Tuesday, March 2, 2021
Home Basketball Steven Adams and Zion Williamson are the strongest couple in the NBA

Steven Adams and Zion Williamson are the strongest couple in the NBA

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THE ONLY Who stood between Zion Williamson and the basket was Steven Adams.

It was the last quarter of Williamson’s 10th NBA game, and the first overall pick had just caught the ball in the paint. Adams waited just above the restricted circle, ready for contact. Someone was going to lose this heavyweight showdown.

Williamson dribbled, met Adams in the middle of the lane and then buried his left shoulder in the center’s chest before stopping to pivot. The force pushed Adams back 8 feet toward the baseline, clearing the way for Williamson to turn around and lay a layup underneath.

“That is strong!” exclaimed New Orleans Pelicans analyst Antonio Daniels during the broadcast.

Few players can use brute force to get away with Adams, who was voted the toughest player in the league by general managers in each of the past four seasons. But Williamson entered the NBA as one of the most hyped prospects in history, taking explosive playmaking to unprecedented levels during his only college season.

“The guy is so explosive,” Adams told ESPN. “It also weighs 300 pounds or something like that. But it moves very fast.”

Nine months after their first collision, Adams and Williamson officially joined forces. A four-team trade that sent star point guard Jrue Holiday also brought New Zealand’s big man to New Orleans via the Oklahoma City Thunder. Together, the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Adams and 6-foot-6, 284-pound Williamson make up potentially the strongest duo in the entire NBA, one that constantly unleashes pain in opponents and teammates but is still looking to find. its place in the modern game.

THE POWER BEHIND of the Pelicans’ 549-pound frontline manifests itself in two key ways: screens and rebounds.

For years, Eric Bledsoe, a two-time NBA All-Defensive team, had to deal with trying to get around the Adams screens. He’s so much happier now that he has Adams on his side. But in training camp this year, Bledsoe was left on the wrong side of a Williamson screen.

“It was pretty brutal,” Bledsoe said. “Brutal. Strong. I think I was gone for about three days.”

As a reserve point guard, Sindarius Thornwell has the unenviable duty of having to face the Pelicans starters in practice. That means he’s constantly on the other side of the picks Williamson and Adams make.

“They’re probably two of the most physical guys in the league,” Thornwell said. “However, it’s no fun going up against them when one of those screens hits you.”

Rivals, teammates, and even team personnel – no one is truly safe from the wrath of these screens. Before Williamson’s debut last season, the Pelicans had him playing 3v3 and 4v4 games against staff members, coaches, and players outside of the rotation to improve his conditioning and prepare to play in a real game. Multiple sources told ESPN that after one of those sessions, a Pelicans staff member was sent to a local hospital to be checked for a possible concussion because he ran directly into a Williamson screen and was struck in the face of his arm in the process (the clerk was fine).

In games, the Pelicans ball handlers can come out of double screens with either Williamson or Adams at either elbow. Sometimes they will go through both. Sometimes they will wear one while the other is on the go. Sometimes they will ignore both and drive to the basket. Sometimes the other player whose screen is not being used, Adams or Williamson, will make a screen for the other to initiate an action.

“That would be pretty annoying,” Adams said with a smile.

And those screens are effective. The league-wide average of shooting straight from a pick is 0.98 points per chance, according to Second Spectrum tracking. The Pelicans average 1.12 points per opportunity each time a player shoots directly from a Williamson or Adams screen.

Just as impressive has been Williamson and Adams’ ability to gobble up rebounds, especially on the offensive end. After a median number of rebounds a season ago, the Pelicans are near the top of the NBA in 2021: fourth in offensive rebound rate (29.8%), sixth in defensive rebound rate (75.1%) and fourth overall. (52.3%). When Williamson and Adams are on the court together, the numbers get even more ridiculous – they skyrocket to 33.4%, 76.3%, and 55.4%, respectively.

For some opponents, the counter is sending five guys into the paint to make up for Williamson and Adams. For others, the task is simple: prepare for battle.

“It’s definitely a little bigger task with Steven Adams and Zion, but it’s a huge challenge,” said Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert.

Most of the NBA’s starting lineups feature only one intimidating force up front. Adams-Williamson’s best rivals probably come from Indiana (Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner), Los Angeles (Marc Gasol and Anthony Davis), and Milwaukee (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez), but neither of those duos combine for the same level of size, explosion and power.

“Steven is very strong,” Williamson said on the first day of training camp. “I thought he was strong, but, you know, seeing him up close, on the same team now, is crazy.”

Now the problem for New Orleans is turning all that force into a fortress.

THE PELICANS ARE going through a difficult season. They enter Tuesday’s game 12th in the Western Conference with trade rumors surrounding many of their veterans. As the chances of New Orleans moving up in the play-in race dwindle, the likelihood of this roster looking different next year only increases.

However, Williamson is sure to be the centerpiece of the franchise, and Adams signed a two-year extension after the trade. Making this huge duo work is a priority, one in which the team was optimistic going into the season.

“Find me a 4 and a 5 together anywhere in the league that’s as physical as those two,” Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy told reporters at training camp.

“When we did that trade, I said, ‘Look, the one thing I know for sure: You can come here and throw the ball really good. You might find a way to beat us. But you’re not going to make a fool of the New Orleans Pelicans, no, never with those two guys next to each other. “

In fact, the inconsistent Pelicans have been hit at times on their way to a 10-12 record, though their starting front line provides some reason for optimism. New Orleans’ under-1.0 overall net rating improves to plus-5.6 with Williamson and Adams on the court. The duo helps provide a stronger defense, a more efficient offense, and an overall sparkle.

“He brings a little bit of determination and toughness,” Pelicans wing Brandon Ingram said of Williamson and Adams as they battle for fumbles. “That’s where the energy begins.”

Whenever Adams dives onto the court, he is the favorite to come out of the mess with possession. Once he gets his hands on the ball, it’s hard to loosen it from his grip, one of the reasons he’s tied for the team lead with 23 comebacks this season.

Williamson showed his strength in his first summer league game when he snatched the ball from New York Knicks forward Kevin Knox II and nailed it. The Pelicans still use a clip of him snatching the ball from two-time MVP Antetokounmpo in one of their advertising videos during the fourth quarter played at the Smoothie King Center.

His most recent feat of strength: bending hoops.

In Friday night’s game against the Indiana Pacers, Williamson only needed to dribble once to explode into the lane with Pacers center Goga Bitadze waiting at the rim. Bitadze touched part of the ball, and possibly Williamson as well, but Williamson still gripped the rim so hard trying to complete the slam that he temporarily stopped play.

“Once the umpires explained to us what the delay was, I don’t think anyone was surprised,” Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball said. “At the end of the day, you know, he can break a hoop at any time.”

But hard-hitting displays and reliable bounces can only get you so far. New Orleans is still looking for ways to unlock an underrated part of the partnership: the Adams passes.

“When you give [Adams] the ball at the elbow and you let it run, dribble and pass high-low to [Williamson] And working both ways is a strong part of their game, “said New Orleans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin.” We thought their skills could work together. “

That’s a case for the Pelicans to rebound in a league now dominated by 3-point shooting and switch ability on defense. This is not a bully-ball couple camping in the paint and blocking the lane.

“The comparison shouldn’t be two big, let’s say traditional, like the average team back in the day,” Adams said. “It’s still a little different from that … even when [Williamson] it’s on the perimeter and stuff, it still has a natural gravity to it. “

The roof of this duo remains a mystery, especially given Williamson’s potential to play center. But there is one thing Adams is sure of.

“Oh, I still think he’s stronger,” Adams said with a smile. “[Williamson] he’s definitely more impressive than me, yeah. “

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