MINNEAPOLIS — The average person spends most of their life not getting whacked by two-by-fours.
However, if a massive piece of wood were to slam into an unsuspecting victim, that person may react similarly to how Minnesota's Jimmy Butler reacted to Steven Adams laying a screen on him during Wednesday’s game between the Timberwolves and Oklahoma City.
Butler described the feeling when a reporter asked for thoughts on how his teammate, Karl-Anthony Towns, defended Adams during Minnesota’s 104-88 victory. He gave one sentence of evaluation on Towns before unraveling into how hard Adams had knocked him.
“That [expletive] is strong! Like, I’m serious. He hit me with one screen today, and I thought my life was over,” he said. “Seriously, he’s like from Krypton or something. He’s strong. I’m going call him in here and let him set a screen on you.”
Adams isn't just strong as a screener. He's also skilled. The Thunder offense depends on him setting all sorts of picks, whether they come in pick-and-roll sets with Russell Westbrook or down low to free up Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and others.
He has particularly mastered one type of pick called the “flat screen,” which involves him setting a screen from just behind whomever is guarding a ball handler. He’s mastered the mid-pick adjustments on a type of play that can catch defenders off guard, especially on teams which aren’t communicating well.
The numbers back up the eye test. Adams is currently fourth in the NBA in screen assists, screens which lead directly to made field goals. He trails only the Detroit Pistons’ Andre Drummond, Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert and Washington Wizards’ Marcin Gortat. And Butler is hardly the first player to note the importance of Adams’ screening. Portland Trail Blazers wing Evan Turner did the same after a game against the Thunder in February of last year, turning to Adams when asked about Westbrook’s at-the-time magnificent season.
“[Westbrook has] got such a great screener," Turner said. "Besides him being so athletic, he’s got such a great screener in Steven Adams. Adams can screen, and then as the game goes on, he does so much. If you go under, he’s going to grab you, or he’s going to move on the screen, and Russell is like the roadrunner. He’s going to get out of there and get to his spot.”
• All-Star update: The NBA released its latest All-Star voting leaderboards Thursday. No Thunder player is projected as a starter given current fan voting.
Westbrook ranks third among Western Conference guards, trailing Golden State's Stephen Curry and Houston's James Harden. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, meanwhile, are fifth and seventh among the West’s frontcourt players. One through four are Golden State’s Kevin Durant, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, Golden State’s Draymond Green and New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins. San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard ranks sixth.
Cleveland LeBron James leads all players in the voting, bringing in 1.6 million. Curry, who has received just under 1.4 million, has a narrow edge on Durant among West players.
The fan vote makes up 50 percent of the overall vote for the All-Star Game, which is scheduled Feb. 18 in Los Angeles. Voting from the media makes up 25 percent, and voting from the players makes up the other 25 percent.
Fan, media and player voting all close Jan. 15.
• Johnson assigned: The Thunder have assigned rookie center Dakari Johnson to the Oklahoma City Blue ahead of this weekend’s G League Showcase taking place in Mississauga, Ontario. The Thunder do not play again until Saturday, when they travel to Charlotte.
Johnson has averaged 2.4 points and 1.2 rebounds for the Thunder this season.
• Grant’s contract: With Jan. 10’s deadline passed, the Thunder have officially guaranteed forward Jerami Grant’s $1.5 million salary for 2017-18. Grant’s contract was only partially guaranteed until Wednesday.
The bench contributor is averaging 7.3 points and 3.7 rebounds in 20.7 minutes per contest. He will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.