On the surface, Steven Adams might come off as a bit of a goofball.
He makes silly faces when posing for pictures, characterizes interesting people, places and things as “mean” and has never met a meal he wouldn't try.
Back in June, Adams even playfully but quickly jumped on the Heat bandwagon after initially picking and rooting for San Antonio to beat Miami in the NBA Finals.
“I wouldn't say he's a jokester,” said Thunder assistant coach Rex Kalamian. “I would say he has an energetic personality.”
As teammates and coaches have slowly gotten to know the rookie center the Thunder selected with the 12th overall pick they're finding that, yes, Adams does have his quirks. But above all he's a hard worker, a great teammate and an eager learner.
“He's an interesting guy but a good guy to be around,” said Thunder guard DeAndre Liggins.
Second-year shooting guard Jeremy Lamb described Adams as “super cool.” He labeled Adams as funny, easy going and easy to talk to.
“He's always going to have your back,” Lamb said. “The first day he was here we were in the weight room and I was on the ground about to get up and he ran over to help me up. Just little stuff like that you can tell that he's a real team player. He does whatever he feels he needs to do to help the team win, and that's a great guy to be around.”
After becoming the first New Zealander to be drafted in the first round, Adams' professional journey started in earnest at the Orlando Pro Summer League. In four games, the 7-footer out of Pittsburgh averaged nine points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocked shots.
Though the week showed that Adams has a surprisingly solid foundation, he is, by all accounts, still a project who will require patience.
“It's going to take time,” stressed Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon. “But he's got great instincts and he's got a great work ethic.”
Dixon compared Adams' journey to Tim Duncan's in that both had very little basketball structure prior to enrolling in college.
“He hasn't played against the normal competition an American kid would growing up,” Dixon said. “He's been schooled in fundamentals, and I think people would say he's got good skills. … But prior to the four months he had with us, he wasn't playing against athletes and the type of guys you face in the Big East. He was playing in pick-up games, and there were pick-up games were he was playing with girls and guys.”
Adams understands where he is in his development, which is why he's taken to coaching with such enthusiasm.
“Whatever they say, I'll do because they know what's best for me,” Adams said.
During breaks in Orlando, Adams sat next to Thunder assistant coach Mark Bryant near the end of the bench. Bryant provided non-stop instruction, and Adams listened intently.
By the end of the week, Adams had begun raving about Bryant and the rest of the Thunder's staff like a child who had just met his heroes.
“They're legit,” Adams marveled. “They are awesome.”
For now, the Thunder wants to keep everything simple with Adams. His job is to defend, rebound, run the floor and set good screens. Adams said he is focused mostly on improving his pick-and-roll defense. Everything else, he said, is “just a bonus.”
“He's like a sponge,” said Kalamian. “He really soaks things up very well and he's given us good feedback on how he feels.
“He asks a lot of questions. He's not afraid to not know about a coverage or what we're doing defensively, or offensively where he should be.”
Adams also is physical. His size, strength and willingness to bang down low are a few of the reasons the Thunder selected him.
When cutters attempted to get to their spot during summer league play, Adams instinctively would step in and give them a little nudge with his shoulder. When matched up against low-post players, Adams bodied up to them and consistently bumped them off their spots.
“That's one of the things that we're going to require out of Steven is that he play physical basketball,” Kalamian said. “Luckily for us, he likes to play that way.”
Adams figured his fondness for physical play stemmed from rugby.
“All New Zealanders are kind of physical,” he said. “They don't mind getting hit.”
In the Thunder's third game in Orlando, one of his most impressive performances, Adams played Detroit's promising second-year center Andre Drummond to a virtual draw. He held Drummond to 12 points on 6-for-10 shooting while scoring 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting at the other end.
“He's a very physical guy,” said Drummond, who also played against Adams in high school during Adams' one-year at Notre Dame Prep.
When the ball is thrown up and it's time for business, it's hard to tell that Adams is still two weeks shy of his 20th birthday.
You also wouldn't imagine how laid back he is off the court.
Food is one of his biggest fetishes.
“He loves food,” said Liggins. “He goes crazy about food. Any food. He wants food.”
Less than three minutes after Liggins revealed that information, Adams walked around the corner with a plate piled high with food. He was the only Thunder player to emerge from the locker room with a plate.
“Food is amazing,” Adams said. “I love food. It's good. It's from my family, I guess. My family is quite big and we all eat a ton so I think that's where it came from.”
In the days leading up to the draft, Adams devoured a 48-oz steak. He had his first hot dog last Saturday in Orlando. He didn't see the big deal.
During the draft combine, former Louisville center Gorgui Dieng, now with Minnesota, suggested Adams get a shirt that reads “Eating Never Stops,” a play off of Nike's slogan “Basketball Never Stops.”
“I'm just a New Zealand guy,” Adams said.
With a big appetite and a burning desire to become the best player and teammate he can be.
When asked what he wants to accomplish in his first season, Adams answered with only one word.
“Improvement,” he said.
He then added that he wants to make sure it's “quite a big jump.”
“After my rookie year,” Adams said. “I just want to make sure that I really learned everything that I could in that year and make sure I didn't miss anything.”