Steven Adams' already significant playoff burden is set to get even heavier, following news star team-mate Serge Ibaka is out for the rest of the season.
Spanish international Ibaka injured his calf in Friday's series-clinching win over the Los Angeles Clippers and he has since been scratched for the remainder of Oklahoma City's playoff run.
Savvy veteran Nick Collison was likely to replace him as starting power forward when the Thunder open the Western Conference finals against the Spurs in San Antonio tomorrow.
There was a chance that New Zealand's Adams, a centre, could get the starting gig after his impressive series against the Clippers, but either way he was in line for continued major minutes against Tim Duncan and co.
''He's been great,'' Collison said of Adams.
''When he got here, you could see he had the physical ability and a good idea what to do, but as the season went on, he's felt more comfortable. It's really impressive.
"I don't think I played my first NBA game until I was 24, so for him to be doing this at 20-years-old, it says a lot about him and his ability to listen and to learn as the year's gone on.
"He's playing well for us, and we expect him to continue to do that.''
The loss of Ibaka, Oklahoma City's best defensive player, was a serious blow to their chances of winning a first NBA title.
The Thunder swept the Spurs 4-0 in the regular season, but without Ibaka the TAB has installed San Antonio as $1.47 favourites to win the series.
Ibaka's shot-blocking presence made Spurs guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili reluctant to attack the hoop, but they would now be more bullish.
Adams was the Thunder's next best rim-protector and in his rookie season has already won the trust of both his coach and superstar team-mates.
''The last two series he played extremely well for us, doing everything we needed him to do. We gonna need him this series to do the same things,'' league MVP Kevin Durant said.
Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks added it was rare for a rookie to improve so much during the playoffs.
''It doesn't happen often,'' Brooks said.
''Give him a lot of credit. He's stepped up and played well. Also give the players around him credit. They've helped him along the way.
"As with every rookie in this league, there's always a learning curve. Seems like nowadays, you want players that know everything immediately.
"It takes time. It takes time to understand your game. It takes time to understand your teammates' game, your opponents' game. He's come along at a nice pace all season long to put himself in a position to relax and play good basketball.''
Meanwhile, Basketball New Zealand were considering flying to Oklahoma City in a bid to gain Adams' services at this year's World Cup.
Adams told Stuff that it was unlikely he would be available for the August-September tournament in Spain.
''It is really difficult to be able to speak directly to Steven,'' BBNZ chief executive Iain Potter told Radio Sport.
''We haven't been able to do that and I think we need to look at doing that ourselves, getting somebody over there to be able to talk to the Oklahoma management and Steven and work through some of the options.''
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