With the draft rapidly approaching, Blazers’ GM Neil Olshey’s plan is still being kept tightly under wraps. That, however, can’t stop us from speculating, because where’s the fun in that? The latest discussion that has cropped up concerns centers, and if the Blazers target a center (as some think they will), but Alex Len and Cody Zeller are off the board, would the Blazers look to Steven Adams?
Adams is a 7’0” (with shoes), 250 lbs. center who played for the Pittsburgh Panthers last season. He hails from New Zealand, and is one of 18 children his dad fathered (not a typo). With the draft stock of Alex Len rising, Nerlens Noel surely to be gone by the 10th pick, and a good chance that Cody Zeller will have also been selected, the potential for Adams to be available for the Blazers at #10 is high.
Adams’ ability to contribute right away in the NBA pretty much begins and ends with his defense (we will get to offense in a little bit). We can hear it from the man himself via Valley of the Suns:
“I’m focusing on mainly the defensive side of the ball, rebounding and blocking shots. I feel like that’s what I’m going to be getting my minutes for in my first chapter of the NBA.”
On the defensive side of the ball, he is simply all over. I don’t mean that in a hyperbolic or metaphorical sense either – he is actually constantly moving. And I mean constantly. I have seen very few players at any level that simply move as much as he does on defense. “High-motor” is sometimes a backhanded compliment thrown around to less-skilled players, but Adams has rightfully earned the moniker.
Movement in basketball is key – obviously, it lets you get to the proper position on the floor, but it also snuffs out passing lanes for the opposition, and perhaps most importantly, it helps you stay balanced and ready for the next needed change of direction. Slightly changing your course of direction is far easier when you are already moving, as compared to if you start from a stationary position.
I have seen mentioned several times that his pick and roll defense, particularly his hedging, was high quality. I don’t disagree, but I think that at times he hedges too hard and too far away from the basket, which the faster, more athletic players in the NBA may be able to exploit. In college he was able to get away with this because comparatively he was quite fast, so he could recover to his man in time before the guard could hit him with a pass. While he is under no circumstances slow, I personally go a bit against the grain by thinking that his speed has been a tad overrated, which may become apparent against superior athletes.
On one memorable play against Villanova, he expertly hedged a pick and roll at the top of the key, well beyond the three point line (call it seven feet). His teammate made a terrible rotation down low, giving Adams’ original man an open lane to the basket big enough to hide a Death Star. Instead of conceding the play, which would honestly be understandable at this point, Adams busted his butt all the way back down to the baseline, and blocked the would-be dunk attempt.
Remember that high motor I mentioned before? That’s it right there. As someone who appreciates the fundamentals and sheer hustle, I think I shed a joyful tear. It was beautiful.
We round out Adams’ defensive abilities with his shot-blocking. At Pittsburgh, he averaged a robust 2 blocks per game, in only an average of 23 minutes. Most of them came when he was not the primary defender, but instead when he slid over to help (think Serge Ibaka). Ibaka is actually the closest comparison I can think of in the NBA. Blocks on people who are not your original man require excellent instincts and timing, which are luckily two aspects that can translate well to the next level. Neither rely on sheer athleticism to be put to use.
That’s all fine and dandy, but the important question is, what could he mean for the Blazers? Well, as we have thoroughly documented on this site, the Blazers had a bit of a problem protecting the rim last season (sarcasm). Given this, it is quite easy to imagine how a seven-foot, 250 lbs., shot-blocking, former rugby player could help us in this department. On the surface he looks to be like an easy drag and drop solution for the Blazers interior defensive woes.
Defense is only half of the game, though. Unfortunately, Adams’ offensive game was rather lacking, or “raw,” as scouting reports liked to call it. He didn’t display the footwork required for a post-up game, and even beating up against future insurance salesmen and lawyers in college, his offensive skills left much to be desired. For example, he shot only 33% on jump shots, but it looks like the hitch that plagued his form earlier on has been fixed. Teams know this. Adams will be selected for his current defensive prowess and his potential (another word the scouts love) on offense.
Would I be mad if the Blazers selected Adams? This is hard. I like the guy a lot – the high motor is a joy to behold, and by all indications, he is a hard worker who is willing to work and improve. He was comfortable and personable in front of the camera during interviews; something I think would endear him to Portland. And let’s be honest, as a Portland homer born and raised, I’ve grown excellent at talking myself into nearly any move the Blazers make. I don’t think I would be overly upset.
With that being said, I don’t think the Blazers should draft him, primarily because of Meyers Leonard. I am a strong proponent of giving him time to develop, and drafting Adams would be, in my eyes, a shocking disregard for last year’s 11th pick’s development. No matter how you want to spin it, Adams will be quite a large project, and I don’t see a reason to add a second such project to the Blazers’ roster at this point in time.