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A Decade of Drafts: Which Teams Fared Best?

A team-by-team look at the last 10 NBA Drafts. Which teams fared best and which fared worst?

Eric Pincus

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On Thursday, another 60 prospects will be chosen in the NBA Draft.

Every year, the draft can be a minefield as teams hope to find a franchise-altering player, often choosing among under-developed 18- or 19-year-olds.  Even the most-heralded prospects may not live up to their “potential.”

Simply landing a starter in the draft can be a win, especially for those teams picking outside of the lottery’s top 14 selections.

A team like the Oklahoma City Thunder is a rarity – drafting all five of its current starters.  Having the fortune of landing Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (as the Seattle SuperSonics) played a big part, but then so did smart decisions in selecting Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams and Andre Roberson. That group was one win away from an NBA Finals berth.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Portland Trail Blazers chose Greg Oden over Durant.  Oden’s short career was plagued with injury and while he may have been a sensible pick in the moment, Oden’s body just couldn’t take the physical stress at the NBA level and Durant is one of the league’s stop stars.

Meanwhile, the Miami HEAT chose Michael Beasley second in 2008, after the Chicago Bulls selected future league MVP Derrick Rose as the top overall pick.  Next, the Memphis Grizzlies selected O.J. Mayo – both Beasley and Mayo drafted ahead of five-time All-Star in Westbrook, who went fourth.

Then there are steals like Draymond Green (35th in 2012), Marc Gasol (48th in 2007), Paul Millsap (47th in 2006) and Isaiah Thomas (60th in 2011). Or, conversely, disappointments like Anthony Bennett (first in 2013), Hasheem Thabeet (second in 2009) and Andrea Bargnani (first in 2006).  The odds say none of the first group are likely to be All-Stars, while Bennett, Thabeet and Bargnani never neared hopes and expectations.

Even for teams who do pick well, success on the court takes time.  The Minnesota Timberwolves have back-to-back Rookies of the Year in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, and yet the franchise finished with just 29 wins last season.

A significant percentage of draft picks don’t last five seasons.  Some never make the league – in fact, guard D.J. Strawberry, taken by the Phoenix Suns in 2007, is the last 59th pick to play on an NBA regular-season roster.

Who will be the star of the 2016 NBA Draft?

Are Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram really that far ahead of the pack?  Or with the benefit 10 years hindsight, will someone like Buddy Hield, Marquese Chriss, Domantas Sabonis, Thon Maker or even Zhou Qi be the player who was foolishly overlooked?

The draft is full of potential – for both success and failure.  That’s why some general managers would happily deal away that long shot at a star for a proven one in trade.

Of course, when a team does hit the jackpot in the draft, they essentially get a decade with a franchise player.

The following tables represent an analysis of the last 10 years of the draft, from 2006 to 2015 (click each team name for a more in-depth breakdown of their picks):

Results

Team Picks All-Stars A.S.
Games
A.S. Games for Draft Team Starter Not in NBA Picks 1-15 Picks 16-30 Picks 31-60
Philadelphia 76ers 29 1 (3.4%) 1 1 7 (24.1%) 13 (44.8%) 8 6 15
Portland Trail Blazers 29 3 (10.3%) 10 9 4 (13.8%) 12 (41.4%) 7 8 14
Oklahoma City Thunder 27 3 (11.1%) 16 12 7 (25.9%) 13 (48.1%) 8 8 11
Minnesota Timberwolves 26 1 (3.8%) 3 3 5 (19.2%) 9 (34.6%) 10 4 12
Detroit Pistons 25 1 (4.0%) 1 1 8 (32.0%) 12 (48.0%) 7 1 17
Houston Rockets 25 0 0 0 1 (4.0%) 11 (44.0%) 3 7 15
Boston Celtics 23 1 (4.3%) 4 4 2 (8.7%) 12 (52.2%) 2 9 12
Brooklyn Nets 23 1 (4.3%) 1 1 2 (8.7%) 14 (60.9%) 3 9 11
Cleveland Cavaliers 22 1 (4.5%) 3 3 6 (27.3%) 10 (45.5%) 5 5 12
Utah Jazz 22 1 (4.5%) 3 0 4 (18.2%) 9 (40.9%) 7 5 10
Milwaukee Bucks 21 0 0 0 7 (33.3%) 9 (42.9%) 7 2 12
New York Knicks 20 0 0 0 4 (20.0%) 10 (50.0%) 3 7 10
San Antonio Spurs 20 1 (5.0%) 1 1 1 (5.0%) 13 (65.0%) 1 7 12
Atlanta Hawks 19 2 (10.5%) 5 5 2 (10.5%) 7 (36.8%) 4 5 10
Los Angeles Lakers 19 1 (5.3%) 2 0 3 (15.8%) 9 (47.4%) 2 3 14
Memphis Grizzlies 19 1 (5.3%) 2 0 3 (15.8%) 9 (47.4%) 5 7 7
Phoenix Suns 19 0 0 0 3 (15.8%) 9 (47.4%) 7 5 7
Charlotte Hornets 18 0 0 0 6 (33.3%) 5 (27.8%) 9 3 6
Golden State Warriors 18 3 (16.7%) 6 6 4 (22.2%) 9 (50.0%) 7 4 7
Sacramento Kings 18 2 (11.1%) 3 2 6 (33.3%) 6 (33.3%) 9 2 7
Washington Wizards 18 1 (5.6%) 3 3 2 (11.1%) 8 (44.4%) 5 6 7
Chicago Bulls 17 3 (17.6%) 7 7 5 (29.4%) 3 (17.6%) 5 7 5
Orlando Magic 17 0 0 0 2 (11.8%) 8 (47.1%) 5 3 9
Dallas Mavericks 16 0 0 0 0 13 (81.3%) 0 6 10
Indiana Pacers 16 2 (12.5%) 5 5 2 (12.5%) 5 (31.3%) 4 4 8
Los Angeles Clippers 16 1 (6.3%) 5 5 4 (25%) 8 (50%) 4 3 9
Denver Nuggets 15 0 0 0 5 (33.3%) 6 (40.0%) 1 6 8
Toronto Raptors 15 1 (6.7%) 2 2 5 (33.3%) 5 (33.3%) 5 2 8
Miami HEAT 14 0 0 0 2 (14.3%) 5 (35.7%) 2 3 9
New Orleans Pelicans 14 1 (7.1%) 3 3 1 (7.1%) 8 (57.1%) 5 3 6
Totals: 600 32 (5.3%)  86 73 115 (19.2%) 270 (45.0%)      

Each team links to a breakdown of their 10-year performance.

Note: Players are associated with either their drafting team or the franchise that acquired them on a draft-day trade.  For instance, Gasol is on record a pick of the Lakers – even if they traded him before he joined the league (to the Grizzlies to acquire his brother Pau Gasol, prior to Marc Gasol).

Adams was a Thunder pick, acquired prior to the draft from the Houston Rockets for James Harden – another stellar pick from the Oklahoma City franchise.

The Indiana Pacers technically selected Kawhi Leonard, but he’s considered a San Antonio Spurs’ pick, via draft-day trade for George Hill.  Wiggins is credited to the Cleveland Cavaliers, dealt two months later to the Wolves for Kevin Love.

To qualify as a starter in this analysis, a player needed to start a minimum of 50 games for at least 40 percent of their career.  “Not in NBA” includes players who were not on a team’s roster to finish this past year, who played fewer than six seasons in the league.

Additionally, the results for the most recent drafts will evolve over time, more so than older classes.

Baseline

The following table shows the league averages from 2006 to 2015, by tier:

Pick All-Star Starter Not in NBA
1-5 12 (24%) 30 (60%) 3 (6%)
6-10 8 (16%) 30 (60%) 7 (14%)
11-15 2 (4%) 12 (24%) 8 (16%)
16-20 3 (6%) 10 (20%) 8 (16%)
21-25 2 (4%) 8 (16%) 15 (30%)
26-30 1 (2%) 5 (10%) 20 (40%)
31-40 1 (2%) 11 (11%) 52 (52%)
41-50 2 (2%) 8 (8%) 70 (70%)
51-60 1 (1%) 1 (1%) 87 (87%)
Total 32 (5.3%) 115 (19.7%) 270 (45.0%)

Top Teams

The Bulls have selected three All-Stars in just 17 drafts, the best rate in the league at 17.6 percent.  Unfortunately, injuries have slowed former league MVP Rose, but the team also found Joakim Noah in 2007 with the ninth overall pick and stole Jimmy Butler at 30 in 2011.  The Bulls also chose starters in Thabo Sefolosha (2006-13th) and Omer Asik (2008-36th), although both found most of their success outside of Chicago.  Only three of the Bulls’ picks were out of the league within five years, best in the league at 17.6 percent.

Golden State built a championship roster with four starters (three All-Stars) in 19 picks, with Stephen Curry (2009-7th), Klay Thompson (2011-11th), Harrison Barnes (2012-7th) and Green.  Finding an All-Star in the second round is very rare — just four so far over the past decade.

The Pacers got both Paul George (2010-10th) and departed center Roy Hibbert (2008-17th) in the draft, a high percentage of All-Stars (12.5 percent) in just 16 picks – but the pair represents the only starters thus far.  Rookie Myles Turner (2015-11th) showed great potential last season as a possible third.  Only five of the team’s picks were quickly out of the NBA (31.3 percent), third-best in the league.

The Hornets, formerly drafting as the Bobcats, have yet to land an All-Star in the draft, although Kemba Walker (2011-9th) made a strong case this past year.  Charlotte found six starters in 18 tries (33.3 percent) – among the best in the league, although only Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2012-2nd) and Walker remain on the roster.  Charlotte is also second to the Bulls with only 27.8 percent of players falling out of the league within five years.

Oklahoma City’s trio of Durant, Westbrook and Harden have combined to play in 16 All-Star games, although Harden’s four were with the Rockets.  Even at 12, the Thunder eclipse the next-best team in the Trail Blazers, who generated 10 All-Star appearances among Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge (nine in Portland) and Brandon Roy.

The Kings also have better than average numbers, finding six starters (33.3 percent) in 18 tries.  In addition to All-Star DeMarcus Cousins (2010-5th), Sacramento made one of the best picks over the last 10 years in Thomas at the end of the 2011 draft.  Thomas has since moved on to the Suns and now the Celtics, where he earned his first All-Star berth this past season.

Minnesota’s trade record may not be reflected just yet in the numbers, but recent draft picks may yield a different result in a year’s time.

Bottom Teams

Of the Mavericks’ 16 picks, 13 didn’t last five years (81.3 percent).  To be fair, Dallas hasn’t picked in the top 15, with 10 picks (62.5 percent) coming in the second round.

Boston’s best pick was Rajon Rondo (2006-21st), but the team has only found two starters in 23 picks (8.7 percent) with 12 out of the league (52.2 percent).  The Nets are worse, also with two starters in 23 selections, but 14 didn’t last five years (60.9 percent).  In addition to their lone All-Star (Brook Lopez, 2008-10th), the Nets dealt Derrick Favors (2010-3rd) to the Utah Jazz for an injury-plagued Deron Williams.

The Grizzlies have drafted one All-Star in 19 picks: Kyle Lowry, who earned the honor with the Toronto Raptors.  They found three starters (15.8 percent), but made two major gaffes in choosing Thabeet over Harden and Mayo over Westbrook.

The Pelicans, formerly the Hornets, have found one just one starter in the league in 14 tries, worst in the league (7.1 percent).  That their one success was Anthony Davis (2012-1st) is enough to make up for the other misses – but then, how hard was the decision once the team won the lottery in 2012?

Finally, the Spurs have a reputation for finding steals in the draft, but outside of Leonard, who was undoubtedly a tremendous pick at 15th overall in 2011, San Antonio hasn’t found any other starters in 20 tries. And only the Mavericks have a higher percentage of picks out of the league within five years. While 13 of the Spurs’ 20 picks are not in the NBA (65 percent), 18 were in the 26 to 59th range.

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2017-18 NBA Report Card: Third-Year Players

Among the third-year players a few budding superstars have emerged, along with some role players who are helping their teams in the 2017-18 NBA Playoffs.

Mike Yaffe

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The 2015 NBA Draft has provided the league with a limited quantity of talent so far. After Terry Rozier (at 16th), it’s unlikely that anyone remaining has All-Star potential. Despite the lack of depth, the highest draft slot traded was at number 15, when the Atlanta Hawks moved down to enable the Washington Wizards to select Kelly Oubre Jr.

But placing a definitive “boom” or “bust” label on these athletes might be premature as the rookie contract is standardized at four seasons with an option for a fifth. If their employers are given a fourth year to decide whether a draftee is worth keeping, it seems reasonable to earmark the NBA Juniors’ progress for now and see how they’ve fared after next season’s campaign before making their letter grades official.

The Top Dogs

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves: Given the dearth of premier choices and their glaring need up front, it’s hard to envision the T-Wolves drafting anyone but KAT if they had to do it again. Although his scoring average is down from last season (21.3 vs. 25.1 PPG), that trend could be explained by the addition of Jimmy Butler and the team’s deliberate pace (24th out of 30 teams).

To his credit, Towns had career highs in three-point percentage (42.1 percent) and free throws (85.8 percent), while finishing second overall in offensive rating (126.7). His continued improvement in these areas could explain why the Timberwolves ended their 14-year playoff drought.

Nikola Jokić, Denver Nuggets: Although he was a 2014 draft pick, Jokić’s NBA debut was delayed due to his last year of commitment to the Adriatic League. His productivity as a rookie was limited by both foul trouble and a logjam at the center position, but he still managed 10.0 PPG.

With Joffrey Lauvergne and Jusuf Nurkic off the depth chart, Jokić became the clear-cut starter this season and rewarded Denver’s confidence by averaging 18.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. And by chipping in 6.1 APG, he provides rare value as a center with triple-double potential.

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks: Although he has never played a full season since joining the league, Porzingis has provided enough evidence that he can be a force when healthy. Before his junior campaign was derailed, the Latvian was enjoying career highs of 22.7 PPG and 39.5 percent shooting from behind the arc.

Unfortunately, the Knicks haven’t provided much support at point guard to help with Porzingis’ development. Trey Burke looked impressive down the stretch in Zinger’s absence, but that was in a score-first capacity. Meanwhile, both Frank Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay have underwhelmed. On the plus side, Porzingis’ outside ability paired nicely in the frontcourt with Enes Kanter, who prefers to bully his way underneath.

Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns: Like Porzingis, Booker’s third year in the NBA was cut short by injuries, but that didn’t stop him from achieving career highs in points (24.9 per game), assists (4.7) and three-pointers (38.3 percent) on an otherwise moribund Suns team. Indeed, cracking the 40-point barrier three times in 54 contests was an achievement in and of itself.

While his short-term prospects would’ve been far better on a team like the Philadelphia Sixers (who might have taken him instead of Jahlil Okafor in a re-draft), Booker can still become a franchise cornerstone for the Suns if they are able to build around a young core that also includes T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson.

Solid Potential

Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers: Despite an inconsistent freshman season at Texas, Turner has become a stabilizing influence at center for the Pacers, whose blueprint consists of surrounding a go-to scorer with role players. While he hasn’t shown drastic improvement in any particular area, he has produced double-digit PPG averages all three years as a pro.

Although Turner’s shot-blocking ability fuels his reputation as a defensive maven, the reality is his 104.8 defensive rating (which is just OK) was skewed by his 110.9 d-rating in losses (it was 100.8 in wins). In order to merit consideration for the NBA’s all-defensive team, he will need to bridge the gap in this discrepancy and impact his team’s ability to win more games in the process.

D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets: Following their respective trades, Russell has fared better in the Big Apple than his 2015 lottery counterpart Emmanuel Mudiay, as the Los Angeles Lakers were forced to cut bait to draft Lonzo Ball. While Ball has shown promise as a rookie, the Lakers’ perception of Russell may have been premature, as the former Buckeye has stabilized a Nets backcourt that had been characterized more by athleticism than consistency.

Despite missing a significant stretch of mid-season games, Russell provided similar numbers for Brooklyn to that of his sophomore season; but without a pick until number 29 in the upcoming NBA Draft, the Nets will have to bank on improved production from DLo and his raw teammates to contend for the eight-seed in the East.

Terry Rozier, Boston Celtics: Injuries have paved the way for Rozier to showcase his talent, most recently with a 23-point, 8-assist effort in game two against the Milwaukee Bucks. But Rozier was already making headlines as a fill-in for Kyrie Irving whenever he was injured. Now that the starting point guard reins have been handed to the former mid-round pick, he has become one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2017-18 NBA season.

The biggest impediment to Rozier’s success might be the regression to limited playing time once Irving returns. While the Celtics could “sell high” and trade Rozier on the basis of his recent performances, they may opt to retain him as insurance while he is still cap-friendly.

Best of the Rest

Larry Nance Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers: Following the trade deadline, Nance has provided a spark for a Cavs frontcourt that has been bereft of viable options aside from Kevin Love.

Josh Richardson, Miami HEAT: A jack-of-all-trades at the small forward position, Richardson has evolved into a three-and-D player that has meshed well with the HEAT’s shut-down focus.

Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings: Thrust into the starting center role after the trade of DeMarcus Cousins, WCS has provided serviceable (albeit unspectacular) play as the next man up.

Delon Wright, Toronto Raptors: A key contributor for the East’s top seed, Wright was instrumental in the Raptors’ game one victory over the Washington Wizards with 18 points off the bench.

Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls: The former Razorback has flashed double-double potential, but playing time at his true position (power forward) has been limited by the emergence of rookie Lauri Markkanen.

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NBA Daily: Looking At The 2018 Draft Class By Tiers

The NBA Draft is a hard thing to predict, especially when it comes to draft order and individual team needs, Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler takes a look at how this draft looks in tiers.

Steve Kyler

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Looking At The 2018 Draft In Tiers

While Mock Drafts are an easy way to look at how the NBA Draft might play out, what they do no do is give a sense of what a specific player might be as a player at the next level. With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at how some of the notable NBA draft prospects project.

It’s important to point out that situation and circumstance often impact how a player develops, even more so than almost any other variable.

So while the goal here is to give a sense of how some NBA teams and insiders see a draft prospect’s likely potential, it is by no means meant to suggest that a player can’t break out of his projection and become more or sometimes less than his he was thought to be.

Every draft class has examples of players projected to be one thing that turns out to be something else entirely, so these projections are not meant to be some kind of final empirical judgment or to imply a specific draft position, as each team may value prospects differently.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at the 2018 NBA Draft in Tiers.

The Potential Future All-Stars

DeAndre Ayton – Arizona – C – 7’0″ – 245 lbs – 20 yrs
Luka Doncic – Real Madrid – SG – 6’7″ – 218 lbs – 19 yrs
Michael Porter Jr – Missouri – SF/PF – 6’10” – 216 lbs – 20 yrs

Maybe Stars, But Likely High-Level Starters

Jaren Jackson Jr. – Michigan State – PF – 6’10” – 225 lbs – 19 yrs
Marvin Bagley III – Duke – PF – 6’11” – 220 lbs – 19 yrs
Wendell Carter – Duke – PF – 6’10” – 257 lbs – 19 yrs
Mohamed Bamba – Texas – C – 7’0″ – 216 lbs – 20 yrs
Collin Sexton – Alabama – PG – 6’2″ – 184 lbs – 19 yrs
Mikal Bridges – Villanova – SG/SF – 6’7″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Robert Williams – Texas A&M – C – 6’9″ – 235 lbs – 21 yrs
Miles Bridges – Michigan State – SF/PF – 6’7″ – 230 lbs – 20 yrs
Dzanan Musa – Cedevita – SF – 6′ 9″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Kentucky – SG – 6′ 6″ – 181 lbs – 20 yrs
Trae Young – Oklahoma – PG – 6’2″ – 180 lbs – 20 yrs

Maybe Starters, But Surely Rotation Players

Kevin Knox – Kentucky – SF – 6’9″ – 206 lbs – 19 yrs
Troy Brown – Oregon – SG – 6’6″ – 210 lbs – 19 yrs
Khyri Thomas – Creighton – SG – 6′ 3″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Zhaire Smith – Texas Tech – SG – 6′ 5″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Rodions Kurucs – FC Barcelona B – SF – 6′ 9″ – 220 lbs – 20 yrs
Aaron Holiday – UCLA – PG – 6′ 1″ – 185 lbs – 22 yrs
Jacob Evans – Cincinnati – SF – 6′ 6″ – 210 lbs – 21 yrs
De’Anthony Melton – USC – PG – 6’4″ – 190 lbs – 20 yrs

The Swing For The Fence Prospects – AKA Boom-Or-Bust

Lonnie Walker – Miami – SG – 6’4″ – 206 lbs – 20 yrs
Mitchell Robinson – Chalmette HS – C – 7′ 0″ – 223 lbs – 20 yrs
Anfernee Simons – IMG Academy – SG – 6′ 5″ – 177 lbs – 19 yrs
Jontay Porter – Missouri – C – 6′ 11″ – 240 lbs – 19 yrs
Lindell Wigginton – Iowa State – PG – 6′ 2″ – 185 lbs – 20 yrs
Bruce Brown – Miami – SG – 6’5″ – 191 lbs – 22 yrs
Isaac Bonga – Skyliners (Germany) – SF/SG – 6’9″ – 203 lbs – 19 yrs
Hamidou Diallo – Kentucky – SG – 6’5″ – 197 lbs – 20 yrs

Players not listed are simply draft prospects that could be drafted, but don’t project clearly into any of these tiers.

If you are looking for a specific player, check out the Basketball Insiders Top 100 Prospects list, this listing is updated weekly.

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NBA Daily: Darius Adams, Around The World In Seven Years

CBA superstar Darius Adams talks to Basketball Insiders about dominating in China, playing with Andray Blatche and trying to prove himself.

Ben Nadeau

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Darius Adams is just like every other professional basketball player.

Every year, he works hard, tries to improve and be the best teammate possible. One day, Adams would like to earn his first-ever NBA contract, but after seven long years, he’s always fallen just short. Adams is just like you and me too — forever chasing his dreams even when the outlook is at its bleakest. But Adams’ worldwide journey has taken him from Indianapolis to China and nearly everywhere in between.

Now with a chunk of money saved up, Adams is ready to bet on himself and finally make this at-home ambition come true. Ahead lies a summer of grueling workouts and undetermined futures, but eventually, you learn to stop betting against Adams. From Los Prados to Laboral Kutxa Baskonia, Adams has made a habit of proving the naysayers wrong. As if dropping 38 points per game in China wasn’t difficult enough — Adams still must undergo his toughest challenge yet: Changing the mind of an NBA front office.

But before you can know where Adams is going, it’s just as important to understand where he’s been.

*****

Darius Adams got a late start to basketball. He never played AAU, the so-called holy grail for teenage prospects, and told me that he learned the game by watching streetball in Decatur, Illinois. So by the time he fell in love with basketball, Adams was forced to take alternate routes to the top. He spent two years in the NJCAA with Lincoln College, a small, private liberal arts school approximately 33 miles away from home. During that second season, Adams averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game on 44 percent shooting from the floor — but it wasn’t enough to make the jump to a Division-I school.

After transferring to the University of Indianapolis, Adams continued to improve in each successive campaign. As a senior, he topped out with a 41-point effort against Illinois at Springfield and tallied 23.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Nevertheless, Adams still went undrafted in 2011, officially setting off a globe-spanning adventure that would make Phileas Fogg blush.

From China to Ukraine, Adams has played in seven different countries in as many years, also adding stops in Venezuela, Dominican Republic, France, Germany and Spain along the way. Adams may have turned 29 years-old this week, but he’s never considered giving up his dreams of playing in the NBA.

“That’s the goal, that’s always been my motivation,” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “I just played my hardest and kept progressing, that was my thing — I didn’t want to be content with: ‘OK, you’re playing pro.’ I want to play at the highest level, I feel like I have the talent to play at the highest level.

“At the end of the day, I just need that opportunity.”

Opportunity is a word that has come to define Adams in many ways.

Beyond that, it’s something that has constantly eluded him, even as he began winning in bigger and better leagues. Despite all his international successes, including a EuroLeague Final Four appearance and a CBA championship, Adams has been unable to turn that into an NBA contract. As far as he can tell, it’s a matter of both perception and timing.

The perception of overseas athletes, particularly those that compete in China, has always been a hot-button issue. For as long as Americans have played in the CBA, there’s an unspoken expectation that they should dominate. Generalizations abound, if you’re from the United States and not dominating in China, there’s a low chance of earning an NBA deal. But sometimes, even topping the CBA charts still isn’t enough. This season, Adams averaged a league-leading 38.7 points and added 8.4 assists (2nd-best), 6.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals (3rd-best) per contest for good measure. On one hand, there’s the stat-padding, empty type of scoring and then there’s this: Absolute annihilation.

But those misconceptions about Chinese basketball often remain an unforgiving roadblock for many. Heck, even Adams had them before he signed with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers two years ago.

“It’s different, my perception was that there would be a lot of short guys that couldn’t play,” Adams said. “Actually, I was probably one of the shortest guys out there, as far as basketball players, and they got skills. They don’t get tired and they’re going to guard you tough, maybe they’re not as skilled as [Americans] are — but they got heart.

“I thought it was going to be easy, but they impressed me.”

And although Adams experienced his fallacies in real-time, he’s still waiting for the rest of the NBA to catch up.

Of course, Adams wasn’t the only American to tear up the CBA this season. Three other Americans, Brandon Jennings, Jonathan Gibson and MarShon Brooks, earned NBA deals this month. That trio of players all put up gaudy statistical lines as well, but none nearly as high as Adams’. Then there’s the case of Stephon Marbury, a former NBA All-Star that moved to China back in 2010, transforming his fringe-status career into a rejuvenated international icon. Marbury’s off-the-court philanthropy and three CBA championships speak for themselves, but Adams is often left wondering why it can’t work the other way around.

“You start questioning yourself, like: ‘What’s the reason why you’re not getting this opportunity?’” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “Some of the teams [I’ve worked out for] come back and say, ‘Well, he hasn’t had NBA experience.’ But when am I going to get my NBA experience if I never get my chance?”

*****

The other frustrating factor for players like Adams to navigate is timing — and as he put it, timing is everything.

To his credit, Adams has never shied away from a challenge or attempted to outmaneuver anybody on this long-winding journey. When he goes to workouts, Adams tells franchises that he’d be more than happy to go against their top guys — however, whenever, or whatever it takes. He’s impressed during private workouts before, but his most recent chance came just as Adams was getting ready to fly back to China for another season. Timing, again, had failed him.

Between workouts too late in the offseason or contracts that needed to be honored, the timing just hasn’t quite worked out for Adams. And it’s not for a lack of trying either — Adams has played two years of summer league (one with the Nets, one with the Mavericks), initially tried his hand at the D-League in 2011 and spends every offseason carefully deciding where to go next.

But when he made the all-important choice to jump from Spain to China in 2016, it wasn’t without a plan.

“Honestly, when I left Spain, I was nervous to go to China because the fans were like, ‘You’re gonna hurt your career, basketball is not as good [there] as it is in Europe,’” Adams said. “So I had that in the back in my mind. Me and my agent had a plan that I’d go to China — the CBA season is way shorter than the European leagues — and then I’d come back in six, seven months and hopefully get on a roster before the end of the season.”

It’s difficult to measure the merits of a big-time scorer overseas, particularly so in China, but Adams has now undoubtedly smashed through his ceiling. For a kid that once started out at a tiny college in Illinois, Adams followed up his Finals MVP-winning campaign in 2016-17 by nearly averaging a 40-point double-double this year. And although he challenged himself to diversify his game between those back-to-back Chinese seasons, he never once thought he would do… well, that.

“I didn’t go into the season wanting to be the leading scorer, I just wanted to win games and another championship,” Adams said. “We had a lot of adversity this season because my teammate, Andray Blatche, got injured early and the offensive role changed to me. Going against double-teams, triple-teams, that was the challenging part, because I knew my team needed me. Dealing with the adversity, it was challenging — but if you put me up to the test, I’m always going to prove myself.”

Although Andray Blatche isn’t a name heard often these days, he’s certainly well-remembered for his time in the NBA. Over his nine-year career, Blatche played for the Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets before heading overseas to China in 2014. While he, too, was part of the winning squad that brought the Flying Tigers their first-ever championship in 2017, Adams has also used the 6-foot-11 power forward like a soundboard. Frequently peppering him with questions about life in the NBA, Adams has nothing but adoration for Blatche, whom he now considers a close friend.

“I asked him what it was like to play with DWill, KG, how were the locker rooms, what were the practices like — but he also helped me see different things on the court,” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “Or, like, OK, I might be frustrated and in a bad place, he’d be like, ‘OK, D, you gotta let it go, you’re the leader of the team’ and things like that. Whenever I was down, he was there — he helped me out with being in China, adjusting to the food, where to go, he treated me like a little brother, actually.”

In order to make that second season in China count, Adams decided to focus on his untapped playmaking side, increasing his assist tally from 5.9 to that aforementioned 8.4 per game. For a while, he even thought that might’ve been why he hadn’t earned a 10-day contract yet, so into the grinder it went. Additionally, Adams dared himself to become a locker room leader, the kind of vocal, lead-by-example veteran that any franchise would value.

If the jaw-dropping statistics weren’t going to pave his path to the NBA, Adams was convinced he could find another way to grab front office attention.

“Right now, I’m already developed and can help [teams] win,” Adams said. “I haven’t reached my peak, I can still learn new things and keep progressing the same way. I’m already starting higher in the learning curve [than most young players] — but I’m also a good leader. I can be a scorer, I can be a defensive guy, I got all those qualities — I’m not just a one-dimensional player, I can help.”

*****

But as his season drew to a close in March (the sixth-seeded Flying Tigers were knocked out in the quarterfinals) Adams was, once again, without an NBA contract. In what Adams is now deeming one of the most important summers of his life, he’s going all-in on himself. Previously, Adams couldn’t ignore those lucrative million-dollar-plus deals, he had a family to look out for, after all. To him, it was a risk that he couldn’t take until this very moment. Sure, he could hit the G-League again — although he tried out for two teams, the Iowa Energy and Canton Charge, after going undrafted and was not selected — but there’s little money in that method.

Granted, Adams has always been motivated and hungry, but he’s got an extra push this time around.

“I’m going to all these different countries, I’m playing in their country — so why can’t play in my country?” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “If I’m one of the top players, how come I can’t get an opportunity in my country? Staying home, so my family can see me. My family has never seen me play overseas, only videos. You see all these other stories, like the guy that just played for the Lakers [Andre Ingram] — it took him ten years! It shows you to just never give up — all you need is an opportunity.

“I always tell my mom, my family, my kids that this year is gonna be the year. I’m gonna get my opportunity and I’mma be playing at home — daddy’s gonna be playing at home.”

Adams has always been a late bloomer — he’s forever the product of a once-raw teenager with no AAU experience. He’ll always be the barely 6-foot point guard that jumped into the NCJAA, quickly validated himself and then excelled in Division-II as well. But if you’re looking for a reason to disparage Adams’ hopes and dreams, you need not look further than this. How could somebody with those glaring blemishes ever play at the NBA level and against the best the sport has to offer?

Lest you forget, however, Adams is also the guy that will never stop fighting or believing in himself. Adams is the one that averaged 18 points in Ukraine and Germany and didn’t settle. The higher he climbed, the better he got. When he aced the test in France, he went to Spain and then got all of this. When Adams needed to adapt and change his game depending on the surrounding roster or culture — he did that too. But most importantly, Adams is tired of playing from behind and tired of missing his young family’s most key moments.

And now, with a whole offseason ahead of him, Adams is ready to do something about it once and for all.

“I’m staying prepared for whenever they have an opportunity, I’m betting on myself this whole summer and really taking a chance,” Adams said. “This year, I have enough saved up to really bet on myself. So, the goal is to just go to these workouts, get in front of these guys and show ‘em what I can do.

“That’s all I’ve ever needed, I don’t want anybody to just hand over a contract — I want to prove myself. I feel like I can make an impact — if you don’t think so, put me up against your guys and I’ll prove it.”

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