Last night, Steven Adams added to the tales people can talk about when referring to his strength by lifting and carrying Bulls center Tony Bradley from the three point line to half court without as much as an iota of strain across his face, following Bradley’s altercation with Ja Morant. This isn’t an easy feat, considering that Tony Bradley is listed as 248 pounds and is six foot ten. It just goes to show how strong Adams truly is, if his hard nosed approach and brick wall like screens hadn’t already made that evident.
His strength and his resemblance to the DC Superhero Aquaman due to his long hair (a product of budgetary reasons growing up and him keeping it long even when he could afford haircuts) are the two things that instantly come to mind whenever people are asked about Steven Adams and, today, we are going to talk about him, both from the sense of Steven Adams the basketball player and Steven Adams the person. Hopefully once I am said and done, you will have an appreciation for what the man offers on the court and his teddy bear like nature off it, just as I do. So, without further ado, let’s get into the discourse about Steven, shall we?
Just who is Steven Adams? What was his early life like?
The youngest of 18 children, Steven was born in Rotorua, New Zealand, in the Bay of Plenty region. His father is ex-military and his mother is Tongan, with Steven inheriting his height from his father (who was also 6’11”), just as the rest of his siblings had done. He grew up with his sister Valerie, who herself has been an Olympian in Shot put, including winning two gold medals to go with four world championship victories and three of his brothers (Sid Jr, Ralph and Warren). He grew up on a farm, where he never had access to cable and oftentimes, didn’t even have a TV at all, so he never watched basketball or much of anything while he was growing up alongside his siblings and mostly spent his time either with them or at school.
A funny story from his childhood is that one Friday, he had decided to use his two dollar and fifty cent allowance on chocolate coins, with the intention of then using them as currency to buy lollies from a different store once everybody else had walked home. Sadly, it didn’t work out, resulting in a laugh and a shake of the head from the dairy shop owner as he sulked off and headed back home.
His dad, who was and still is a massive influence on his life, passed away when he was 13 of stomach cancer, a death that he has stated was one of the defining moments in his life and hit him hard and led to him absconding from school, though his siblings would find out about that and admonish him, taking on the parental guidance role that his father had filled prior to his passing and helping to at least attempt to send Steven back on the right track in terms of his life and his education. Also following his father’s passing, his brother Warren would take him to Wellington and rescue him from the streets of Rotorua, introducing him to Wellington basketball legend Kenny McFadden who enrolled him into his basketball academy on the condition that he attended school at Scots College everyday if he wished to play basketball, something that motivated him to do better than people were expecting him to and enable him to use basketball as an outlet to let off steam and take his mind off the passing of his dad.
Whilst there had been pressure on him to go pro immediately following high school, he passed the NCAA’s clearinghouse/admissions upon graduation from high school in 2011, though went to Notre Dame Preparatory school in Fitchburg, Massachusetts for a semester in order to acclimatize himself to playing basketball in the US before enrolling with Pittsburgh University. His sole season there would be a means to develop his game and refine his tough-nosed, no-nonsense approach, and he would win the Big East rookie of the year award and average 7.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2 blocks per game, starting all 32 games he played that season. Electing to forgo his remaining years of eligibility, he would declare for the 2013 NBA Draft.
The Career of Steven Adams, An Analysis.
He would be drafted with the 12th pick by the OKC Thunder in that draft, though there was a debate within the Phoenix Suns on whether they should take him or Alex Len with the fifth pick, even leading to a mis-dial by (then) Suns GM Ryan McDonough when it came time for them to pick, leading to an awkward conversation between Ryan and Steven’s agent at the time. After signing his rookie-scale contract with the Thunder, he would make the biggest purchase of his career – a bed that was big enough for his six foot eleven frame and would enable him to have comfortable sleep for the first time in his life, a purchase that remains his biggest to this day, seeing as he had learned how to be frugal with money from his father.
His rookie season would be one focused around developing him as a player and adjusting to the NBA, as he would only average 3.3 points and 4.1 rebounds in 14.2 minutes per game, though would show the toughness, strength and physicality that has come to define him on the court in his limited minutes, even managing to earn all-rookie second team honors. His sophomore year would expand upon that development and enable him to show signs of having figured out his role within the league as a screen setting, rim running big that could grab rebounds and provide room for his teammates to drive (primarily Russell Westbrook in his Thunder days) as well as anchoring the defense, upping his minutes per game to 25.3 and averaging 7.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, essentially being a pinch scorer on offense.
That is a role he has retained throughout his career, even though he has averaged 13.9 points in both the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 seasons, both with the Thunder. He is also known to be a great locker room guy and a loveable character who gives back to charities and helps out in the communities wherever he goes. The sort of person you would want to have your back on and off the floor.
This season he has worked on developing his playmaking and passing out of the post to both shooters and cutters alike, averaging a career high 3 assists a game, although he is averaging his second lowest output in terms of points with 6.8. Per 100 possessions however, he is averaging career highs in both assists (5.8) and rebounds (17.7), which shows the two primary aspects of his role within the Memphis system, even if he finds himself at least somewhat in flux between being a starter and a bench center depending on matchup and health.
To him though, it doesn’t really matter because you know that no matter whether he’s out there with the starters or with the back ups, he’s going to give you the same intensity and effort each and every possession he is on the floor. It’s what has made him an extremely good fit with Memphis, following their move in the off-season to bring him in in exchange for Jonas Valanciunas and the squad as a whole to not lose a step following the move. His screens and presence also enable for easy pick and roll opportunities and off-ball screens to enable scoring for either himself or his teammates, keeping the offense in rhythm and constantly able to find the best possible shot, hence leading to them being right in the thick of the action at the top of the Western Conference. The perfect example of a player who’s full influence on a game isn’t always going to show up on the stat sheet and only truly becomes evident when you sit down and watch him play. To me, he’s the sort of center that would be home and find a role in any era due to the aforementioned strength and ability to “bang” down on the low post, even as the game has adapted and adjusted to stretch big men (or at least big men who can shoot). He may come across as a relic, but to me personally – he’s a sign that the old school style big man still has a place in the ever-evolving and changing NBA climate.
Adams is one of those players I’ll always enjoy watching and would even sit down and chat with. No autographs or pictures though, as he isn’t the sort of person who does that sort of thing – which if I’m being honest, makes him seem like a genuine, down to earth person. A beer and a meal would be enough. I hope reading this has allowed you to at least get a glimpse of how he got to where he is today as well as how he has become the player you see night in and night out. Even beyond the lifting of Tony Bradley as if he were a bag of groceries.