By Murray Evans, AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY —
Just as NBA teams do their homework on draft prospects, Steven Adams studied NBA teams that might draft him. Safe to say, he’s thrilled with where he landed.
Two days after Oklahoma City selected the 19-year-old New Zealander 12th overall in the NBA draft, Adams joined fellow Thunder newcomers Andre Roberson and Grant Jerrett at an introductory news conference Saturday and expressed his enthusiasm with his new home.
When he learned he was going to the Thunder, “It felt like my birthday and Christmas put together,” Adams said.
He said the Thunder’s “commitment at both ends” of player development stood out to him during the pre-draft process. “Players are super-committed to developing their game every day and working hard, but it isn’t just the players,” he said. “Also, the staff, all of them — the management, the office people — they just set a whole new expectation, because they’re real professional.”
Assuming he makes the Thunder roster, the 7-foot, 250-pound Adams will be only the fourth New Zealand-born player to play in the NBA — joining Sean Marks, Kirk Penney and Aron Baynes — and was the first to be drafted in the first round.
One of 18 siblings, Adams played rugby growing up and didn’t start taking basketball seriously until he turned 12. His half-sister, Valerie Kasanita Vili-Adams, won Olympic gold medals in the shot put 2008 and 2012 and is a three-time world champion in the event.
After a year at a prep school in Massachusetts, Adams spent last season at Pittsburgh, where he averaged 7.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots as a freshman while shooting 57.1 percent. He said he’s looking forward to learning the pro game from the Thunder’s incumbent starting center, Kendrick Perkins, whose father lives in New Zealand.
“(Adams) is someone that plays incredibly physical for a young player,” Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti said. “ He has a great set of hands around the basket and is someone we think has a tremendous ability to show rapid improvement.”
The Thunder acquired the rights to Roberson, who was taken 26th overall by Golden State, in a draft-night trade. Before the draft, the 6-foot-7 guard from Colorado had been projected as a second-round pick and his college coach, Tad Boyle, was among those who encouraged Roberson to stay with the Buffaloes for his senior season.
Roberson, the Pacific-12 defensive player of the year and a first-team all-conference selection, nonetheless entered the draft and ended up being a first-round pick. Boyle texted Roberson on Thursday night and said, “What the heck do I know? Congratulations.”
“I knew (the Thunder) were interested in me, along with a couple of other teams, but I didn’t know that they were going to jump up and get me,” Roberson said. “It surprised me. I’m happy to be in this position.”
Roberson averaged 10.9 points and 11.2 rebounds and finished second in rebounding in NCAA Division I last season. With Roberson on the team, Colorado won 20 or more games for three straight seasons for the first time in the program’s history.
“His persistence, his activity and his endurance within the game as a competitor are all signs of a player that’s going to continue to improve with hard work,” Presti said.
In another draft-night deal, Oklahoma City bought the rights to Jerrett, who was taken 40th overall in the second round by Portland. The 6-foot-10 forward out of Arizona didn’t start for the Wildcats, averaging 5.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 17.8 minutes per game.
“Grant caught our eye in practice earlier this year, very early on in the fall, and has demonstrated the ability to shoot the ball for his size and also has an uncanny awareness on the floor for a frontcourt player,” Presti said.
Oklahoma City also drafted 19-year-old Alex Abrines of Spain with the 32nd overall pick in the second round. Presti said Abrines, a 6-foot-6 guard, will remain in Spain — where he now plays for FC Barcelona — for an undetermined length of time. Current Thunder star Serge Ibaka also played in Spain for a season after being drafted by the Thunder in 2008.
The Thunder won 60 games last season and with the team’s depth, there’s a good chance Adams, Roberson and Jerrett will spend much time during the 2013-14 season at Oklahoma City’s NBA D-League affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, Presti said, as it would give them the opportunity for more playing time, which would speed their development.
“Every one of these players has a different timeline,” Presti said. “We’ve learned that over the years. Players develop at different rates. Some of it is opportunity. Some of it is physical maturity. Some of that is just adjustment to the professional level.
“So we’ll take a baseline reading of where each guy is over the summer, take a look in camp and see where they are plotting on that development arc, then make decisions about how to accelerate their development whenever possible through the year in Tulsa, if they’re not getting regular minutes” in Oklahoma City.
All three will also play on Oklahoma City’s NBA Summer League team in Orlando next month.
Many draft observers gave the Thunder fair-to-poor grades for the team’s draft selections, but Presti said he doesn’t pay much attention to what those outside his organization think about such things.
“We’ve never really looked outside for affirmation of our decision-making,” he said.
“We’ve always focused on bringing in young players who are motivated to work, motivated to improve, motivated to get better. That’s the mark of a mark of a high-performing organization and that’s what we’re striving to accomplish here in Oklahoma City, to continue to layer our team and our roster with like-minded players.”