It is difficult to watch No. 12 draft pick Steven Adams and form a conclusion on his NBA future. Oklahoma City has invested a high draft pick in him and it is easy to see why, though he is a long-term project in every sense of the word.
Providing for his family was a big reason why Adams went pro after one mediocre season in Pittsburgh, according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It speaks a lot to his character, which is the furthest thing from a concern, but brings about other concerns about how unpolished he is.
The Thunder are already one of the absolute best teams in the Western Conference, so they have the luxury of being able to wait on Adams' development for a while. However, with the team trending downward slightly, will the 19-year-old be rushed along quicker than he should?
The elephant in the room is that Kendrick Perkins is just a horrendous basketball player. It has become an unspoken certainty and a fact that seemingly nobody wants to face. He is owed over $18 million the next two seasons, which looks like even more of a waste of money considering this is a player who had 39 fouls compared to 24 points in this past postseason.
He is heralded as a gritty defender, but he isn't even good at that. He benefits from having the best shot-blocker in the league in Serge Ibaka helping him out. He also got eaten alive by Marc Gasol and Omer Asik in the playoffs and was a huge reason why they made an early exit despite Russell Westbrook's injury. The OKC front office has to know this, which is why they invested so much in Adams.
Adams' role will mostly be as a backup center to provide energy off the bench early on. How he will parlay his current ability with OKC's regime is going to be an interesting fit.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The first thing that jumps out with Adams is his frame. He is a legitimate 6'11" with serious strength demonstrated by his 16 reps on the bench at the combine, per ESPN (subscription required).
He could stand to add some more muscle, but he has the frame to support it. He has a tremendous 7'5" wingspan that makes blocking shots easy for him. His offensive rebounding is tenacious, and he loves to get out and run the floor, which is always a pleasure to see from a center.
He demonstrates sound defensive ability in the pick-and-roll both on hedging and switching onto defenders. He doesn't get fooled and stays on his feet instead of falling for shot fakes.
On the other hand, Adams' skill set is a bit of an anomaly. It is strange to see such a violent offensive rebounder get beaten so badly on the defensive glass all the time. He averaged a very good 2.8 rebounds per game, but on the defensive glass he often lapsed and failed to box anyone out, collecting only 3.5 per game on that end.
It is also odd to see a strong shot-blocker and pick-and-roll defender lose his man on backdoor cuts so often. He is also very strong but gives up post position far too easily. With his strength he should not be able to be backed down so easily. Finally, he finishes above the rim with dunks any chance he can get, but far too often does not go up strong either having the ball stripped or his shot blocked.
All of this makes him the biggest anomaly in this draft.
Much can be attributed to his overall lack of experience. Adams has not played basketball for all that long. He suffers from what I like to call the "Andris Biedrins effect," meaning his atrocious foul shooting (44 percent) severely handcuffs him on offense.
Adams has no reliable post moves on offense and moves in a robotic way when posting up one-on-one. He makes slow decisions due to his lack of offensive polish and his indecisiveness.
Over time, much of that can be corrected simply by gaining more experience. Again, he is only 19.
Potential Fit into OKC's Rotation/Scheme
Even though the amnesty clause was pretty much invented for Kendrick Perkins, he seems to be around for at least the near future. Because of him and Ibaka, and also Nick Collison and Hasheem Thabeet projected to once again spell them off the bench, Adams likely will not carve out a substantial niche for himself right away,
The obvious fit is his ability to run the floor. OKC was fifth in the league with 16.3 points per game on fast breaks this past season. Perkins is not one to get out on the break, but you can be sure to see Adams out and running with Westbrook and Kevin Durant if he is on the court with them.
Adams will not be asked to do too much from the get-go. Even in college, he got most of his points on fast breaks and put-backs, and he will largely fill that same role as a rookie in OKC.
Expectations/Checklist for Rookie Year and Beyond
It would be facetious to put projected stats for Adams to meet as a barometer for his success in year one due to his uncertain role.
With Kevin Martin heading to Minnesota, suddenly the James Harden trade is looking real bad. Adams is the biggest piece to come back in that deal, so he needs to produce at some point to keep this team at the top of the west. Fortunately for him, not much will be asked of him this year.
As far as his rookie season, he needs to do three things:
1) Run the floor on offense
2) Block shots and play solid defense
3) Show signs of improvement in overall offensive game
If he can do these three things, it will comfort the Thunder faithful and let them know that this was a good pick for the future.
A few years down the road, more will be asked of him. He will be expected to be somewhat productive and reliable on offense while hopefully developing into a defensive stalwart.
Realistically, Adams does have bust potential. If he wallows away on the bench while OKC contends in the coming years, it could really stunt his growth as a player.
Adams should at least get his feet wet on this year's squad and contribute in a limited role. He is not prepared to shoulder a huge load yet. If the Thunder can manage two more years of Kendrick Perkins, Adams could be very much ready to take over for him in the starting lineup at that point.
The Thunder certainly did not draft the New Zealand native to be a game changer right off the bat, so expectations will start out low. If the Thunder do, in fact, continue their slight downward trend, Adams could be pushed into a bigger role earlier on.
As things stand, Adams is in a good situation. OKC hopes it has its center of the future, and as of now there isn't much that refutes that notion.