Thunder enticed by Steven Adams' 'upside'

KURT VOIGHT
Last updated 05:00 29/06/2013
ESPN

New Zealand basketballer Steven Adams has made history after being drafted 12th by NBA franchise Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the draft.

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Steven Adams holds open his jacket showing the NZ flag sewn onto the lining.
Steven Adams
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HOPEFUL: New Oklahoma City Thunder centre Steven Adams.

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Oklahoma City had the luxury of looking at this year's NBA draft crop from a developmental perspective.

A trip to the NBA finals, followed by the best record in the Western Conference, will do that for a team.

The Thunder looked to the future with its three picks, taking a pair of projects - including New Zealand centre Steven Adams with the 12th pick - and trading for a third, more experienced, option.

The 7-foot Adams added some much-needed size for Oklahoma City, which is coming off a 60-22 season and was hoping to find a complementary piece to play alongside stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Adams was one of three selections by the Thunder, which only had such a high pick because of last year's trade that sent James Harden to Houston.

"We're really excited about him joining us and being able to learn from the veteran we have up front," Oklahoma City assistant general manager Troy Weaver said. "We think he has a tremendous upside."

Adams was later joined in Oklahoma City by Colorado forward Andre Roberson, who was acquired in a three-team trade, and Spanish guard Alex Abrines. The Thunder also added Grant Jerrett, a 6-foot-10 freshman forward from Arizona and the 40th pick, from Portland for cash considerations.

Adams played just one season for the Panthers, averaging 7.2 points and 6.3 points per game while being named to the Big East All-Rookie team. He is the first New Zealander to be taken in the first round of the NBA draft, and he was especially excited to be selected by a team considered among the league's elite, one he said had a "really high chance of the playoffs next year and getting a championship."

The Thunder lost in the NBA Finals last year to Miami and had the best record in the Western Conference this season. However, Westbrook injured his right knee in a first-round win over Houston, and Oklahoma City was ousted in the second round by Memphis.

Oklahoma City had three of the first 32 picks in the draft, with No 29 and 32 to go along with the Adams' pick. The team selected Kentucky freshman Archie Goodwin with the 29th pick, but he was dealt as part of the deal that brought Roberson to the Thunder.

The 6-foot-7 Roberson averaged 10.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game for the Buffaloes last season, shooting 51.6 percent from the field. He was the most experienced of Oklahoma City's draft picks, having played three seasons in college, and will provide the Thunder with frontcourt depth behind starting power forward Serge Ibaka.

"We think he's a unique player," Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. "He's guarded lot of different positions, and we feel like he is a lot of tools to work with physically. And the other thing that we really like about him is he's got tremendous endurance and persistence on the floor."

Abrines is currently averaging 3.4 points and 1.1 rebounds in 11 minutes per game for FC Barcelona. The 6-6 guard is likely to remain in Europe for a season, and he won't turn 20 until August.

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Oklahoma City caused the biggest stir of the offseason a year ago, trading shooting guard James Harden to Houston for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-round pick.

The Thunder used the first of those first-round picks on Adams, who averaged just 23.4 minutes per game as a freshman at Pittsburgh. He attended high school in Massachusetts and was a top recruit for the Panthers before deciding to leave college after just one season.

Adams set the Pitt school record for field goal percentage in his one season, connecting on 100 of 175 shots (57.1 percent) last season. He had career-highs of 16 points and 10 rebounds against Bethune-Cookman and had 13 points and 11 rebounds in the opening round of the NCAA tournament against Wichita State.

He also had a good idea he was headed to the Thunder after his pre-draft workout with the team.

"To a certain degree I kind of did, but it was actually more what I was hoping for," Adams said. "Just because I fell in love with the place."

Adams also said he was comfortable spending time next season with the team's developmental-league team in Tulsa, if that's in the Thunder's plans.

Oklahoma City hopes Adams is the perfect addition of size, as well as a long-term scoring option inside to pair with Westbrook and Durant. Westbrook, who averaged 23.2 points and 7.4 assists per game last season, is expected to return healthy before the start of next season.

Durant averaged 28.1 points per game last season, but he struggled at times without Westbrook in the playoffs - where his shooting percentage dropped to 42 percent against the Grizzlies, compared to 51 percent during the regular season.

Adams' addition could signal an eventual changing of the guard at centre for the Thunder, which already features Kendrick Perkins and drafted the 6-foot-11 Perry Jones III last year. Also, Oklahoma City has three free agents in Martin and guards Ronnie Brewer and Derek Fisher.

- AP

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