Really thought I would have all this done by the end of last week. I was going to lump all the big men together, but given the panning of his first couple months (Insider subs.) nationally, followed by his game against the oh-so-overmatched Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (wildcats? Really? Well, it’s… generic.), along with another near double-double versus Delaware St., and the spirited defenses of him in by Coach Dixon. It just seemed that Steven Adams probably deserved his own spot.
At the very start of the season, Adams was facing the expectations. And after only one game, it prompted Joe Starkey to issue a warning.
We all agreed on these central facts:
• Adams is legitimately oblivious to the hype and harbors no desire to be “the man.” How that plays out — say, late in games when somebody has to be the man — will be interesting.
• His game is part raw and part refined. He‘ll block a layup, then step out to block a 3. He snaps a wicked outlet pass. He spots open men and gets the ball to them quickly, sometimes creatively.
On the other hand, he‘ll probably want to curtail those one-armed rebounds, judging from one coach‘s reaction, and his low-post game is undeveloped. Pitt didn‘t throw it to him inside until nearly eight minutes in.
• Man, can Adams run. He‘ll trail the break like a speeding freight train and finish with a flying alley-oop dunk. Which is precisely how he scored his first collegiate basket.
The rebounding with only one-arm is a common big man bad habit. Especially for freshmen big men who infrequently went up against players of similar size or physical strength. It was a very frustrating sight in several games. Adams was there for the rebound but either stabbed at it with only one hand — allowing a smaller defender to either go up and snatch it or knock it free — or let himself be bumped out of position because he wasn’t expecting anyone to be able to move him.
And it has only been in the past few games where he has started to shed that habit. Corralling and securing rebounds with both hands. Being more prepared and able to absorb contact. It’s a noticeable change in the stats. In the first 8 games, Adams had 35 rebounds. In the last 4 games: 39.
The rebounding — especially at the offensive end has jumped. 20 offensive rebounds in the past 4 games. Arguably, the only reason the number isn’t higher is the lack of opportunities. Pitt has shot over 6o% in the past two games and 59% the game before that.
The improvements are being noted by his teammates and Adams.
“Early in the season I think he was thinking too much,” junior forward Lamar Patterson said. “When you think too much it’s hard to play your game. You worry about little stuff that doesn’t even matter. It just doesn’t even feel natural. But he’s starting to not think as much and just play his game.”
Adams agreed with Patterson’s assessment.
“That’s probably spot-on,” Adams said. “I’ve been told that by all the coaches. I know I think too much. I’m just too nervous to make a mistake. I was playing like a robot, really.”
For Patterson, the struggles Adams endured were not a surprise. He was a freshman three years ago and knows how hard it is to make the transition from high school to Pitt.
“This program is built to move you along gradually,” Patterson said.
“That’s what you expect making the transition from high school,” Patterson said. “Everyone expected him to be ready right away, but it takes time. He’s getting his feet wet. He’s starting to get more comfortable out there and it’s starting to show in his game.
“As a freshman, it’s all mental. The college game can break you. You want to do well. It’s change of speed. He has to get up to speed, but he’s definitely getting there now.”
Also worth noting, despite his apparent obliviousness to the hype and importance of Big East play. He has been surprised and even a touch intimidated at the noise and excitement from the fans.
“Apparently it’s big,” he said. “Should be good.”
Adams said that he gets a little nervous when he first runs out in front of so many fans at Petersen Events Center.
Told that once the Big East season opens the crowds will be even bigger and louder, Adams laughed remembering the overtime win against Oakland.
“Oh my God, I couldn’t hear myself think,” he said. “Just constant yelling. It was cool, though.”
More adjustments that he is making and will have to make. It will be curious to see how he responds in an actual hostile venue.
His presence in the lane is huge. On defense, teams are acutely aware that there is a 7-footer there to defend inside. Even if teams don’t go directly at him to challenge, Pitt’s defense is noticeably better with him on the court. The backcourt can play up on the guards. There are better chances for steals. It helps mask some of the weaknesses in Talib Zanna’s defense.
Offense is a different issue. He is still struggling against more physical teams inside — something to watch with some concern when the Big East play begins. How much will he get moved out of the paint on offense. Both for being in position to grab offensive rebounds and to be in position to receive passes at spots where he can score (which, right now is within only a couple feet of the basket). His 60% field goal percentage is nice, but if he can’t be in position to score enough, it becomes a misleading stat it is coming from nights of going 3-for-5 from the field. As for free throws, um, that really, really needs work.
Michigan had him so agitated and pushed around, that he committed quick fouls and was not as much of a factor in that game. He is going to see a lot of that starting right before the New Year with Cinci. There isn’t going to be time for him to get stronger in the weight room this season, so he is going to have to absorb more punishment, and learn to hold his ground without using his arms — and getting called for fouls.
I think Pitt fans have shown early patience with him. At least it seems that way. Trying to figure out the reason, I think it is in no small part because he has that big, goofball, kid attitude. That he is out there having some fun and clearly still learning to play at this level. But there is also a little self-interest. With Adams being a little slower to catch on to the game, it increases the chance that he sticks around for at least another year. Giving Pitt even greater potential in 2013-14 for that squad to be truly special.
His potential is obvious, beyond simply the size. He already has good footwork. He has a certain fluidity in his movements to go with his athleticism. He’s very different from the recent big men of Gray, Blair and McGhee. In that way, as fans, we are still trying to figure out what we’ve got.