There is good news and bad news for Steven Adams, a 7-foot freshman center who decided to leave Pitt after one season to declare for the NBA draft.
The good: He is taking advantage of a weak draft class and NBA teams are always searching for 7-foot centers, especially ones with the athletic skills Adams possesses.
The bad: It might be a while before Adams is playing meaningful minutes in the league.
"It's a shame, really," said one longtime NBA scout who did not want to be identified because it is against NBA policy to comment on players before the league releases an official list of underclassmen eligible for the draft. "There is a lot more development that needs to be done there. Whether he was at Pitt or in the NBA, he is a ways away from helping an NBA team. But there are a lot of guys in the NBA who fit that description."
Adams, a New Zealand native, surprised many in college basketball and the NBA Tuesday when he announced he is leaving Pitt after one season.
Adams averaged 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in his only college campaign. He said after the Panthers were eliminated from the NCAA tournament two weeks ago that he intended to return for his sophomore season, but family financial hardship is the main reason is he is turning professional.
Kenny McFadden, who coached Adams at his Wellington, New Zealand academy before he left for Pitt, shed some light on why Adams chose to leave.
"His No. 1 goal always was to help his family," McFadden said. "They had some problems during the season. Some things happened."
McFadden declined to get into specifics about Adams' family situation. He said Adams was due back in Wellington today and would be addressing his decision with reporters there. McFadden said Adams is set to return to the United States in another week or so.
McFadden said Adams and his family had no problem with the way he was coached or utilized at Pitt.
"Not at all," McFadden said. "He was completely happy at Pitt."
McFadden also said Adams was influenced by the injuries to NBA prospect Nerlens Noel of Kentucky and Kevin Ware of Louisville in the season. McFadden did not say it was the main factor in the decision, but he cited it as one of the reasons.
McFadden said Adams and his family are aware that he is not guaranteed to be a first-round pick, but said there are risks in staying in college, too.
"The risks can be seen both ways," McFadden said. "You see what happened with the kid from Louisville and Noel. Injury can occur. ... You could say he'd be better off coming back for another year of college, or you could say he might be better prepared getting thrown into the deep end and learning."
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon played basketball with and against Adams' older brothers in the late 1980s when he played professionally in New Zealand. He said he was made aware in the season that the family was going through some financial problems and that Adams might be forced to leave.
"In our conversations he was saying, 'I want to be here,' but I was well aware of the family situation," Dixon said. "I have a history with the family. It's tough. He really loved it here. He's loved [his teammates] all the way through. It's hard. I know what he'd say, but I also knew what his family was saying when I had discussions with them."
Adams is projected in several mock drafts as a mid to late first-round pick. Last season, the No. 15 pick earned $1,440,000 with a slight increase in the second year of the contract. According to the collective bargaining agreement, the contracts of the first two years of rookie first-round picks are guaranteed. There are team options in the third and fourth years of NBA contracts. The No. 30 pick, the final one in the first round, earned $850,000 with an increase to $889,000 in the second year.
The NBA scout who spoke with the Post-Gazette would not commit to saying Adams was a definite first-round draft pick because he did not know how many other underclassmen would declare in the coming weeks.
But this is a year when a raw talent can be a first-rounder because the draft pool is not deep.
"He showed that he is a legit athlete, he's 7 feet tall and he has decent hands," the scout said. "He looks raw in his decision-making. It didn't seem like he had a lot of confidence when he got the ball in the post. He has a lot of basketball in front of him, a lot of learning to do. But it's not a secret that this is not a strong draft. There will be a lot of players coming out without that 'ready' label on them. And when no one is ready, everyone is ready."
It would not be out of the ordinary for Adams to spend time in the NBA's developmental league before earning a permanent job on an NBA team. Many first-round draft picks are relegated to the D-League for seasoning because teams want younger players to play rather than sit on the bench.
One notable former first-round pick to take this route is former Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet, who was the No. 2 overall pick in 2009 and had to spend two seasons honing his game in the D-League before making an impact in the NBA. He now plays for Oklahoma City, his third NBA team in four years.
"People question it, but at the end of the day, [Adams] has the size, the athletic ability," Dixon said. "They draft youth and it's all about down the road. A lot of these guys aren't playing a lot, or might be in the [developmental league]. I'm not saying Steve will be in that situation, but that's how it works."
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @rayfitt1. First Published April 4, 2013 4:00 AM