Adams' days of Thunder deserve recognition

IMPRESSIVE: Steven Adams has been doing well since joining the NBA.
IMPRESSIVE: Steven Adams has been doing well since joining the NBA.

In a weak field of contenders for Halberg sportsman of the year, there's one glaring omission. Where on earth is the Kiwi who's made one of the biggest splashes on world sport in 2013?

I'm talking about Steven Adams, the 20-year-old New Zealander plying his trade in the NBA for the red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder.

The NBA people. A billion-dollar industry. The highest plateau of the world's second-biggest sport. The realm of global superstars, athletic phenomena and physical freaks.

It has been some sort of a year for Adams, the youngest brother of shot put sensation Valerie Adams. He was picked No 12 overall by the Thunder in the NBA Draft back in June, an occasion that created unprecedented interest in New Zealand.

Never before had a Kiwi been picked in the first round of the NBA Draft, and in fact only two others had even tread the sacred boards of the world's greatest hoops league (and I'm not counting Gisborne-born, Aussie-affiliated Aron Baynes).

In the end it was a dream result for the 2.13m physical sensation from Wellington, by way of Rotorua. By landing at the Thunder, not only did the raw Kiwi find himself suddenly part of a title contender, but also one of the quality franchises in the NBA.

Pundits almost universally predicted he would be dispatched for development purposes to the Thunder's D-League affiliate. Not ready, they sneered. Needs to learn the game, they puffed.

But these desk jockeys and laptop warriors didn't account for two very important aspects of this special New Zealander - he's tough and he's determined.

So, after a great summer and pre-season, he was signed to a deal by the Thunder that pays him US$2.09 million for his rookie year, and progressively more for up to four years in total.

Not only that but he has worked his way into Scott Brooks' playing rotation as backup centre, logging legitimate minutes nightly for one of the NBA's premier teams. His best effort for the season so far? Just 17 points and 10 boards against the Detroit Pistons.

So, why isn't he nominated in a category that includes a guy who finished 14th in his motor racing division (Mitch Evans) in a skinny field that musters just six contenders?

Because, I'm told, his own sport didn't put his name forward. The thinking apparently was that he had yet to really achieve anything in the NBA and that his nomination would be best reserved for then.

There's some logic to that thinking. But it does not take into account the significance of what Adams achieved just by being picked so highly, and then by earning regular playing time. After spending a decade waiting for Sean Marks to get snapshots of action, it's nirvana for Kiwi hoops tragics.

The honours will no doubt come for Adams. He'll play in the Rookies v Sophomores challenge at All-Star weekend, and he could feature in the NBA Finals in June if the Thunder continue as they have been. His upside is huge, and his attitude, aptitude and approach is already being lauded by those who really know the game.

It's puzzling to think that he didn't at least deserve consideration among a group not exactly overloaded with star quality.

Fairfax Media