With the Memphis Grizzlies scoring a major win over the L.A. Clippers this past week and a few teams, including the Oklahoma City Thunder, enduring an early-season losing streak, the top half of this week’s NBA Power Rankings have a fair amount of movement.
Every Friday afternoon, Basketball Insiders drops our weekly power rankings. How is your favorite team stacking up against the competition?
30. Philadelphia 76ers (Overall: 2-10, Last Week: 30)
Judging by the way the Timberwolves pummeled the Sixers on Thursday night, we’ll go ahead and guess that TNT is going to opt out of putting Philly on national TV. In all fairness, though, these guys scored a nice win over the Wizards on Wednesday, even without Joel Embiid.
29. New Orleans Pelicans (Overall: 2-10, Last Week: 29)
It certainly didn’t take long for Anthony Davis to miss a game. We’re hopeful that he’ll quickly recover from the ailing back and quad contusion that caused him to miss Wednesday’s 89-82 loss at the Magic. And we sure hope he manages to play at least 70 games this season.
28. Dallas Mavericks (Overall: 2-8, Last Week: 28)
The Mavs got Deron Williams back for Wednesday’s contest at the Celtics, but it wasn’t enough. After losing to the Knicks on Monday night, they’re just 1-3 on their five-game trip and can’t wait for Dirk Nowitzki to return. The bright side? Harrison Barnes and the 27.6 points per game he’s averaging over the last five.
27. Phoenix Suns (Overall: 3-9, Last Week: 23)
Brandon Knight dropped 32 off the bench on Wednesday night in Denver, but it wasn’t enough for a win. Meanwhile, the biggest bright spot for Phoenix these days is Devin Booker. The 20-year-old is averaging 20.4 points per game and remains our favorite for the Most Improved Player award.
26. Washington Wizards (Overall: 3-8, Last Week: 25)
The 119-112 win that the Wizards scored over the Knicks stopped a three-game skid that included a Wednesday night loss to the lowly Sixers. The good news is that Otto Porter is coming into his own, but until Bradley Beal can stay on the floor, this team will remain a cellar-dweller.
25. Miami Heat (Overall: 3-8, Last Week: 26)
The six-game losing streak ended with Thursday’s 96-73 win over the Bucks, but it was Hassan Whiteside’s 19-point, 25-rebound line against Dwight Howard’s Hawks that caught our attention this past week. The Heat lost, 90-93, but certainly not because of Whiteside.
24. Sacramento Kings (Overall: 4-8, Last Week: 20)
The good news is that the Kings have four more games left on their five-game home stand. The bad news? They’re hosting the Clippers, Raptors, Thunder and Rockets. The current three-game skid could easily reach seven.
23. Minnesota Timberwolves (Overall: 4-7, Last Week: 27)
It’s safe to say that Karl-Anthony Towns got the best of Joel Embiid in their head-to-head matchup on Thursday night. Towns had 25 and 10 and also gave us this. Meanwhile, Andrew Wiggins scored 33.3 points per game over the past week.
22. Brooklyn Nets (Overall: 4-7, Last Week: 21)
The five-game road trip concludes with Friday’s visit to the Thunder and they’re 1-3. Sean Kilpatrick and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have each had their fair share of high moments, but without Jeremy Lin, the Nets will be hard-pressed to win consistently.
21. Denver Nuggets (Overall: 4-7, Last Week: 24)
We said something similar last week, but it merits mention: the Nuggets have nine players averaging at least 8.5 points per game, and they are being led by the capable Danilo Gallinari (17.1 points).
20. Orlando Magic (Overall: 5-7, Last Week: 22)
You couldn’t help but to feel good for Serge Ibaka, who sank the game winner to score a W at the Thunder on Sunday. Wednesday’s win followed Monday’s loss to the Pacers, so we’ll look at the glass as half-full and say the Magic won two of their last three (even if the Pelicans didn’t have Anthony Davis).
19. Milwaukee Bucks (Overall: 5-6, Last Week: 16)
After beginning the season 4-2, the Bucks have since gone just 1-4. We thought they had a legitimate shot of returning at the playoffs, but they’re still inconsistent. Khris Middleton looks pretty irreplaceable at the moment, though his absence isn’t the cause of all their problems.
18. New York Knicks (Overall: 5-7, Last Week: 18)
Just when the Knicks seem to turn a corner (as they did in Wednesday night’s fiery win over the Pistons), they play down to the competition. Derrick Rose was the lone bright spot in Thursday’s 119-112 loss to the Wizards, but the Knicks trailed by 25 and never seriously threatened.
17. Indiana Pacers (Overall: 6-6, Last Week: 17)
We were expecting the Pacers to be much better than a .500 team after 12 games, but we can’t be surprised considering they’re giving up about 107 points per game. The worst part? We can’t even feel too good about Wednesday’s win over the Cavs considering LeBron James didn’t play. But we do like that four starters scored double-figures.
16. Detroit Pistons (Overall: 6-6, Last Week: 14)
A four-game home stand begins on Saturday, and the Pistons hope that they can make as much good noise as their head coach has since the presidential election. We admire Stan Van Gundy’s courage and candor. It’s part of what makes him an effective head coach.
15. Boston Celtics (Overall: 6-5, Last Week: 19)
The Celts have underwhelmed thus far, but until Al Horford is good to go, they’ll probably struggle to beat some of the better teams. As long as Isaiah Thomas is playing brilliantly, though (he’s averaging 27.2 points per game), all hope isn’t lost.
14. Portland Trail Blazers (Overall: 7-6, Last Week: 12)
Thursday night’s 126-109 loss at the Rockets began a five-game road trip for the Blazers. Just one game over .500, they need to go 3-2, but what’ll make it tough is that all five games occur in seven nights. The saving grace? They’ll see the Pelicans, Nets and Knicks before finishing at the Cavs on Wednesday.
13. Utah Jazz (Overall: 7-6, Last Week: 11)
Despite back-to-back losses to the Grizz and Bulls, the Jazz have most of the league talking—in a good way. Aside from their impressive depth and Trey Lyles appearing to figure things out, their 93.2 points allowed per game is tops in the league. They are tied with the Blazers for the eighth-best record out West.
12. Memphis Grizzlies (Overall: 6-5, Last Week: 15)
The only thing better than the Grizz rolling into Staples Center and handing the Clips just their second loss of the season on Wednesday night was the fact that Marc Gasol hit four three-pointers, including the game-clincher. Mike Conley pulled his weight, too. Maybe there’s still juice left in the old legs, after all.
11. Chicago Bulls (Overall: 8-4, Last Week: 13)
The only thing better than a four-game win streak and winning the first two games of a six-game road trip would be that the Bulls will get to spend a few nights in Los Angeles, as they’ll battle the Clips and Lakers before heading to Denver. Thursday night’s 85-77 win over the Jazz showed they can grind out a tough W. Our faith is temporarily restored.
10. Houston Rockets (Overall: 7-5, Last Week: 07)
James Harden turned in his third triple-double of the season in Thursday’s 126-109 win over the Blazers. His 26, 12 and 14 were miraculous, but the Rockets have also been getting good production from Eric Gordon, who’s averaging 16 points per game. After going 2-2 the past week, things could be better, but could also be worse.
9. Los Angeles Lakers (Overall: 7-5, Last Week: 10)
The Lakers haven’t been two games over .500 since March 2013! D’Angelo Russell looks like a stud, Julius Randle is playing efficiently and Nick Young is playing solid man defense. Is Luke Walton our Coach of the Year so far? Maybe. And it’ll become “definitely” if they can win two of their four games over the next week. They’ve got the Spurs, Bulls, Thunder and Warriors.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder (Overall: 7-5, Last Week: 05)
The four-game losing streak ended in glorious fashion, as the Thunder toppled the visiting Rockets on Wednesday. Westbrook’s 30, seven and nine was great, but Victor Oladipo’s 29, 10 and five (on just 18 shot attempts) was more noteworthy. If he can produce like that, they’ll remain our favorites to win the division.
7. Charlotte Hornets (Overall: 7-3, Last Week: 09)
The back-to-back losses they endured over the past week are forgivable considering they came at the hands of the Raptors and Cavs. Even still, these guys are 4-1 on the road and rank fifth in defensive efficiency – hallmarks of a good team.
6. Toronto Raptors (Overall: 7-4, Last Week: 04)
We can’t be too mad about back-to-back losses when they come at the hands of the Cavs and Warriors, but if the Raptors come back after their upcoming five-game road trip with less than three wins, the Celtics and Knicks (yes, the Knicks!) may be breathing down their necks.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (Overall: 9-2, Last Week: 02)
Wednesday’s game at the Pacers was the third game in four nights, so we can understand LeBron taking the night off. The Cavs are head and shoulders above every other team in the East, so the only concern we have is whether King James can continue to play about 77 games per season, even as he turns 32 years old next month.
4. San Antonio Spurs (Overall: 9-3, Last Week: 08)
In Wednesday’s 110-105 win over the Kings (their fourth straight), Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol combined for 65 points. Even better? These guys are allowing just about 97 points per game, which is third-best in the league. With three very winnable games over the next week, we’re expecting a few more Ws.
3. Atlanta Hawks (Overall: 9-2, Last Week: 06)
Winners of six straight, the Hawks had to make do without Dwight Howard on Wednesday night, but they managed to outlast the Bucks, anyway. The quad contusion doesn’t sound serious, but his 15 points, 12 rebounds and 23.54 PER will be sorely missed if he’s out long. Pun intended. The Clips and Cavs lost while the Hawks continue to surge.
2. Golden State Warriors (Overall: 9-2, Last Week: 03)
Klay Thompson has scored 15 points or less in five of their first 11 games and is only hitting 31 percent of his shots from distance, but the Dubs seem to be figuring things out. The four-game trip got off to a good start with Wednesday’s 127-121 win at the Raptors. Winners of five straight, they are somehow flying under the radar.
1. Los Angeles Clippers (Overall: 10-2, Last Week: 01)
The Clips might be the top defensive team in the league, but they had major trouble guarding the three in Wednesday night’s home loss to the Grizz, who shot 15-for-26 from distance. They showed poise down the stretch, even if they still complain too much about the officiating. The Hawks are nipping at their heels, but the top defense and best record help them retain their status as the Association’s top dog.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”