NEW ORLEANS — The lifeblood of the Thunder organization is developing young talent, and the Rising Stars game at All Star Weekend is typically a showcase for the finest first-and-second year players in the league.
In Friday night’s finale, capping an exciting first day of the All-Star break, Thunder assistant coach Rex Kalamian and center Steven Adams represented NBA veteran Chris Webber’s team in the Rising Stars game. A celebration of the young talent in the league was the perfect opportunity for Adams to get on the floor against his peers.
“It was very entertaining,” Adams said. “It was a whole different atmosphere. It was just a fun game.”
Kalamian got the opportunity to coach Team Webber thanks to the Thunder finishing with the best record in the Western Conference heading into the All-Star break. In his 20 years of coaching in the NBA, this is his second time taking part in the All Star festivities, so to be able to be here in New Orleans is an opportunity he does not take for granted.
“It’s important that they enjoy this experience and it’s something they’ll take with them for their entire careers,” Kalamian said. “Anytime you’re involved in All-Star Weekend, it’s an honor and a privilege.”
“You never know when you’ll have the chance to get back here and be amongst all these great players,” Kalamian continued. “I just tried to impress upon our team tonight that they need to enjoy the moment, enjoy each other, enjoy the fans and embrace this game.”
Team Webber lost the game 142-136 in what was mostly an offensive explosion, but Adams finished with six points on 3-for-3 shooting in addition to four blocked shots, two rebounds (both offensive) and two steals in 18 minutes. In a run-and-gun style of game, Adams stood out as a player who was willing to do the little things, stay physical on the defensive end and maintain a presence in the lane.
As an integral role player for the Thunder as a player who sets screens, deters shots and gets offensive putbacks, tonight’s game was another chance for Adams to developing his skills against high level, young talent.
“I tried to do whatever I can,” Adams explained. “Coach (Kalamian) was getting on me about sticking to the system.”
“I had one request of him, which was to block shots,” Kalamian said.
Adams followed through on his coach’s desire, swatting four shots, even against eventual game MVP Andre Drummond. By keeping a presence in the lane, Adams made sure to make his presence felt. In the first half, Adams scored his first bucket when he cut through the lane and slammed home an easy dunk, then finished a crafty up-and-under reverse layup to ensure his shot didn’t get blocked.
During a stretch mid-way through the fourth quarter, Adams’ impact was felt in a big way and helped give Team Webber some momentum. By running in transition, Adams followed up a teammates’ miss with a strong offensive board and a put-back, tying the game at 116 with 5:36 remaining. On the defensive end, Adams then made a steal to prevent what would have been a layup on a backdoor cut, then blocked a Drummond shot as his team clung to a 118-116 advantage.
Although Adams didn’t finish the game in crunch time, the rookie showed his ability to impact the game on multiple levels, and the discipline it takes to be a consistent and valuable role player for this Thunder squad.
“He has a lot of skill that you might not see on a night-to-night basis right now, but he’s coming along very well,” Kalamian said.