celtics.
In a way, this fit makes a ton of sense. Steven Adams is considered by some to be the strongest player in the NBA. He sets bone-rattling screens on and off ball, which would be a huge asset in the Boston Celtics system.
He’s an elite rebounder. He’s an elite rim protector. In a way, he’s sort of like the ultimate traditional center – if you’re gonna get a center who looks like he just hopped out of 2003, Steven Adams is everything you’d want. He’s elite in all those areas traditional centers are supposed to be elite in.
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He was huge for Oklahoma City in the regular season. They were a +6.7 in net rating with him on the floor, and a -3.6 with him off; a 10.3 point swing per 100 possessions. Some of that is likely about him playing with the other starters, but he deserves credit nonetheless. The Thunder were elite in 2018-2019 with Adams on the floor; with him off the floor, they were simply a bad basketball team.
You watch Steven Adams and all your instincts cry out that he’s a perfect complementary piece. He’s a classic do-all-the-little things player who makes life easier for your stars. The Boston Celtics would be lucky to have him, right? What could be wrong?
Here’s what’s wrong: that net rating swing flipped on its head in the playoffs. In 5 games against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Thunder were a -11.0 with Adams on the floor and a +6.9 with him off; a massive 17.9 point swing per 100 possessions.
We’ve seen this play out over and over again in the playoffs.
The Boston Celtics saw it with Aron Baynes in the 2nd round this year – he quite simply wasn’t quick enough to keep up with Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Celtics got roasted whenever he was on the floor. The same thing happened with Adams against Portland – he’s big and strong, but also slow and lumbering. He got burned over and over again.
It’s possible that these playoffs were an aberration. Maybe he was particularly beat-up (he didn’t always look so slow), or maybe it was just a bad matchup, or maybe it was dumb luck. We’re talking about just 5 games here, hardly a representative sample. But it’s a harsh reality that in 2019, even elite centers are often relegated to 15-25 minute platoon jobs in the playoffs when their lack of lateral quickness gets exposed.
That’s alright – you want a traditional center to be able to soak up some of those minutes. Even the peak-dynasty Warriors used their death lineup sparingly, frequently opting to let Andrew Bogut or Zaza Pachulia spend time mucking up the paint. The traditional center isn’t out of Hollywood; he’s just got a smaller part in the movies. Adams would be a luxury for the Boston Celtics to be able to employ sparingly in the playoffs.
But sadly, it all comes down to opportunity cost here. Adams still has two years left on his $100 million contract, which sounds downright reasonable in this era of super-contracts but is still bad economics. You can’t afford to pay a guy such a large percentage of your cap if you can’t play him big minutes in the playoffs. It’s spending too much of your money on bench minutes.
The Boston Celtics should be players in free agency. They should add a center if Horford leaves. A guy like Ed Davis would make a lot of sense for them, and he’ll likely be available for a fraction of what Adams would cost.
If Adams is interested after his contract expires and available for cheap, Boston should think about it. But the stars aren’t aligned right now. We haven’t even talked about what he might cost in a trade – adding Adams isn’t the right move even in a vacuum, let alone when you factor in what Boston might be trading away.
With the ship feeling like it’s crumbling, it could be tempting to go for a big fish like Adams. But he isn’t worth the price for the Boston Celtics.