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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Scouting Report: Steven Adams

Steven Adams came over from New Zealand halfway through the high school basketball season in his senior year, joining Notre Dame Prep School. From the beginning, it was very obvious that Adams' had a long way to go in terms of getting use to the level of competition, and it was even more apparent when he began play last fall at Pitt. Adams, a consensus top 10 recruit, didn't dominate right away - or at all even, in his one season of college basketball and for long stretches struggled to even make an impact. But as the season progressed, he showed considerable progress as a basketball player. That progress still hasn't put him anywhere close to contributing in the NBA, showing just how raw he was at the beginning of the season.

Adams background is very interesting. The youngest of 18 siblings, all of which are over 6-5 inches tall, basketball has ran in his family. His brothers are all at least 6-10 and 6 of his siblings played basketball for New Zealand. His half sister is an Olympic Gold Medalist in the shot put. When Adams was 13, he lost his father however and took to the streets. So while Adams had a good basketball background, he lacked the teaching needed to develop. It took his brother to get him back on track and set his down the current path he is on. Jamie Dixon discovered him early and quickly sold him on both playing basketball for Pitt and getting an education. Having seen his brothers struggle to make something of their basketball careers, Steven Adams went to Pitt with the goal of also getting an educational. However, with his family needing money, Adams decided it was best to declare for the NBA Draft after his freshman season.

Steven Adams is all about upside. He's only played organized basketball for 6 years and until recently, hasn't had a chance to play against the best competition like his American peers. Standing at at least 6-11 with long arms and a strong base, he has an ideal body for a center. And his ability to move so fluidly at that size is what catches a scouts eye at first glance.

Adams was able to earn minutes at first because of his sheer defensive presence, proving to be a major deterrent inside. He blocked nearly 4 shots per 40 minutes and showed the ability to not just sit by the rim and wait for drivers, but also get block shots away from the rim. Adams mobility is also valuable in defending the pick and roll, where he appears to be very comfortable guarding smaller players in space. Not only does he hedge well, but he also finds himself fairing well against guards when he is switched onto them. Adams isn't afraid to play up on guys and can move laterally to stay in front of them. He is also very good at staying on his feet, partly because he has the ability to block shots without even jumping. He fouled 3 times per 40 minutes, but most were not due to him being over aggressive on going for blocks. He picked up more fouls for shoves in the back and aggressive hedging.

Adams physical strength on defense also projects to be very good heading into the future. Along with the height and the length, Adams has a strong lower body built on genetically thick calve muscles (as seen here). As he learns to stand less upright on defense, he will be very tough to move around in the paint. Combine his strength with his patience on defense and he has all the tools to be an excellent post defender.

Adams will have to add more bulk to his upper body, but it is much easier to develop that then it is the lower body. Plus since defense is played with your feet - and he has the feet of a former soccer player - having a strong lower body is a lot more valuable. But the upper body is important and played a role in his some of his ineffectiveness on offense.

A key going forward for Steven Adams will be rebounding. Based purely off his physical gifts, Adams was a great rebounder this year - pulling down 11.6 boards per every 40 minutes (pace adjusted as always). Adams is also fundamentally sound in this area, always looking to put his body on a man. But moving forward, his sheer size and fundamentals won't put him in the top echelon of rebounding bigs in the NBA. Adams will need to show more aggressiveness and the ability to rebound outside his area moving forward. Right now, he gets a lot of rebounds but leaves a lot more on the table. You'd like to see him develop more of a mean streak and use his strength for. There shouldn't be any times where a player is able to rip the ball from him, but it happens with him far too often.

On occasions where Adams does safely secure a rebound, he shows the presence of mind to look down the court and find an outlet. The good thing about coaching Adams is he hasn't picked up any bad habits and is basically a blank slate for a good big man coach to mold. Thats why finding the right situation in the NBA will be pivotal for him. His first few years he may be overwhelmed by the speed and physicality of the game, but it will be important for him not to be discouraged and realize he has a lot of room to grow. During the interview process, talent evaluators will definitely look at his mental makeup closely and see if he has what it takes to deal with such struggles.

He has shown the ability and eagerness to want to learn and improve so far. Interviews like this one by Draftexpress, make you realize that he's still very much a kid and one that hasn't grown up around this atmosphere. Given that he didn't have a father figure or any guidance during his teenage years, there are additional reasons to question his mental aspect and will to be great. Kiwis generally are known to be laid back people which is not the personality you want to see from a defensive center. He'll likely have to be coddled during his early years in the league, and it will be important for his team to understand that and give him the attention he needs to thrive. If not, there is no sense in drafting him.

Offensively, Adams has a long way to go but shows some interesting things. Against Notre Dame in February, he had a steals and took it the length of the court through traffic and finished with a dunk over a defender. All while looking extremely natural at doing so. The less Adams thinks out there on the court and just does what comes naturally to him, the better he seems to do. The problem is he's still learning the game and trying to understand things, so he does think a little bit too much out there. But that will change once he gets more comfortable and he'll start relying on his instincts more - which seem pretty good.

Right now, his main source of offense is on the glass. Here Adams has a nose for the ball and does a good job coming crashing in for boards. He displays great touch and body control, allowing him to get many tip-ins near the rim.

Like his defense, Adams potential on this end of the court is intriguing because he can be good in both the pick and roll and in the post. Starting with the pick and roll, Adams uses his body well to set wide/effective screens. He rolls off these screens so fluidly and keeps his hands up, always looking for the pass. Adams seems to have a good natural feel how to get open off these plays and knows when to break off his route to the rim and when not to. At times, Adams will come off the roll and stop at the foul line for a ten foot jumper. His body control is so ridiculously good for his size that he makes this look way more easy than it is.

At other times, Adams will roll all the way to the basket and look to catch the ball on the run. He is able to catch the ball in motion using soft hands and avoids picking up charges. He does a good job of moving, catching, and scoring the ball all in one fluid motion.

The third option Adams uses in the P&R game is to get a smaller man on his back and look to establish easy post position. Adams has taken a liking to play with his back to the basket and has look comfortable doing so, which is a great sign moving forward.

Basically starting from scratch in basketball moves at Pitt, he slowly been molded into a post player - adding more moves to his arsenal as the season progressed. At first, Adams was extremely passive when catching the ball in the post. His first instinct was to pass. And that was if he was even able to handle the ball. While Adams originally does a good job establishing position, he caused many turnovers by failing to keep his defender on the back and allowing him to be more aggressive in going for the post entry pass. In time, Adams is slowly learning he has to go and get the ball - not wait for it to come to him.

It also hurts him that he appears a little shy to use his strength to bully guys at times. Its not to say he plays soft - it just seems like he feels it would be too easy to dominate if he fully took advantage of his physical tools. Instead, Adams has shown some emerging skill level in the process. That includes good patience in the post, passing skils, soft touch, quick post moves to either side, a step through move, and enough handles to take the necessary dribbles needed to complete a move. He also displays a good use of pump fakes.

When Adams does catch the ball in the post, he weighs his options, gives teammates time to make cuts to the rim, and if nothing comes open he then chooses to go to work himself.

Besides pick and rolls and post ups, Adams also does a good job moving in space and finding ways to get open. He is a very good cutter for someone his size, a skill that goes along with his ability to crash the offensive glass and score off rolling to the basket after setting a screen. Body control is one of his biggest assets.

Shooting wise, Adams only shot 44% from the foul line, but it seems to be a mental thing 100% of the way. In practice, he is said to be a very good foul shooter. And his mechanics look good - in fact, he almost shoots the ball like a guard with his elbow perfectly tucked in. Unlike most big guys, there seems to be a level of skill to his shot instead of just a flat footed attempted at the rim. He does a really good job getting squared up, as shown on his ability to shoot stopping on the dime while coming off setting a screen. His great mechanics likely go back to the fact that he had no bad habits when he started playing organized basketball.

There are times where Adams misses the rim badly though. He can hit shots all the way out to 15 feet, but does so with a lot of inconsistency. Again, it seems more of a mental things. The guy can shoot as long as he relies on his instincts and doesn't put too much thought into it. Thats a big part of his maturation level - as he learns the game, that will allow him to trust his instincts more.

As I said earlier, getting stronger in the upperbody may be more important to him on the offensive end and that is because he tries to muscle up too many shots right now. And he's usually unsuccessful of even getting the ball up through the rim via contact.

Even though Adams is known as a below average offensive player right now, he has a promising combination of physical tools, lack of bad habits, and willingness to learn the center position to be success. Adams can shoot and has some skill, but you never saw him trying to dribble the ball around or stretch his range out to the 3-pt line. Seeing a player eager to learn how to play in the post is refreshing.

Moving forward, there is no doubting Adams' potential and it is impossible not to see what he could bring to the table down the line. But teams are going to need to do their homework on him and understand what it will take to get him to reach his potential. In terms of sheer potential, Adams has as much of it as anyone in this draft and thats not an exaggeration. And if a team knows what they are doing with him, then I don't think it is out of the question to take him in the lottery or even closer towards the top 5. Patience, some coddling, and a pressure free environment will be key - but the dividends could really pay off in the end. Adams is not for everyone, but he could end up making every team that passes him up in the draft look silly.


  1. Excellent article. I'm a Kiwi and I've been following him for a few years and that is good analysis. He needs another year at College but wants the money for his family. I hope he lands somewhere like OKC cause he could play their pace eventually replace Perkins nd they develop their players. Or even the Spurs who have Sean Marks the other Kiwi big man in their back office. He could learn of Duncan and Splitter who was brought along slowly too.

  2. As a bulls fan I'd love him to fall there. They need a big man after letting go of Asik. Like Asik he has size and is a good defender. Would suit Chicagos defence orientated play and would learn off Noah. They have the 19th pick so who knows.....