We've all seen the projections - and then later projections that have Adams even moving up a bit. Barring any NBA Draft Day surprises (and let's be honest, that's no given), former Pitt center Steven Adams should be a first-round selection.
One guy I've compared Adams to a bit is San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter. Splitter was also an international player and even though Adams played prep school and college in the states, U.S. basketball was very new to him. Like Adams, Splitter is a seven-footer (okay, he's billed at 6'11") with a similar body size. And also like Adams, he's an athletic player capable of getting out and running while playing solid defense.
Despite the skills, though, Splitter is still pretty raw and is now just wrapping up his third NBA season. He's a bit beyond the project stage and putting up solid numbers (ten points and six rebounds in 2012-13), but no one would mistake him as a complete player. Splitter is still very much a work-in-progress.
With that said, I've watched Splitter a bit this season. And despite his raw play, he's simply light years ahead of Steven Adams. To help prove my point a bit, I give you a few video highlights. First, a fast-break, ball fake:
Tiago Splitter Ball Fake On Chris Paul @ LA (via firstandskol)
Now, we've seen Adams get out and run a little during his time at Pitt. But ball faking an All-Star and future Hall of Famer while taking it to the hoop? That's yet to be seen. It's something that could be learned easy enough, but I'm not sure we've seen this kind of play from Adams.
Moving on, here's Splitter stepping out and hitting a jump shot. I've found other videos of him doing this, but only as part of compilations because, after all, who makes a YouTube video of a single jump shot? Nevertheless, Splitter can hit from the outside a bit and I've seen him do it several times this season.
07-Splitter-buzzer (via linelson)
This, as we know, isn't a big part of Adams' arsenal. I can probably count the number of times on one hand that I've seen the big man do this all season.
Then, there's the aggression factor. Splitter can still be tentative at times, but here he not only blocks the shot, but rips the ball away from an opposing player:
Utah @ SAS 3/22/2013 Tiago Splitter tear away steal (via Comical Absurdity)
Has Adams ever done this? Maybe. But we definitely haven't seen much of it. And it will be more difficult to do against bigger, physical players. Adams has to learn to be the aggressor and that's not something that will come overnight.
Now, here's something we have seen from Adams - defense in the form of blocked shots:
Tiago Splitter Blocks Brook Lopez (via XK Cheung)
Yeah, that's really something that's Adams' bread and butter. But while I expect him to block some shots in the NBA, it won't be as easy to do against the smaller centers he's faced in college. Certainly, it's going to be harder to block a seven-foot NBA All-Star like Brook Lopez than it will be 6'9" or 6'10" centers.
One more thing we actually have seen out of Adams from time to time ... a putback off a miss:
Tiago Splitter Beats the Buzzer (March 14, 2012) (via NBAorbit)
Again, we've seen this out of Adams but not nearly enough. Seriously, how many times do you painstakingly remember Adams getting a rebound and missing the putback? Far too many. There were even sequences of Adams botching several close up shots in a row. Good for the rebounding numbers, bad for the shooting percentage.
Lastly, is a three-minute video of highlights from one of Splitter's best games this season - a 21-point, 10-rebound effort against the Thunder. It's longer than the others, but worth a look. Some of these shots are fairly basic points scored in the paint, but there are several that feature Splitter making post moves to get buckets - not to mention some great passing for a big man. Adams really doesn't yet have a post game - certainly not one where he's creating shots on his own:
Tiago Splitter 21 Points 10 Rebounds Full Highlights vs Thunder (3/11/2013) (via kasenspurs)
There are also the free throws to consider. While Adams struggled along to the tune of a dismal 44%, Splitter (after starting off slowly in the NBA) is now hitting more than 70% of his. Teams are more than willing to carry seven-footers that can't shoot free throws, but if Adams is struggling in other areas, missing free throws won't help his cause.
This isn't to say Adams made a mistake by coming out. Or that he won't have a long career in the NBA. And look - Splitter has had his fair share of 'derp' moments, too, so I don't want to make him out to be David Robinson. But as far as Adams being ready this season or maybe even next, I just don't see it. He's made a few of these plays, but not consistently enough to be a solid contributor in the league next season. He's not the player an admittedly older Splitter is, but you've also got to keep in mind that he didn't dominate the college game, either. At this stage, Adams will be a big project.