Former Pitt center Adams gets off to modest start
ORLANDO, Fla. — Steven Adams' numbers Sunday won't line up with other first-round picks making their pro debuts in the NBA Summer League.
The 7-footer from New Zealand, drafted after a single season at Pitt, totaled two points on 1-for-4 shooting, tying for the team lead with six rebounds and adding two blocks. But the simple milestone of donning a pro uniform and playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder was plenty for the 19-year-old center.
“I was real nervous about it, but excited at the same time,” Adams said after the Thunder's 76-68 win against the Indiana Pacers in the Amway Center. “I'm just glad to finally get one under my belt, and now I can relax and just focus on the main points they're going over.”
Adams, drafted with the 12th overall pick in last month's draft, has had a handful of practices to begin learning Oklahoma City's brand of basketball, but his coaches said one of his most promising aspects is the way he's listened to instruction and shown a desire to mold his game to fit into the system he'll be playing.
“It was solid. He has a lot to learn, and he knows it,” said Rex Kalamian, the Thunder assistant acting as head coach for the summer league, with head coach Scott Brooks in attendance. “He asks a lot of questions. He's like a sponge. He really soaks things up very well, and he's given us good feedback on how he feels. We've had great communication, and he's learning every day.”
Adams came off the bench Sunday, and his lone points came late in the first quarter on a highlight-reel play, going up and getting a one-handed dunk on a lob from former UConn star Jeremy Lamb.
“It showed some athleticism from Steven, and I think we'll see as we go on just how athletic he is,” Kalamian said.
Oklahoma City has a veteran center in Kendrick Perkins and a still-improving backup in Hasheem Thabeet, so Adams won't have to worry about expectations of an immediate impact with the Thunder. His modest numbers at Pitt – 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds a game – only hinted at the improvements he made during the season.
As a young player with only one year of college experience, Adams won't have a complicated role initially for the Thunder. He understands his priority will be rebounding and defense, and the rest of his game will have time to catch up, not this summer but throughout his rookie season.
“OKC's done a good job of telling me what to expect,” said Adams, who will wear No. 12 for the Thunder. “They're telling to be physical, run the lanes, defense, rebound. I'm trying to showcase whatever we're working on. It's pretty much just defense — that's the main area they want to teach me.
“I'm a work in progress, so we're taking it day by day.”
Adams will play five games in six days this week, the first steps toward his rookie season this fall. His future will have him playing with NBA superstars such as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and he's trusting the Thunder coaches to slowly craft his game to what they're looking for in Oklahoma City.
“I think I'm doing pretty well,” said Adams, who lined up against a 2012 first-rounder Sunday in Indiana's Miles Plumlee. “ I'm listening to the coaches, and whatever they say, I'll do, no matter what it is. They know what's best for me, and they've been around a long time. They know what to do.”
Greg Auman is a freelance writer.