Teenager Steven Adams knows he has a long way to go to become the finished product as an NBA center, but he already has come a long way figuratively and literally.
Referred to as the “Kiwi Phenom,” the 19-year-old Adams is about to become just the fourth New Zealand native to play in the NBA — joining former Miami and Los Angeles Clippers guard Kirk Penney (six career games), current San Antonio reserve center Aron Baynes (16) and former center Sean Marks (230 with six different teams over 11 seasons).
Adams had modest statistics as a freshman at Pittsburgh last season, but he wasn't expecting to post numbers similar to those back home.
“Oh, no chance, because the competition is much higher (here) than in New Zealand,” said Adams, who has been observed closely in America since he attended the adidas Nations camp as a 16-year-old. “I wasn't used to playing against really tall people who are strong as well. It was usually rugby players I would play against. They're short and stocky, so I could usually go over them.”
Adams averaged 7.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks with the Panthers and did most of his damage at the offensive boards and on defense. His 5.2 offensive rebounds per-40 minutes played ranks third among this year's top collegiate draft prospects and his 3.7 blocked shots per-40 ranks fifth.
Though Adams is raw offensively and has limited experience at the elite level, his untapped potential and physical attributes make him undeniably alluring.
He is 7 feet tall with a 7-foot-4 1/2 wingspan, weighs 255 pounds, has huge, soft hands (second longest and widest among draft candidates) and won't turn 20 until July 28.
“I'm a high-energy guy, running the lane,” Adams said when asked how he'll be able to succeed as an NBA player. “I like transition, running up and down (the court), stuff like that, also just being physical. I'm working on my post game now, so that's eventually going to come around. I don't think I'll go out and straight-away dominate, but I will dominate certain tasks that they put me up to.”
Asked which NBA player he would like to pattern his game after, Adams said: “Just to be versatile, so … like (Thunder power forward) Serge Ibaka, maybe. Someone like that. Or maybe (Memphis center) Marc Gasol because he's the man, right? Oh, my God.”
Coincidentally, Adams is one of 18 siblings in his family — as is Ibaka. Six members of this Adams family played basketball for New Zealand. His brothers' average height is 6-foot-9 and his half-sister, Valerie, is a three-time world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist in the shot put.
When last season ended, Adams told reporters he would be returning for his sophomore season. After visiting with his family for a week in New Zealand, Adams returned to Pittsburgh and shortly thereafter declared for the June 27 draft to help his family financially.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon played professional basketball in New Zealand and competed with and against two of Adams' brothers — Warren and Ralph — whom Dixon said both should have been in the NBA.
Editor's note: As part of the James Harden trade with Houston last October, the Thunder obtained the No. 12 overall selection in the June 27 NBA Draft via Toronto. We look at 12 potential candidates the Thunder might consider taking with that No. 12 pick. Today: Pittsburgh center Steven Adams.
Birth date: July 28, 1993
Hometown: Rotorua, New Zealand
2012-13 stats: 23.4 mpg; 7.2 ppg; 6.3 rpg; 2.0 bpg; .571 FG; .443 FT
Strengths: Excels in transition and loves to run. Good speed and quickness for a big man. Hits the boards hard offensively. The physical tools are all in place and he has plenty of time to learn how to use them because he's still just 19 years old. Considered the best player in a huge, athletic family of 18 siblings.
Weaknesses: Free-throw shooting is atrocious. Limited offensive skills set, but he certainly knows how to dunk and finished well around that basket. His 12.3 points per-40 minutes played is fourth-lowest scoring average among the 75 college players considered the best draft prospects.
How he could help the Thunder: Willing to accept any role thrown his way. Freely admits he has a lot to learn and working to improve his limitations. Doesn't back down from competition. Has an impressive disposition. He is confident, yet polite.
Projections: No. 10 (draftexpress.com); No. 12 (espn.com; nbadraft.net); No. 15 (hoopshype.com); No. 16 (si.com); No. 18 (cbssports.com).
Quotable: “It's time for me to help my family. There's certain family members who I feel need a bit more help than the others. I don't like seeing them struggle. It's quite sad to see your family struggle, you know what I'm saying. I don't want to see that anymore.” — Adams on why he changed his mind about returning for his sophomore season at Pitt and declared for this year's NBA Draft.