What NBA Teams Can Expect From Steven Adams

This is something I wrote for my blog, MarkNordenblog, which is about Pitt sports from the perspective of a Pitt English student with aspirations to become a sports writer. If you like it, visit my blog and check out my other posts and follow me on twitter @MarkNordenblog. Enjoy.

Within the first 20 days of this site, I’ve gained 61 followers on Twitter, had over 600 unique page views with visitors from seven different countries (I’d like to think most page views from non-US countries are all porn spam bots), and have gotten multiple positive responses from people that I don’t know.

Generally, I’m happy with my progress as a blogger. But I hate the term “blogger.” I might as well call myself a “no-life douche bag that’s destined to live with my parents until I turn 45 at which point I declare that I’ll stop smoking weed and turn my life around only to become a full time writer at The Bleacher Report.” So that’s the last time I’ll ever refer to myself as a “blogger” because I somehow doubt that if I’m in a social situation and I introduce myself as “Joe, the Pitt sports blogger” I’ll be bringing any girls home. Unless I’m at Mi Ranch. Or any party at CMU. I’ll keep a business card on me.

Anyway, what I’m not happy with are the pessimistic topics of my posts. So far, I’ve written that Steve Adams wasn’t as good as people think, I’ve theorized that head coach Jamie Dixon is pushing his team out the door so that he could have a chance to rebuild a better team, that Jamie Dixon failed at rebuilding a better team, and that Pitt’s Athletic Director is so incoherent that I could do a better job than him. I actually did get an interview to be Pitt’s AD, but I was too honest with Nordenberg and told him that if I ever got the chance at my dream job as AD of the Everest Institute, I’d have to jump ship. Nordy popped a blood vessel and ended up passing on me. Anyway, the trend with the topics of my columns is that they are all negative. I want something positive to say about Pitt for once.

One assured commodity is that Steven Adams, Pitt’s celebrity international center that is cool as, is going to be drafted to the NBA very shortly. But is that really so positive if I already slammed him for being more overrated than Primanti Brothers? Small steps. I didn’t want Adams to go because I like him as a person, I think he’s hilarious and a ton of fun to follow, and I think he will be a good player. He helped us at Pitt in many ways even though he didn’t have that great of a year.

It’s easy to forget how unproductive Adams was when he played at Pitt. He was such an enigma when he first came into the league. The only information we had to go on was his size—tall, huge wingspan, a 19-year-old bro with the body of a 26-year-old dude—and everything kept coming back to that notorious Sports Illustrated article about him. What stood out the most from that article was that one quote that painted us a false picture:

"That first day [Adams] played 'Sweet Home Alabama' on his guitar, then he walked by, picks up a ping pong paddle and starts doing crazy serves. Then he walks by the pool table and casually spins a ball to the middle of the table and shoots it right into the corner pocket. I felt like he was the Dos Equis man. He's just a really fascinating kid."

That quote resonated like herpes after a DTD party. Like a toothbrush stabbing at The O at 3 AM. Like a really good, well thought out article from The Pitt News. One of those things is a fictional scenario. You decide.

That SI piece led us to believe that Adams was a super human. That he was one of those guys who could just pick up anything anywhere and immediately master it. He had a story that only Gerald Johannson could tell in an episode of Hey Arnold! Adams was a folk hero before he even stepped onto the court. Looking back, that quote said a lot more about his character than his ability as a player. At the time, we didn’t look at it that way, but as we got to know Adams, we got to know his innocence. He has the heart of a kid. He’s just the type of person that you want good things to happen to. But his basketball-playing ability wasn’t on the same level.

The first time I saw Adams play was in an online video clip of a summer league game. I remember thinking ‘this is Steven Adams?’ I thought he would be jumping six feet in the air to block shots and tea-bagging men with a slightly darker skin tone while somewhere in attendance Paula Deen roared in amusement. Instead, Adams looked sluggish and lost. He was like that kid that played in your YMCA league that wasn’t very fast or good at basketball, he was just tall so his parents forced him to join the team.

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote this about Adams:

“We all wanted Adams to be the dynamic, productive player that we had heard he would be. After the adversity and disappointment known as the Ashton Gibbs Season, we convinced ourselves that Adams was good enough to give us another tournament run although we quickly knew it wasn’t true; just like how CMU students convince themselves they made the right decision to go to CMU. We saw Adams play and in the back of our minds we knew we were making mountains out of molehills. Or, to put it in more accurate terms, we knew we were making Brooklyners out of New Zealanders. No offense.

The fact is that Steven Adams was subpar. He wasn’t a good rebounder, his offensive awareness was nonexistent, he was a horrific free throw shooter, and he incomprehensibly never used his 250 pound frame to his advantage on either side of the ball. We thought we were getting an able-bodied presence but instead we got Houdini whose disappearing act (only 3.7 rebounds per game per game on the road) ultimately decided our fate as a one-and-done 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It was as if he learned to play basketball in a nontraditional basketball environment. Oh, wait.”

When the season started, Adams still didn’t impress but no one seemed that worried. I remember saying out loud “You know, Steve Adams doesn’t impress me. But I’m not that worried.” We kept making excuses for him because he looked like a player that would dominate the college ranks even if he didn’t play like one. But he never had that one breakout game; that performance that showed us what he could potentially develop into. He never even had that one breakout play where he would throw down on a fast break and make every person in the crowd bulge out eyes as if they just saw Aaron Hernandez commit a murder or something. (Quick thoughts on Aaron Hernandez: They should let him play, but he has to wear a tracking bracelet on his ankle. How awesome/funny would that be? How would it affect his game psychologically and physically? Who would claim him first, the Cowboys or the Bengals? What would the trash talk be and who would be the player that sets him over his boiling point? Think about it. Players could say whatever they want to him because if he retaliated, police officers would swarm him mid-game.)

Adams’ best game came in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Witchita State, the lamest Cinderella of all time, when he put up a slightly underwhelming (for it being his best game) 13 points and 11 rebounds. Alex Len (one month older than Adams) had four of those games (23 and 12 vs. Kentucky, 13 and 13 at Northwestern, 16 and 13 vs. Boston College, and 15 and 13 at Alabama.) Nerlens Noel (one year younger) had three of those games—two before he tore his ACL (15 and 11 vs. Texas A&M, and then 19 and 14 at Texas A&M) and one after (12 blunts and 14 bags of chips in one sitting).

I think Adams’ size gave us the biggest false impression. Most teenage big men are extremely skinny, so when you see Adams and his huge frame, you expect him to play like his size suggests. Instead, he played more like his age would suggest. But was Adams’ struggles his own fault or was it a product of Jamie Dixon’s system? Dixon would ideally like versatile big men like Aaron Gray and DeJuan Blair, who thrived at Pitt. The two of them, like Adams, were simply too stocky to be blocked out but were much more aggressive than Adams. They knew their game but Adams didn’t. He constantly cut to the basket and tried to finesse his way to the rim. It didn’t work because he wasn’t quick enough. At the same time, he wasn’t powerful enough to post up and he wasn’t skilled enough to hit a jumper. I specifically remember cringing when he got the ball on offense, which wasn’t very often for good reason.

Adams simply looked dazed and confused. He never used his size to his advantage. He never banged bodies down low. And he never backed anybody down in the post. It drove me crazy. At 7’0” 250 pounds, he should have been one of the premier rebounders in college simply because of his size alone. But he only averaged 3.7 rebounds per game on the road (I researched that stat myself and haven’t seen it anywhere else but here).

The game moved too fast for him in the States. It reminded me of when Brooks got out of jail in The Shawshank Redemption and couldn’t adapt to his new life. If Adams wrote a letter home, like Brooks did, it would look like this:

“Dear fellas, I can't believe how fast things move outside of New Zealand. I saw a black man once when I was a kid, but now they're everywhere. The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry. The admissions board got me into this halfway house called "Sutherland Hall" and a job bagging groceries at the QuickZone. It's hard work and I try to keep up, but my hands hurt most of the time. I don't think the store manager thinks I’m cool as. Sometimes after work, I go to Schenley Park and feed the birds…”

Let’s just hope it doesn’t end the same way.

During the season, I would have put money on Adams being a late-first or even early-second round pick if he foolishly chose to leave after his freshman year. He used the excuse that he had to provide for his 17 siblings, but I don’t quite buy that because he would have made more money if he stayed an extra year. Or would he have? His decision may not have been so foolish after all. Three reasons: One, something internally happened with the basketball team that we will probably never know. Six players don’t just transfer out of a program within a year. Adams obviously wasn’t a transfer, but he was the seventh player to prematurely leave the program. Two, this is a really weak draft class. If Adams stayed at Pitt another year, he would have significantly improved but his draft position might not have just because of more condensed competition. And three, according to Chad Ford, Steven Adams had a great showing at the NBA Combine. But for Adams to jump up one half to three quarters of a round, he must have given all of the scouts some nice hand jobs. Instead, Ford only mentioned Adams draining mid-range shots with ease, rebounding with aggression, even nailing some eye-catching three pointers, and out-performing everyone else in the Combine. You know, all of the things he didn’t do for us at Pitt. He finally put on the performance that we were waiting for, except it was too late. My question is this: If a three falls on a basketball court, but no Pitt fans are there to see it, is Todd Graham still a douche bag?

Don’t get me wrong. I love Steve Adams and I want him to be a great NBA player. I also thank him for making Pitt a better team. His presence allowed Talib Zanna to move to power forward where he belongs. I can’t stress enough how useless Zanna is at center and how useful he is at the four. Two weeks ago, I based my entire column on how Pitt’s 2013-14 fate depends on whether Jamie Dixon can pull a real center out of his butt because Talib Zanna is a train wreck as a rebounder and defender. So far, Dixon has balked, but I have faith because, like 10a bus drivers, you just don’t know when Dixon is going to come around (#2). UPDATE: Dixon says Zanna will start at center. Yikes. Also like 10a bus drivers, Dixon can make some reckless and questionable decisions. (#3).

For every bad thing you can say about Adams as a basketball player, you can also counter it with something good. He’s not a great rebounder, but he’s big and will be tough to box out. He’s not a go-to scorer, but he can (apparently) make a variety of shots all over the floor. He’s not a good low-post one-on-one defender, but he can block shots. He doesn’t have great court awareness, but he’s really fast for a big man. He isn’t a great basketball player, but he has sky-high potential and a great work ethic with a thirst for learning.

That last sentence means the most. Adams has a heap of potential. We saw it first hand last year. Nobody improved more than Adams. In the beginning of the season, he looked like he didn’t belong on a basketball court. By the end of the year, he was one of the Pitt’s best players. He was seeing crunch time minutes in big games, outplaying everybody on defense and even starting to look like he had a clue on offense once in a while. He's kind of like that young professor that's really nervous because it's his first time teaching but he winds up being a really nice guy so you actually fill out an OMET survey for him and give him a really good rating just to boost his confidence. He has the work ethic and he absolutely has the potential. How much? I’m glad you asked. If you don’t take anything else away from this post, if you hate all my jokes and think I’m a dildo, at least repeat these two ideas as if they were your own when you’re watching the draft with your friends:

One, Adams has the chance to be the most athletic white player in the NBA. There’s at least one scout out there who is already getting carried away and saying Adams could potentially play small forward. Let’s calm down for a second because we don’t even know if he can play center yet. But it’s still reason to be excited for his athleticism. We already covered that at some point over the last three months Adams found some kind of unknown substance that made him a good offensive player. But according to Ford, he was faster than every player at his position in the Combine. This is a new one. Unless he was only racing Nerlens Noel and his bum knee, then this is kind of surprising. I guess we’ve never really seen Adams in full sprint because Dixon runs that really slow offensive system that makes players transfer out of his program and makes no talented player want to transfer in and then he somehow gets a 10 year extension. Whatever. Here’s a Todd Graham joke: Todd Graham can count, on one hand, white players described as “athletic” in the NBA, and he’ll still have a thumb left over to stick up his ass.

Two, Adams has the chance to be the best NBA player ever to come out of Pitt. It’s incredible to think about but Pitt has played 107 seasons, 67 of which were winning seasons with 24 NCAA Tournament appearances and two national championships (pre-NCAA) and have had only 25 players drafted to the NBA and 16 of those 25 actually played in at least one NBA game. But the real stat: Zero of them are in the Hall of Fame, zero are in the Hall of Great and one is in the Hall of Good. The one’s name is Billy Knight. You may know him as the former Atlanta Hawks GM who drafted Marvin Williams (instead of Chris Paul or Deron Williams) with the second overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. Or maybe you know him as the guy who drafted Sheldon Williams with the fifth pick in the 2006 NBA Draft. But you probably know him as the guy who drafted Marvin Williams and Sheldon Williams in back to back years and then stepped down a year and a half later. Okay, in all honesty—he wasn’t that bad of a GM, he acquired Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby and he also drafted Al Horford and Josh Smith—But he was an even better college basketball player. He averaged at least 20 and 10 all three years he was at Pitt and then was drafted by the Pacers in the first round of a the 1974 ABA Draft. He had some fantastic years for the Pacers: 17.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG in his rookie year with his next three years as follows: 28.1 and 10.1, 26.6 and 7.5, and 22.9 and 7.2. His career didn’t translate as well into the NBA after the merger but Knight still averaged a respectable 15.7 and 4.5 with a .506 FG% over a 10 year NBA career. Adams can do that. Next best Pitt player to play in the NBA: Charles Smith who put up 14.4 and 5.8 over nine seasons. Third best: Mark Blount who put up 8.2 and 4.6 over eight seasons. Fourth best: DeJuan Blair. No joke.

Adams is much different from those players. He’s not like any player we’ve ever seen at Pitt. I could see him being the Ichiro of the NBA (except A LOT more raw coming into the league) because he's a very likable guy, very quotacious, puts on a show in pre-game (Ichiro, skinny as my mom, hits mammoth home runs in batting practice that you have to see to believe) and has polarizing skills. With that in mind, I’ve been trying to come up with a good NBA comparison for him for weeks. I keep coming back to only one player that fits the bill—Spencer Hawes.

Hawes is the perfect candidate. A mid-round seven-foot white guy who moves up and down the court relatively well (when he isn’t injured) but also isn’t an explosive scorer and can block shots. I’ll bet you didn’t know this about Hawes but he finished last season with more blocks per game than DeAndre Jordan, Al Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins and Omar Asik. He averaged 1.5 blocks per game, which was good for 15th in the NBA. He also played less minutes than 11 of the 14 guys ahead of him. He’s also developed a reliable mid-range jumper, much like Adams probably will. And he can hit the occasional three, much like Adams probably will. You might be under the impression that Hawes was a good college player because he was pretty hyped up; but you probably never saw him play because he played at the University of Washington. Well you have seen Adams play, right? And from what you’ve seen, is Adams a top 10 pick? I bet Washington students were thinking the same thing about Hawes going into the draft.

It’s only fitting at Adams, a complete enigma, will be drafted this year in a class that is an enigma itself. Everyone has a different opinion on everything this year—whether the class is underrated, terrible, whether or not there are any All Stars, whether it’s all role players, etc. This is a weird draft. A lot of scouts are saying this is a weak draft class but they are comparing Victor Oladipo to Dwayne Wade, yet he’s 5th or higher on a lot of mocks. Nerlens Noel is going first overall, yet many people have Trey Burke as the best player currently in the draft pool. So Noel must have the biggest upside? No, that’s Anthony Bennett. Or Steven Adams. Depends on who you ask. So Noel must be the best center? Well, that might be Alex Len. And rumor is that Nerlens’ handlers (Allen Iverson-esque entourage) are too influential on him and could drop him from first overall. Another rumor is that scouts know that Oladipo is the best player in the draft but they are keeping that quiet. Why is there so much smearing going on if it’s such a weak class? Why is Paul Chryst too stubborn to want Rushel Shell back? So many questions.

Check out 15 different mock drafts and you will see just that—15 different mock drafts. I figured I might as well take a shot. I made this mock based on 75% who I think the team should draft and 25% who I think they will draft. This class is such a mystery that I might get every pick wrong. There’s a real chance that I go 0/14, especially with all of the trade rumors. I have no confidence in this at all, just like I have no confidence in Paul Chryst’s football team. Oh well. Here’s my high-octane mock:

1. Cleveland Cavs – Nerlens Noel

2. Orlando Magic – Anthony Bennett

3. Washington Wizards – Alex Len

4. Charlotte Bobcats – Ben McLemore

5. Phoenix Suns – Victor Oladipo

6. New Orleans Pelicans – Otto Porter

7. Sacramento Kings – Trey Burke

8. Detroit Pistons – Michael Carter-Williams

9. Minnesota T-Wolves – Steven Adams

10. Portland Blazers – Shabazz Muhammad

11. Philadelphia 76ers – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

12. Oklahoma City Thunder – Cody Zeller

13. Dallas Mavs – CJ McCollum

14. Utah Jazz – Shane Larkin

As I was writing this mock draft, Ford popped up on SportsCenter to give his top five picks. According to his sources, all of my picks are wrong. Go figure. Quick fact about Chad Ford: He once said that Darko Milicic is a 7 foot center that plays like a point guard.

I have Adams going to the Timberwolves for the following reasons: He and K Love would be a great combo of body-banging big men in a few years. The Wolves current center, Nikola Pekovic, had a good year but saw inflated stats because Love was hurt for most of the year. Plus Peck is a free agent and he’s going to be 28 next season. Minnesota loves two things: White players and international players. It’s just a fact. Seven of their players current under contract are white or international. That’s more than any other team in the league. I think this could be an okay fit for Adams because he would have the ability to sit and learn from a guy like Love and plus Minnesota’s fan base is too nice to get on him if he struggles. His stats on national TV were a little lower than his season averages: 6.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG, .507 FG% (I researched that on my own too. You can only find this on Nordenblog. Tell your friends) so it would do him some good to play on a team that doesn't get any national television exposure. Minnesota just makes sence to me. Here are my odds on where Adams goes:

T-Wolves – 10-1

Thunder – 13-1

Kings – 17-1

Sixers – 18-1

The field – 14-1

"The field" covers everyone from teams that could trade up or down to get Adams or if Adams falls out of the lottery. I heard that he won’t make it past the Thunder, but like I said, nothing is certain about this draft. If he falls, I think the Celtics could take him.

Here are my hunches on this draft:

  • · Sleeper: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Don’t sleep on KCP. He played for a terrible Georgia team for two years but led the team in scoring, rebounding, steals, minutes, was third in blocks and assists but got no attention. He can shoot from the line and from the arch. He’s a scorer that would be exactly what the Sixers need and could be the steal of the draft. Averaged 18.5 PPG (next most was 7.9), 7.1 RPG (next most was 4.8), 2 steals (next most was 0.8). Drew the best defender against every team he played, and improved in every stat from his first year. He’s only 20 years old and analytics suggest he could be better than McLemore. Sixers’ new GM Sam Hinkie loves analytics. If I get this pick right and all the rest of the picks wrong, I’ll be happy.
  • · Bust: Ben McLemore – Apparently he can’t dribble, he can only hit open jumpers, and he doesn’t have his head on straight. He probably shouldn’t go in the top 3 where he’s projected.
  • · Victor Oladipo will be the best player in the draft. He's the most explosive, most athletic, best defender, and might develop a three point shot.
  • · Kelly Olynyk will be the only player outside of the lottery that will be a useful player. He led the NCAA in PER last year. I stumbled over that stat when I was looking up PER's of Pitt players for a previous column and I haven't seen anyone talk about it. Olynyk is my third favorite player in this draft: 1. Adams 2. Caldwell-Pope 3. Olynyk 4. Oladipo 5. Dante Taylor.
  • Nerlens Noel looks like LeRoy from The Challenge on MTV. Don't believe me? Watch on July 10th at 10:00 PM so that I can tweet about it without losing followers.

So lets recap on Adams. He’s is a non-explosive athletic seven-footer who can block shots but isn’t good at defense, has a strong frame but is only a relatively average rebounder, and showed zero shooting ability until he got to the Combine when he suddenly looked like Adam Sandler in any Adam Sandler movie where Adam Sandler plays basketball.

Steven Adams is probably one of the weirdest, most interesting player types to ever enter the NBA Draft. There’s no certainty about anything with him. Like I said, Adams was an enigma when he came to Pitt and things never really changed. But most of all he’s an awesome guy that will be a fan favorite wherever he goes.

Most scouts conclude that Adams isn’t ready for the NBA. But who knows, maybe it’s the other way around.

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