NBA Youngsters to watch: OKC Thunder's Steven Adams

After becoming just the fourth New Zealander to play in the NBA, Steven Adams has ruffled some feathers during his first season in the NBA.

Steven Adams entered the NBA’s spotlight during Game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-finals, after an incident with Zach Randolph all but ensured the Oklahoma City Thunder’s safe passage through to the Conference Finals.

On the way back down floor after a missed Memphis shot, Adams and Randolph tangled, causing Randolph to lash out at Adams, essentially punching him in the face. Randolph was retrospectively banned from playing Game 7 and without Randolph in the line-up, the Grizzlies were sure to have a much harder time against the Thunder. They lost Game 7 by 11 points.

This was not the first time Adams had driven his opposition man to distraction. His first victim was Nate Robinson, who was fined $10,000 for striking Adams in the chest during the Thunder’s pre-season match-up with the Nuggets. Next came Vince Carter, who was ejected for elbowing Adams in the face.

Adams then returned to haunt the Nuggets when he got Jordan Hamilton ejected for throwing a punch and finally the young man from Rotorua managed to get the fiery Larry Sanders thrown out of a game for elbowing him across the face.

After growing up with 18 siblings, one of whom is Olympic gold medal winning shot putter Valerie Adams, and aspiring to be an All Black in his youth, Adams is used to the rough and tumble way of doing things. His physical style of play has succeeded in getting under the skin of even the wiliest of NBA veterans and his cool headed approach to these encounters has often resulted in his opponents being tossed from games while he remains on the floor.

Adams' combative nature should not overshadow the fact that he has a lot to contribute to the Thunder in future years. Only averaging 14.8 minutes per game during the regular season, Adams managed to put up respectable numbers.

While only averaging 3.3 points per game, he put up 4.1 rebounds, 0.5 steals and 0.7 blocks, numbers that if stretched out to per 36 minute figures turn into 10.0 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.7 blocks per 36. It is, of course, unreasonable to expect his rate of production to stay consistent with increased playing time but it does indicate that should be given a starters role Adams could produce some solid figures.

His 3.3 points per game are also indicative of playing on a team where he has almost no offensive responsibilities aside from setting picks, getting offensive boards and receiving dump passes around the rim. On the few occasions when Adams was passed to in the pick and roll he showed that he was capable of finishing at the rim, giving the Thunder hope that he could perhaps expand his offensive role nest season.

Despite a pretty standard regular season for a rookie, it was during the post-season that Adams really shone. He found his number being called a surprising amount and after only playing a combined 21 minutes during the first 4 games of the Memphis series, he averaged 22.1 for OKC’s remaining 14 play-off games, putting up 5.0 points per game on 71.4% shooting, as well as 5.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. This once again showed that it is extremely hard to phase this cool headed kiwi.

It is his work on the defensive end, however, that could earn him a place in the Thunder’s starting line-up next season.

While Adams may never be a offensive weapon, he could well become a Tyson Chandler type player, anchoring the offense at one end and finishing alley-oops, put backs and dump passes at the other. Adams shot blocking is superb for his age and he shows great defensive instincts. If he can cut down on the amount of personal fouls he commits, he could well steal Kendrick Perkins job in OKC’s starting line-up.

Expect Adams to be pestering the NBA’s best for years to come because he’s got a long successful career ahead of him.