Development, not dollars, matters for Adams

STEVEN ADAMS: DraftExpress has him to go at No 10 in the NBA draft.
STEVEN ADAMS: DraftExpress has him to go at No 10 in the NBA draft.

For Steven Adams it's a numbers game as the NBA draft approaches but more important than money is his destination.

As Adams climbs the boards after his impressive showing at the combine, he should be hoping that he doesn't rise too high for next month's draft.

Before the combine he was talked of as a project for a team with a bit of time on its hands to develop him as a long-term prospect. However, his good showing means he has probably moved into the middle of the first round.

One well-regarded mock draft has him going as high as 15 to the Milwaukee Bucks which would be an incredible achievement, making him the only New Zealander to go in the first round and just the second (after Sean Marks) to ever go in the draft. However, if he has his eye on a solid NBA career, Adams should be hoping he doesn't rise much higher than that, although it will mean less money initially.

The rookie pay scale slides from $US4.3 million for the top pick down to $US850,000 for the 30th and last of the first round. Going at 15 would mean at least $US1.4m for Adams' first year.

The higher he gets in the first round, the worse the team he will be going to. Those teams are horrid often because of bad coaching as well as bad teammates, things that will not help Adams develop as a player.

Big men are always needed in the NBA and as a legitimate 2.13 metre player Adams certainly has the physical goods. He has a wing span of 2.27m, the second biggest in this year's draft. He shoots well and is athletic, moving more like a guard than a big man.

But he was disappointing at college and could have done with playing another couple of years at that level. He struggled to adjust to the speed of the US college game and it's not going to get easier in the NBA, so he will need good coaching and teammates.

Marks had a long career in the NBA but it was not particularly distinguished and he spent the bulk of it on the bench. This despite having a good college career, which shows the work Adams has ahead of him.

Adams should be aiming for a lot more than making up the numbers and so it is crucially important which team he goes to. The NBA draft is chock-full of talented players each year but only a fraction of them become stars and just some of them make it as starters which shows that nurture is just as important as nature. Each season it seems to be the same teams that uncover players who are much better than expected. This is not luck.

Ironically, the team that would be ideal for him is the San Antonio Spurs, which is where Marks now works as a director of basketball operations. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has a long history of taking unheralded players and turning them into stars. Kawhi Leonard (who went at 15, five places below Jimmer Fredette) is a good example of that.

However, there are other good teams that will be picking in the middle of the first round, including Boston, Chicago and Oklahoma City. All have good coaches and the depth to let him develop rather than throwing him immediately into the fray to sink or swim.

Sports Illustrated has tipped him to go to Chicago, which would be a great destination. Coach Tom Thibodeau is one of the smartest in the game as is centre Joakim Noah.

There have been suggestions that some general managers were put off by his light-hearted ways in interviews, but that's unlikely to have too much effect on his chances. Charles Barkley was picked number five by Philadelphia despite his reply to general manager Pat Williams, who told the 132kg forward that he needed to get into shape.

"Mr Williams, round is a shape."

The Press