Best is yet to come from 'tough guy' Adams
What do Jordan Hamilton, Larry Sanders and Vince Carter have in common?
They've all been ejected from games for hitting Steven Adams during his rookie NBA season with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The towering New Zealand 20-year-old has shown a knack for aggravating opponents in a fascinating first season.
Before he even played his first official NBA game, he had managed to get under the skin (and into the wallets) of opponents with Nate Robinson fined US$10,000 (NZ$11, 700) for hitting Adams during the warmup summer league.
Since then he has clashed with just about every centre in the league despite playing only an average of 15 minutes a game. Jermaine O'Neal, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bogut, DeMarcus Cousins - the list goes on.
Veteran Dirk Nowitzki has even tagged him the "white Kendrick Perkins," and he doesn't mean that as a compliment. Perkins is known as a master of mixing it up down low, a trait that has earned him a notorious reputation around the league (that and his world-class glower). Adams is beginning to build a similar reputation.
Consequently, as well as being one of the most frequently hit players, he is also a player with the most fouls. He almost has more fouls than points. Certainly more fouls than baskets. In his short career he has 208 points and 169 fouls. In January he became the first player in three seasons to foul out in three successive games. If he were playing full games (about 36 minutes) he would be averaging 6.4 fouls. That's a lot.
All this makes him sound like a bit of a liability for his team but that's far from the case. He is, in fact, doing exactly as ordered by coach Scott Brooks.
"I tell him, 'don't worry about your fouls'," Brooks said.
"Play the brand of basketball we need you to play: tough, physical, protector of the paint and rim."
The Thunder were once regarded as a bit soft. It may well have been a misconception simply because they were a young team as Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant don't seem at all soft. But the addition of Perkins and now Adams has certainly added some toughness to the team and a lot of niggle.
Last week, he was part of a strong team effort that helped restrict Howard to just nine points as the Thunder beat conference rivals, the Houston Rockets. Perkins has a reputation for marking Howard well and he has obviously helped Adams with tips on how to do the same.
When he was drafted, Adams was forecasted to spend most of his time in the feeder D-league. But he adjusted to the NBA much more quickly than the experts expected.
He still has a lot to learn. He is guilty of giving away cheap fouls, particularly when he reaches over the back of another player. Like most rookies, he is inconsistent, mixing strong games in with nondescript games. And on the offensive end he has been a bit of a disappointment after a promising start. But a lot of that seems to be down to a lack of confidence, and that will surely grow the longer he is in the league.
While his scoring and rebounding stats (3.2 and 4.2 respectively) are not immediately impressive, he is doing the job his team needs.
Adams has already outperformed the low expectations held for him ahead of the season and the best is yet to come.
He will play meaningful minutes in the playoffs in his first season of pro basketball. That's a great start to any career.
The Dominion Post