Expected draft position: Mid-first round
SB Nation scouting report: Link
SB Nation big board ranking: No. 24
Draft Express ranking: No. 17
BF draft board ranking: No. 12
College career: Coach Jamie Dixon discovered Steven Adams early in the recruiting process, taking note of the recently-relocated prospect even before many in the international circles were able to gain a tenable opinion on him. Adams came over from New Zealand halfway through his senior year of high school, joining the Notre Dame Prep School in Massachusetts and parlaying his experience gained from going up against the top big men such as Nerlens Noel and Kaleb Tarczewski into a top 10 ranking by ESPN. From the very beginning, it was painfully obvious how far Adams was from scratching the surface. His inability to dominate just off his height and low post game at the high school level prompted some damming concerns about where he was at in his development.
Basketball runs deep in Steven's family. He is the youngest of 18 siblings, all of which are over 6'5. None of his brothers are less than 6'10. Six of his siblings play basketball for New Zealand, and his half-sister brought home gold in the shot put this past Olympics. However, after the loss of his father at the burgeoning age of 13, Adams took to the streets, and things didn't turn around until this brother stepped to fill the role of a father figure. Having seen the distresses of his siblings unable to advance their own basketball careers, Dixon sold Adams on getting him on the fast-track to the NBA as well as receiving a proper education.
Having only played six years of organized basketball, Adams was never exposed to playing against top-flight talent on a gamely basis. However, his quick feet, elite height and strong base afforded him ample playing time as an intimidating defensive presence down low. He blocked nearly four shots a game, but not in the most traditional way. He came up with blocks on the perimeter as he switched onto a guard or as he trailed his man off the pick and roll, rather than simply staying back and waiting for drivers to come right at him.
Despite that small sample size and questions about his polish, Adams projects to be the first New Zealander to be drafted into the first round. Money played a role in his decision to go pro despite a so-so freshman season. It was important to him to provide for his family.
Steven Adams Draft Combine Interview (via DraftExpress)
Offense: Adams is intriguing as a prospect because he does a little bit of everything. Starting with the pick and roll, he uses his wide body to set effective screens and rolls off them so fluidly while keeping a big target for his guard as he dives to the rim. He has a good understanding of when to break off his route and how to go to the open area of the court. He always keeps himself available as an outlet for his guards and constantly has his hands and head up on a swivel. He has tremendous body control, which made Pitt's pick and roll attack look ridiculously easy at times.
As a back-to-the-basket player, he has slowly added moves to his arsenal, but is clearly a work in progress. He struggled mightily with turnovers early on as he looked to pass almost immediately after receiving the entry pass. He shies away from contact and struggles to keep his man pinned on his back as he fights for position.
But as the season progressed, he slowly learned to go after the ball rather than staying put and waiting for it to come to him. Since then, he's developed great patience in the post, weighing every option before making his move to the basket. He surveys the floor, looks for cutters coming underneath or through the weakside and then proceeds to attack his defender. He uses the step through move beautifully and has shot fakes to allude his man before going up for a hook shot. He wasn't terribly efficient at the rim, shooting just 68 percent in the painted area per Hoop Math, but shows enough promise with his soft touch and great footwork to merit talk about his high ceiling moving forward.
Shooting wise, Adams has done a lot to cover up his abhorrent free throw numbers this season by showing up strong at the combine and in draft workouts. He shot just 44 percent from the charity stripe, but none of it has to do with his mechanics. His shot looks a lot like a guard -- elbow tucked in with a high release while being squared up to the basket -- but it's the mental aspect of the game that overwhelmed him this season. Many of his coaches have harped on him shooting well in practices, which come to no surprise considering how early in his development he's in.
But unless he adjusts to the speed of the game while relying more on his instincts rather than thinking every time he touches the ball, he'll never live up to his potential. There were times where he missed the rim badly on attempts from 15 feet out, and there were times where Pitt ran plays for him to come off screens, stop on a dime and rise up for a jumper, which he hit.
Gaining more upper body strength is crucial in his post game development as well. He tried to muscle up shots through contact, which will not slide against superior athletes at the next level. He doesn't show much improvisation in his game either, as he tends to rely on the structure of Pitt's 4-out 1-in sets to get him clean looks at the basket. He's crafty and has an array of moves once he gets in deep, but once a defender pushes him out of the post, he's unable to gain enough separation due to his poor ball handling. He often shows too much and doesn't keep the ball low when dribbling, which is the reason for the majority of his turnovers.
Defense: Adams proved to be a major deterrent inside, blocking nearly four shots per 40 minutes mainly through his mobility rather than his superior size against college athletes. He stands at 6'11 with a 7'4.5" wingspan with a strong base, an ideal size for an NBA center. His mobility helped him a lot in the pick and roll, while he did have his issues hedging too far out at times, for the most part he was disciplined in recovering back to his man in time. He has enough lateral quickness to switch onto guards, and does a good job contesting without fouling, averaging just three per 40 minutes. The majority of those came via over-the-back calls or aggressive hedges on guards.
He has all the tools to be an excellent anchor down low. He'll need to add more upper body strength eventually, but defense is played more with your feet, as there has been an increased preponderance on switches, beating your man to a spot on the floor and coming from the weakside to help.
The key for Adams is rebounding. As mentioned before, he doesn't establish position down low consistently and fails to put a body on his man because he's caught losing focus. He still pulled down 11.6 rebounds per 40 minutes (pace adjusted) and has the size and mobility to project well in the NBA, but he'll need to show more vehemence on chasing down boards and develop a mean streak down low. There shouldn't be any instances where smaller guards are ripping the ball out of his hands or slower bigs beating him to rebounds.
Steven Adams 2013 NBA Draft Scouting Video (via DraftExpress)
Pro potential/Wizards fit: There's no doubt that in the right system, Adams can be a starter in this league. But whoever takes him will have to do their homework on him and understand how to get the most out of his skillset. Make no mistake about it: he's a project, and it will take time and coddling before you see any work paying off. Lighting a fire under him may not be as easy as it sounds. The tools are there, but they weren't on full display last season. Developing him won't be an easy task for any team that takes him.
The good thing is he hasn't picked up any bad habits that you see many young bigs falling for in college. He has a clean slate, and whoever drafts him has the opportunity to mold him the way they see fit. It's why finding the right fit for Adams is so vital to his success in the NBA. He has to be taught that there is a learning curve, and that he can't get despondent over his struggles early on.
After reading all this, it's natural to feel dejected over the Wizards taking him. He's the prototypical project big man that we all fear will be led astray with Ernie Grunfeld at the helm. He has the skillset, the size, and potential to be the perfect fit alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal, but the Wizards are still the Wizards, and haven't been able to mold a single big man prospect in what seems like an eternity.
However, this could also be the perfect opportunity to buy low and hope for the best. There won't be many prospects with as much promise as Adams, and if the Wizards clean house in the frontcourt, he could see enough playing time early on to prove himself.
I'd take a long look at Adams if he's available, but would ultimately pass on him knowing I could get more immediate help with a second pick.