Connect with us

NBA

Introduction to ‘The Shop’

Jabari Davis and Lang Greene welcome you into their weekly NBA “barbershop discussion” with today’s debut conversation.

Jabari Davis

Published

on

Today, we’ll start a new series called The Shop, where Jabari Davis and Lang Greene debate a few topics in a somewhat less formal style than what you may be accustomed to from us. Consider it an ongoing ‘virtual barbershop’ conversation, if you will. Both writers cover the entire league, but Davis is based out of the Los Angeles area while Greene is in Atlanta.

Davis: Alright, Lang, let’s kick things off with death, taxes and the freaking San Antonio Spurs since Gregg Popovich’s soldiers absolutely ran the Golden State Warriors ragged in their home opener, no less. We won’t overreact to one game, but two things were very evident: the Warriors’ adjustment period will be tougher than some of us may have anticipated and the Spurs truly don’t give a d*** about our narratives or preconceived notions about the season ahead.

From Golden State’s side of things, obviously the addition of a player the caliber of Kevin Durant didn’t cause such an extreme drop-off as we saw in the opener. The total impact of all the roster changes, however, definitely seemed to make a difference with the overall connectivity this group had enjoyed these past few years. Guys like Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes and even Leandro Barbosa and Marreese Speights may not have gotten a ton of the credit along the way, but each seemed to play a vital role in contributing to the chemistry and perhaps even the culture that led to their success. Lang, how long before they get that second unit together and how long before Golden State’s staff gets that interior defense in order?

Greene: Listen, man: It is going to be fun this season to observe how the class bully (Golden State) acts after returning school after finally getting a beatdown by an underdog (Cleveland, Finals). Quick question … remember when Mike Tyson was considered “The Baddest Man on the Planet” before James “Buster” Douglass starched him in Tokyo? After that, Tyson still showed up to arenas with a can … but do you remember how his opponents stepped to him after he was KO’d? He was still a bad man, but the fear factor was gone. I liken it to when Rocky cut Ivan Drago (Rocky IV) and his corner yelled out “He’s just a man!”

Anyway, back to basketball. Make no mistake, Golden State is still going to run roughshod on the league, but teams are going to step to them differently because the mystique was dimmed by their Finals collapse.

How many championships would guys like Shaq and Kobe have without dudes like Ron Harper and Rick Fox? How many would MJ and Pippen have without guys like Steve Kerr, Horace Grant and B.J. Armstrong? Role players are key. Not even just on the court, but off the floor as well. Guys like Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Leandro Barbosa, Marreese Speights, Brandon Rush and Festus Ezeli were BIG parts of the team’s chemistry. I’ve said it before … this isn’t NBA 2K; chemistry and trust matter in real life.     

Davis: Without a doubt. We like throwing those cliches out at times like “championships are actually won during the summer.” That sounds nice and they are certainly ‘prepared’ for during the summer months, but there’s a difference between being a paper champ and actually doing it on the court. I think Golden State eventually puts it together, but the transition is never going to be easy when you have that much roster turnover.

And from San Antonio’s angle: If Kawhi Leonard takes another step offensively (as it certainly appears he has), then we need to have a serious conversation about whether he is the league’s best player not named LeBron James. His overall impact is just absurd. Also, where in the world did Jonathon Simmons come from and does Popovich basically have a huge cauldron of basketball greatness that he just churns these players out of?

Greene: Kawhi Leonard is just ridiculous. I know a lot of people feel he is a system offensive player and not a true go-to scorer or offensive dynamo. But the man was rumbling on opening night in Golden State. My goodness, he was eating whenever he wanted and took all of the Warriors’ lunch money. I can’t take the leap and say he is the best player in the league … but he IS the best two-way player right now.

In regards to Simmons, systems matter. How many times have we witnessed young player A struggle in one situation and then blossom in the next? In San Antonio, there is a system in place and guys have a clearly defined role. The problem with a lot of young guys is getting into situations that are chaotic. Just look at the difference between Hassan Whiteside in Sacramento and him in Miami. Now I know Hassan matured a great deal, but are you telling me NO ONE in Sacramento saw that raw talent? But yes, Popovich, Pat Riley and even Mike Budenholzer seem to get these young guys ready, pronto. Simmons could be next up.

Davis: It’s WAY early to even have this thought, but it does make me wonder about Danny Green’s future role and standing with the team if Simmons is able to continue to flourish in that system. I’d imagine a team in the playoff race near the deadline might consider giving up a decent pick or asset to have a guy like Green in their rotation.

Greene: Oh for sure, there would be teams lining up quick to bring in Danny – a guy who plays his role without complaining or creating drama … which is exactly the reason why Popovich and R.C. Buford won’t trade him. San Antonio does a great job monitoring playing time so I’m sure once Danny gets back, they’ll handle this seamlessly – as usual. Death, taxes and the Spurs, bro.

Davis: Moving on, I’m really intrigued by all of the youth movements currently taking place around the league. After several years of focusing on tanking for top picks (whether they admitted it or not), it’s great to see the fruits of such labors actually coming to fruition in the form of Joel AKA “The Process” Embiid in Philly, D’Angelo Russell and a whole slew of young, talented guys in Los Angeles, Devin Booker and his trio of young (lottery pick) big men as well as a nice, promising group in Denver. Minnesota, Boston and Utah are sometimes lumped in with these groups, but I feel like those squads are ahead of the curve when it comes to this discussion, so let’s focus on those first three. If Embiid stays healthy, that young man is going to be a problem. To be honest, while watching that opener against OKC, I actually had a moment where I said, “Oh yeah, they do still have Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel.” Some of the grief many of us gave this squad is legitimate and I refuse to allow revisionist history to completely erase the reality, but if Embiid truly develops into the monster we always heard he could be, none of that will matter. Essentially, you really only need one of those guys to end up being incredible as long as the others are at least serviceable.

Same deal with the Lakers, as even though some of his antics rub folks the wrong way, it definitely appears that D’Angelo Russell is going to be special. Thing is, while Lakers fans were in agony over these past few seasons as the rest of the league (and Twitter) enjoyed, the front office went to work and appears to have stockpiled a nice crew to officially (finally) start their rebuild. I’ve been on record about it several times, but I also really like what Phoenix is putting together and I think Denver might be nice if they can continue to develop under Mike Malone. I know everything is about the Warriors, Cavs and Spurs (and the quasi-contending pack behind them), but geek out with me for a moment about the “next generation” teams that might be ready to go by the time we reach the 2017-18 season.

Greene: The NBA is in great shape, man. The money is flowing and the young talent is deep, marketable and on the rise, which means the revenue will continue pouring in. Before I dive into the three squads you asked about, don’t you feel a little bad for Anthony Davis in New Orleans? While all of these young prospects are surrounded by talented guys alongside them, the Brow is all alone in New Orleans from a youth core standpoint. Such is life.

Honestly, I had the same thought watching Joel Embiid on opening night. Did you feel the electricity through the TV every time he touched the rock? Then, I looked over and saw Jahlil Okafor and it seems like there is no comparison in the upside department. I mean, Okafor is no slouch but it’s starting to look silly there was a debate on whether he or Karl-Anthony Towns should have been selected first overall last year. Now, after just one game, I am latching on the Embiid train and believe Okafor is a supporting cast member. Crazy.

We talked over the summer, about the D’Angelo Russell and Devin Booker comparison. I think Russell has a chance to be a goodie monster. We already see Devin out in Phoenix putting veterans on the bench (sorry B. Knight). But Russell has more of a BOOM-or-BUST dynamic to him. He could become an All-NBA performer or he could become an All-Hollywood media scapegoat if he doesn’t mature quickly enough. Right now, I am on the All-NBA train.

I like what the Lakers built, stockpiling young talent and then spending money on vets this past summer. Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov aren’t sexy additions, but they have won at a high level in the league and the Lakers need that. Phoenix and Denver have loads of young talent and are about three seasons away from making serious noise. Right now, Minnesota’s young core is deserving of the hype. I won’t join their playoff express train this season, but it should arrive at the station next season.

Davis: Oh, I’m right there with you on Davis. In fact, I will no longer get irritated by the #FreeTheBrow when it scrolls across my Twitter timeline (Shameless plug alert: @JabariDavisNBA and @LangGreene). He’s one of the league’s best players when healthy and you just hope they can continue to put pieces around him. It’s still early, but you just don’t want to end up seeing him frustrated and wanting to leave if the struggle continues beyond this season.

When it comes to the vets the Lakers added, part of that reaction was on the organization for not appropriately managing expectations (they’ve literally thrown gasoline on the fire at times), but part of that is because you know folks love to clown when you’ve been on top for a long time and then stumble. The reality is, if you’re truly embracing a youth movement, then you want to have guys like Mozgov and Deng because they can contribute in several ways and don’t threaten the further development of the young players. I’ll say it flat-out, the tone in the locker room is about as loose and comfortable as it has ever been over the five years I’ve had the fortune of covering the team and league. That isn’t a knock on the old regime or anyone no longer in the room (as needlessly harping on that seems pointless to me); that’s just a fact.

We can fully anticipate a ton of ups and downs over the next few years as each of these teams continue their ascent in the standings, but it sure is nice to see several young teams with so much promise and so many things to look forward to for those fan bases.

We’ll end this week’s introductory discussion at this point, but we can assure you the conversation will be ongoing throughout the season. It will expand and include topics from around the league and maybe even include a surprise appearance or two here and there. Whether you cover the NBA for a living or simply live to watch NBA basketball, we are ALL fans of this game; and these discussions will specifically permit you to enjoy or simply laugh at us for “fan-boying” just like everyone else.

If you have specific topics you’d like us to discuss or have general feedback on the previous conversation, remember to use #TheShop and tag us on Twitter and we’ll work as many of your recommendations in throughout the season.

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

Advertisement




Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NBA

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

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

NBA

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

Published

on

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.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, @mike_yaffe, @MattJohnNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau.

Continue Reading

NBA

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

Published

on

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.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

The Strictly Speaking Podcast

Advertisement

Trending Now