A relative unknown until a few eye-opening performances at summer camps in 2011, Pittsburgh’s Steven Adams made his way into the top 10 recruits in the 2012 class. But after an up and down freshman year under Jamie Dixon, Adams’ decision to enter the NBA Draft leaves scouts with a lot of questions regarding his NBA future. There is a lot to like in Adams’ profile from a physical standpoint. Standing at seven feet tall and with an already strong and still projectable frame, Adams has elite length and athleticism to go along with an NBA body. He has very large, very strong hands and good overall strength with room to add a bit more weight. Although Adams is still adjusting to the level of competition after playing just one semester of high school ball in America, he always brings a lot of energy and a very high motor on both ends of the ball. Adams plays with physicality and shows a willingness to do a lot of the dirty work for a post player, taking up space on the block, forcing defenders to stick with him when a teammate penetrates, and setting strong screens on the perimeter. Adams is a force on the offensive glass that plants himself on the low block and is very physical once the shot goes up. There are a few boards per game that come easy to him, just because of his combination of size and athleticism. Adams seems to possess a soft shooting touch, and runs the floor very well thanks to his fluid athleticism and high motor. Adams made steady progress over the course of the season, showing a semblance of a jump hook and a few other improved post moves. Adams needs a lot of work, but scouts love his upside due to his rare combination of size, athleticism, strength, and motor.
Many scouts knew that even though Adams ranked #6 in the ESPN 100 for 2012, he was still going to be a relatively raw offensive player as a freshman. But Adams was probably rawer than most expected, and is still awhile away from being an impactful player in the NBA. Adams was a non-factor for much of the year on offense, averaging less than seven points a game over the team’s first 20 games. Most of Adams’ baskets came on feeds at the rim from teammates or on easy put backs. He does not have a single go to move when he gets a touch in the post, and has to begin by establishing a low-post repertoire before expanding his game. Adams, for such a physical player, does not attack the rim with enough strength and veracity. He is still adjusting to the speed of the college game after playing almost his entire career in New Zealand, and now faces a much bigger leap to the NBA game. Adams keeps the ball too low on his post touches, leaving himself susceptible to turnovers, and has to learn how to better take advantage of his size and length. Adams is a very poor free throw shooter and is a liability late in games, marking another area where he has to work on his game. Adams has the chance to be a very good player down the line, but was disappointing this year in just how much experience and polish he still needs to add.
Adams is a whole lot closer to contributing to a pro team on the defensive end than he is on the offensive end, and projects overall as a much better defensive player. Adams already has a large and very strong frame, and holds his ground very well in the post. He has the strength to keep his man away from the rim, and the length to quickly close down any separation from his man. He is already a good shot blocker who shows solid timing, getting most of his blocks against his own man. Adams has the quickness and athleticism to set out and defend on the wing. He does a very good job of hedging against the pick and roll and driving the guard out away from the lane. He can stay in front of quicker players on the perimeter, guarding against the drive by using his length and foot speed to keep his man out of the lane. Adams is a very productive rebounder who finds his man and boxes out when the shot goes up. He can reach the ball at a higher point than most people on the floor, thanks to his height and length, and can rebound in traffic with his large, strong hands. Adams projects as a very good defensive player who can block shots and rebound at a high level.
Most of Adams’ current defensive detriments are the result of a lack of experience rather than any physical shortcomings. Adams has a tendency to lose his man when he is forced to guard in space. He struggles against screens and off-the-ball movement, losing track of his man in a switch or rotation and leading to open baskets. Adams sometimes overpursues when leaving the paint to guard on the perimeter, forcing a teammate to rotate and leading to an open shot somewhere else on the court. Adams has to improve his help defense and can become an even better shot blocker as he improves his rotations and close-outs. Adams made his fair share of mental mistakes defensively in his year at Pitt, but should rid many of these with more coaching and playing experience in the NBA.
Fans of the NBA team that ends up drafting Steven Adams, likely in the second half of the first round, need to understand chiefly that Adams is probably a few years away from consistently contributing to the rotation of their squad. Adams is a player that is going to be drafted singlehandedly on potential rather than production. For a seven footer, Adams possesses rare athleticism, length, strength, and a motor that only a few players in the league can boast of. Adams plays extremely hard on both ends, running the floor and working on the offensive glass for extra opportunities. He is a more advanced prospect on the defensive end, where he is already a good shot blocker, has the strength to defend in the post, and has the athleticism to step out in space and hold his own. But the majority of Adams’ overall game is still extremely raw, particularly on the offensive end. Adams was not as polished this year as scouts expected, and does not have a single go-to scoring move from anywhere on the floor. He needs to work a lot on his footwork, post skills, and touch around the basket to best utilize his size and athleticism. There were signs of improvement over the course of the year, but Adams still has a long way to go before he comes close to reaching his full potential.