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Steven Adams concludes career season with Thunder

The former Panther set several new career highs in the 2017-18 season

NBA: Playoffs-Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Former Pitt star and current Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams recently wrapped up his fifth season in the NBA after his team was bounced from the playoffs by the Utah Jazz with a 96-91 loss on Friday night. But even with the premature playoff exit, Adams had a year to remember, as he took his game to new heights both offensively and defensively this season.

During the 2017-18 season, Adams set career-high averages for points (13.9), rebounds (9.0), assists (1.2) and steals (1.2). He also ranked among the top 10 in the NBA in a number of offensive categories, placing second in offensive rebounds (384), second in offensive rebound percentage (16.6), fourth in field-goal percentage (.629) and seventh in offensive rating (125.3).

In addition to that, he’s fine-tuned his game to the point that he’s not only reeling in offensive rebounds essentially at will, but he’s creating opportunities for his teammates to grab defensive rebounds by utilizing his 7-foot, 255-pound frame to box out and intimidate opponents. He shared his strategy for boxing out with Dan Feldman of NBC Sports back in February.

“My whole mindset is just to hit them as hard as I can,” Adams said. “Really. Because it’s more just a psyche thing. Because no one likes getting hit. I don’t like getting hit. So you get hit quite hard, then you’ll kind of second-guess like, ‘Maybe, I’ll just take a couple steps back.’”

One negative aspect of an otherwise stellar season for Adams is the fact that his free-throw percentage appeared to be on the rise about a quarter of the way through the season but took a dive later in the year. Specifically, he had made 71.4 percent of his free throws as of Nov. 26, but that ultimately fell to a subpar 55.7 percent by the end of the season, a drop from last year.

With that said, a slight decline in free-throw percentage is a small price to pay for the overall improvement Adams saw this season and the uptick in performance the then-struggling Thunder coincidentally saw just after his free-throw shooting peaked in late November.

Thanks in part to Adams, the Thunder were able to climb from ninth place in the Western Conference in late November to a fourth-place finish in April, qualifying for the postseason with a 48-34 record. And despite the fact the Thunder’s playoff run was short-lived this time around, the franchise seems well positioned to sustain this year’s success.

Although the team could lose Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to free agency this offseason, there’s no guarantee either will be leaving town. And Oklahoma City will at least retain Adams and Russell Westbrook, who signed a five-year contract extension in September 2017.

That, of course, bodes well for the former Pitt standout, who has shown steady improvement in most major statistical categories on an annual basis since going pro. Given that, Adams will certainly be worth keeping an eye on next season as his star continues to rise in the NBA.