When the Thunder traded James Harden to the Rockets, it seemed like the team got absolutely nothing in return. Kevin Martin wasn’t able to replace Harden’s production and Jeremy Lamb never developed into the dangerous offensive weapon the Thunder had hoped he would.
But the Thunder also received the No. 12 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft as part of the deal, which they used to select Pittsburgh’s Steven Adams. It’s a pick that makes Oklahoma City feel as if they’ve salvaged a valuable piece for their team after the infamous trade with Houston.
Injuries to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have crippled the Thunder this year. What was once a team with title aspirations, now sits at the very bottom of the Western Conference with a 3-12 record.
While it’s been a struggle for the OKC, it’s also provided a tremendous opportunity for some of the team’s younger players to take on more responsibility and further their games. Take Adams for example, who has seen his minutes nearly double from his rookie season to his sophomore campaign. With that increase in playing time, his production has skyrocketed as well. He’s averaging almost three times as many points per game as he did a year ago (8.3 to 3.3), twice as many blocks (1.3 to 0.7) and nearly three more rebounds per game (6.6 to 4.1).
Adams still has a long way to go, but he looks to be a vital cog in the Thunder’s plans moving forward. The seven-footer was kind enough to talk to Dime Mag about his earliest days back in New Zealand, his decision to attend the University of Pittsburgh, playing alongside two superstars and much more.
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Dime: Hey Steven, how are you doing today man?
Steven Adams: Not too bad lad, how about you?
Dime: Not too bad, either. You’re doing some work with American Express. You’re on their “Home Court Advantage” campaign, talk to me a little bit about what you’ve done with them and what you hope to accomplish with this campaign?
SA: What I’ve done with them so far is just some videos. They came to Oklahoma and we went around to some small businesses and what not and just had a little look around and played with the items. All it is — they come and…use it’s digital platform that allows fans more insight into the players.
Dime: I saw the video that will be released tomorrow. I saw you were looking at some Cowboy equipment. Didn’t expect that from you. Have you always been a big cowboy fan?
SA: No. But When I walked into the store I was. That was awesome, right? They had some cool stuff. The animal skins were pretty weird.
Dime: You don’t see that too often in New Zealand?
SA: Nah, not at all [laughs].
Dime: You were one of 18 siblings. What was it like growing up in a family with so many brothers and sisters?
SA: I fell normal about it. It was cool. I was the youngest but I didn’t get spoiled really or anything at that age. They just always picked on me, I had to do everything. All their chores and get bullied.
Dime: I have to imagine it’s hard to bully someone as big as yourself, but your brothers and sisters are pretty big too. The average height of your brothers is 6-9 so that’s a big family.
SA: Yeah it is, they’re not small mate. They’re not small.
Dime: You’re in the NBA now. Your sister is a two-time Olympic medalist. Are you the best athlete in the Adams family?
SA: No. Not at all. It sucks, don’t bring it up I hate you for it [laughs].
Dime: [laughs] Sorry for bringing that up. You decided to go to the University of Pittsburgh after transferring to the states as a senior. Most of the major programs in America were recruiting you, why did you pick the Panthers?
SA: Jamie [Dixon] asked first and I said yes. He came over to New Zealand and seen me over there. He actually used to play in New Zealand, professionally. He used to play basketball there and then he came over to coach the U-18 team and from there he was like ‘hey, do you want to play basketball in the states?’ and I was like ‘yeah’ and he was like ‘cool’. And that’s pretty much how it went.
Dime: It’s amazing how some of those connections happen. You stayed there your freshman year, made the All Big East rookie team. Did you ever consider staying past your freshman year or was the NBA your ultimate goal?
SA: I planned on it, staying there, and it just changed after a while. At the end of the season I just figured, yeah, might as well go to the NBA. That was like the thought process really.
Dime: In hindsight, even though you had a successful rookie season, do you have any regrets leaving after your freshman season?
SA: What I missed the most was just my teammates and my friends I made there. That’s the biggest thing that I miss. I’d like to spend more time with them, but in terms of that I can just see them another time really.
Dime: You ended up being the twelfth pick in the draft to Oklahoma City. Is that a place you saw as a destination you would have liked to go to prior to the draft?
SA: No. I had nothing in mind. I didn’t even know what was going on, it was like such a big whirlwind. When I came on my visit to Oklahoma, it was good stuff man. I mean really good stuff. I did actually like it, out of all my workouts that I had…it honestly was the place I actually wanted to end up because they were just really professional about everything. Sam Presti holds it down.
Dime: You ended up on the Thunder with some stars already — like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, what was it like as a rookie playing with established stars like that?
SA: It was tough man. It’s a whole new game, really. A different style. I had to kind of adjust to the pace that the Thunder play at. It’s like extremely fast and then when Russell gets on the court it’s like, really really extremely fast. I had to adjust to that. That was the biggest adjustment for me as a rookie. It was better on the defensive side of things.
Dime: You had some veteran bigs on the team like [Serge] Ibaka, [Kendrick] Perkins and [Nick] Collison. What’d you learn from them as you were getting acclimated to the NBA game?
SA: They taught me everything really. I just watched them. Every single time I was on the bench I always watched Perk to see what he did against different players and how he played defense, where he was on the court and spacing and whatnot. Nick and Serge, they’re all good dudes. They all come up to me after the game and tell me what to think about and stuff like that.
Dime: So Steven, let’s turn you into a scout. I’m going to throw some names at you and you tell me what they do that impresses you the most. You ready? Kevin Durant?
SA: He gives me food on the plane. That’s what I like most about him. Oh wait, do you mean personally or as a basketball player?
Dime: Either or both. Whatever you want to do here.
SA: Cool dude, laid back guy. Really good teammate.
Dime: Russell Westbrook?
SA: Really intense, really good teammate. Makes the whole team better.
Dime: Scott Brooks?
SA: Scotty Brooks? Really chilled out dude, laid back, funny. Funny dude, really is.
Dime: Steven Adams?
SA: Who? Immigrant, superstar [laughs]. Let’s skip that one.
Dime: The Thunder have struggled early on this year with KD and Russ, what have you guys learned as a team by playing without your two superstars?
SA: It’s weird because it just doesn’t feel like the whole team is here. I mean obviously they are, the whole team is here, but it’s just. I mean they’re always coaching us so they’re always still right there giving us tips and whatnot. You know, just kind feels that not everything is left, really. It’s all the same. There’s nothing the different. The system is still the same and all that, we’re just trying to pick up their workload as a team.
Dime: What’s the one area of your game that you think you need to improve on to take yourself to the next level?
SA: Free throw shooting and defense.
Dime: Who is the toughest guy to guard in the NBA?
SA: Al Jefferson and Zach Randolph.
Dime: What makes them so tough?
SA: Al Jefferson is just really good on the post. It’s ridiculous. He knows how to use his body and all that sort of stuff. He’s got [a] really good touch and he’s a tough guard. The other dude is Zach because every single time down the court is just a battle. Every single time. He has an extremely good motor and he’s really skilled as well.
Dime Mag: Last question here Steven. I’ve interviewed a lot of athletes but I’ve never heard a better accent then yours. Do you think it’s the best in the NBA?
SA: [Laughs] This is moving so fast. We should go on a date. It is pretty cool though, right?
What do you think?
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