Pressure now on as Adams' NBA career tips off

HOPEFUL: New Oklahoma City Thunder centre Steven Adams.
HOPEFUL: New Oklahoma City Thunder centre Steven Adams.

Steven Adams has already started work as an NBA player, but not before taking time to reflect on his scarcely believable rise.

The 19-year-old and his support team flew to Oklahoma City on Saturday after Adams became the first New Zealander selected in the first round of the draft.

The Thunder will begin to assess his NBA readiness at the Orlando summer league (July 7-12) but he'll likely first have to earn his stripes in the D-League.

Either way, the big man from Rotorua is already a winner as he prepares to rub shoulders with new team-mates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

"He can't believe what has happened," said Kenny McFadden, Adams' Wellington-based mentor and coach.

"We started out at the Newtown Show Buildings, wiping the floor from the leaks off the roof. Now we're sitting here in Oklahoma City and he's a professional NBA athlete. He came a long way in a short time."

Adams, his brothers Sid and Moses, and McFadden, celebrated draft night in New York with an Italian meal and are staying in an Oklahoma City hotel until more permanent lodgings are arranged.

Adams has been meeting with Thunder management who have mapped out what he can expect ahead of the NBA season which starts in late-October.

In a quirk of fate, Adams will be mentored by veteran centre Kendrick Perkins, who is the son of Kenny Perkins, McFadden's Canterbury-based former NBL rival.

"I know Kenny well and OKC is the best spot for him out of anywhere in the draft," McFadden said.

"With Kendrick being here, he's got a veteran he can play behind and learn off. While at the same time having [Serge] Ibaka and Durant and Westbrook being quality players but still young. And having a great organisation in OKC, with a great fan base, and probably a chance to win an NBA championship as early as next year."

Durant is the second-best player in the world behind LeBron James and also has the reputation as an excellent team-mate.

He told The Oklahoman newspaper he was happy with the Thunder's work in the draft, which also netted Andre Roberson, Alex Abrines and Grant Jerrett.

"I'm glad we picked up some good guys, some young guys that's going to help us out," Durant said.

"I think people are disappointed more because they don't know the names. If you don't know the names of course you're going to be a little disappointed. It's not like any rookie is going to come in and have an immediate impact, especially on our team with a bunch of young guys that already have their spots solidified. But I'm sure they're going to come in and work hard and be ready to play."

Thunder general manager Sam Presti was thrilled to snare Adams.

"It's very, very hard to find guys who can protect the basket and are physical," Presti said.

"This is a young player, but this is a physical player. He understands that he has a long way to go."

Perkins is contracted for two more years and the Thunder will be hoping by that time Adams is ready to step in as the starting centre.

While Perkins is regarded as a locker room leader and an excellent low-post defender, his mobility and offensive skills are lacking.

"If you look at what they did last year, in terms of what was missing, I know Westbrook got injured in the playoffs, but you could see they were still missing one more big," McFadden said.

"Someone to come off the bench and make a contribution but at the same time have some range and shoot some outside shots. Because Perkins is great on defence and rebounding but he's not the best outside shooter and I think Steve can actually contribute in that right away."

McFadden will watch Adams play in Orlando before linking with his New Zealand Basketball Academy players for their tournament in Las Vegas.

"I've already had a lot of scouts call me looking for more New Zealanders over the last three or four days. I expect them to be looking at some Kiwi prospects. It's a big splash in the ocean and it's going to create a big wave. The only thing we have to do is grab a surfboard and ride that wave as far as we can. This feels like winning a championship all over again."

The Dominion Post