Coming out of Pittsburgh as a relative unknown from a country even more of an unknown to the average American, Steven Adams was written off from day one. Drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder with the 12th pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, the initial reaction was that of surprise and mock for most, who in their eyes had just witnessed a team contending for a championship ‘waste’ a lottery pick on the unpolished big man. Fast forward 12 months and the 7-foot center has been a legitimate contributor for the Thunder as they made it to within two games of the NBA Finals.
Starting the season slowly as most rookies do, Adams spent the majority of the first few months on the bench, only seeing game time with the outcome of the game already decided. Constantly asking questions and adjusting to the NBA, Adams was more than happy be patient and await his opportunity that came with an injury to regular starting center Kendrick Perkins. Adams was predicted during the preseason to be a D-League regular, but he found himself thrust into the starting lineup for a 17-game stretch.
During that time, deliberately or not, Adams began to create a reputation around the league as a tough guy. Recent comparisons to the Detroit Pistons great Bill Laimbeer may be premature but no less flattering. To have his name in the same sentence as Laimbeer so early in a career for a player deemed by so many as an inevitable bust shows how far his game has developed since he left New Zealand.
Attacks and outbursts directed at Adams have seen five players either ejected or suspended this season with the most recent being current NBA tough guy Zach Randolph. Randolph, who was suspended for his punch thrown at Adams during Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals, effectively threw away the Memphis Grizzlies‘ chance of advancing through the playoffs and that didn’t go do well with Grizzlies fans. Like Laimbeer, Adams is going to be a guy fans hate due to his physical style of play but others will love him for the same reasons. He optimizes the New Zealand male attitude of getting on with it no matter the barriers, or players, in front of him. That attitude will take some getting used to for fans not familiar with New Zealand and its people.
Upon leaving college after just one year, many thought Adams could have benefited from staying and developing his skills to get up to the American style. Initially slow and occasionally caught out of position, his athleticism, physicality and most importantly his size kept him in the sights of NBA scouts. Thunder scout Vin Bhavnani will be getting plenty of pats on the back by now for seeing what so few others did — a genuine player worthy of his NBA All-Rookie second team selection this season.
Adams has adapted just as well off the court as he has on it. Owning a home with a chef specially brought in to keep his taste buds in New Zealand, he has taken in the American culture without forgetting where he’s from for a second. His jovial and relaxed nature can give off the vibe he’s not taking things seriously, but that is not the case. He’s in it to live his dream and live out the dream of many other NBA fans in New Zealand for as long as possible.
His development is ahead of schedule, but as is often the case, a player’s second season is where he makes or breaks a career. With a summer likely spent putting on some more size and working on some post moves, there isn’t much of a chance we will see him on the court for the Tall Blacks in the World Cup. His style of play and general demeanor will have its critics, but one thing is for certain; if he continues to represent New Zealand in the NBA the way he has been both on and off the court, he will have at least four million fans for the duration of his career.