Are you ready for Steven Adams?
Like it or not, the massive rookie center for the Oklahoma City Thunder is stepping into the starting lineup, hoping to spark the Western Conference contenders while Kendrick Perkins misses the next month-and-a-half following groin surgery.
"There's going to be games where we can go with smaller lineups, games we can go with different guys in that five spot. But I think (Adams) has done well in the minutes that he has had. It's going to be another opportunity for growth in his development," head coach Scott Brooks told The Oklahoman's Anthony Slater.
But who is Adams?
You've probably seen his gigantic frame stride onto the court a few times throughout the 2013-14 campaign, but Adams has largely failed to land any sort of lengthy run for OKC.
That's about to change, so it's time to get familiar with the big man.
Adams spent his formative years in New Zealand, eventually landing at Scots College after overcoming the death of his father and starting to focus on his basketball game. Once he graduated, he moved to the United States, attending Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts for a single semester while colleges recruited him.
Scout.com wrote the following about the young big man while giving him the coveted 5-star designation:
Adams has the full package as a center. He's a terrific athlete who blocks shot after shot in the paint while also cleaning up the glass. On offense he can step out to the midrange jumper or take the ball to the basket and use his developing skill level to put the ball in the hoop. His strength and athleticism make him tough to stop on offense. He's good to great at most areas of the game for his age level and has a significantly high ceiling.
Adams ranked as the No. 3 center available in the class of 2012, and only 13 players were ahead of him when position was no longer taken into account.
He ended up at Pittsburgh, though he only spent a season playing for Jamie Dixon and the Panthers. And it's not like he put up the most stellar numbers while he was at the collegiate level. Far from it, in fact.
Adams was still learning to play high-level basketball, and "raw" was a word commonly used to describe him in just about every broadcast of Pitt basketball. He didn't have much confidence in his offensive game, and his primary asset was his gigantic frame.
Perhaps his best contribution, though, was providing the world with this incredibly intimidating picture:
During the 32 games he played throughout his freshman year, Adams averaged only 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per outing, shooting 57.1 percent from the field. It was quite clear he could be a special player, but no one was 100 percent sure he would be one.
"Big man from Pitt who had a LOT of hype prior to his freshman season under Jamie Dixon," CBS Sports' Matt Norlander wrote about the young man after he declared for the draft following his first year as a Panther. "That hype was never met, but Adams still proved to be a cog for the Panthers last year. Adams is a big man with a big swing in terms of his future. Some believe he needed another year of college."
Expectations Entering the NBA
Coming out of Pitt, the criticisms all read fairly similarly.
Adams couldn't shoot the ball from outside the paint (especially at the charity stripe), lacked confidence and an aggressive demeanor, struggled with defensive fundamentals like rotations and box outs, mistimed many of his jumps and had virtually no solid footwork in the post. Nevertheless, there was one thing that was always an overwhelming positive.
Standing a true seven feet and already displaying a preternaturally filled-out frame for such a young player, Adams was completely imbued with potential. His upside is what led some to believe that he was a lock for the lottery, even if it might take years for him to develop into a big-time NBA contributor.
Here's Jonathan Givony's closing summation for DraftExpress.com:
All in all, Adams is clearly a long-term project who a team will need to invest a few years of solid coaching in order to be able to expect to reap benefits from down the road. He may never develop into anything more than an average player offensively, but has excellent potential defensively thanks to his terrific physical tools, which could convince a NBA team to invest a pick on him somewhere late in the first round. Teams will first want to get a better feel for his mental approach and all-around feel for the game in private workouts, interviews and background checks.
Fortunately, he interviewed well, and his draft stock remained as high as ever leading into the 2013 NBA draft.
He was selected at No. 12 by the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the reviews weren't all positive.
"Adams needs a few years, which makes him a strange pick for a team that needs to win now (and needs help inside now)," writes USA Today's Adi Joseph, giving the Thunder a "B-" for the selection.
Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix also gave OKC the same grade: "Steven Adams is a classic Oklahoma City pick: a raw, enormously underdeveloped center with perhaps more potential than any player in the draft."
Though the grades weren't terrible, the Thunder still seemed to make a strange pick. Adams wasn't ready to contribute at a high level, and OKC needed a player who could help push it over the top and avoid making Kevin Durant finish second once more.
Early Portion of His Rookie Season
During the first 57 games of his first season with the Thunder, Adams has averaged 3.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per contest while shooting 47.4 percent from the field.
The overall product, as you can see, hasn't been anything special, but there have been flashes of greatness. Just five games into his professional career, for example, he had what still remains his best outing.
Everything was on display when Adams went for 17 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, one steal and three blocks on Nov. 8 against the Detroit Pistons. Yes, the same Pistons that boast the services of a huge front line comprised of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith.
Unfortunately, that hasn't been consistent.
Adams is usually the one getting outplayed, but not by the extent that many expected when he was entering the Association. That's because two areas of the big man's game have stood out positively.
Though his offense is still a work in progress, the New Zealander has averaged 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes. He's been a bundle of energy with unmistakable toughness (think of him as a hockey enforcer, at times), and that pays off on the glass.
It also helps him with defense.
It's tough for Adams to provide much of an on-court/off-court boost because he's usually replacing Perkins and doesn't have the luxury of playing alongside the potent starting group, but his individual numbers are respectable for such a raw 7-footer.
82games.com shows that Adams is holding opposing centers to a 16.1 PER, and Synergy Sports (subscription required) lets us know that the big man has been decent in a few situations. Though his isolation defense is a negative and he's scarily unable to close out on spot-up shooters, Adams is a top-100 player against roll men and post-up players.
There are undoubtedly positives when you watch the center play, but the consistent excellence is still a long way away. It's there, but just in the distant future.
The more Adams plays, the better. Maybe not for the Thunder's immediate chances, but it's in OKC's best interest to let him develop as quickly as possible.
Remember, he won't even turn 21 until this offseason.
The best is yet to come, and there's a lot of it.