Blatt is Right Hire for Cavaliers
Nine-year NBA veteran Anthony Parker wanted to make something clear before we started our conversation about David Blatt, the new head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The two men go way back, since Blatt was the assistant coach who recruited Parker to Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2000 and coached him during some of the most successful years of his professional basketball career.
“I’m one of his biggest fans, so you’re not going to hear me say anything negative about him,” Parker said with a laugh. “If you’re looking for a balanced view of David Blatt, I’m the wrong guy to talk to.”
It’s understandable that Parker would sing Blatt’s praises and fully support his former coach. But after spending the last 24 hours talking to individuals familiar with Blatt – including those who have played for him, competed against him, worked alongside him or evaluated him from a distance – it turns out that Parker’s sentiment is the general consensus around the basketball world. Every single review of Blatt was glowing and finding someone who is willing to say something negative about the 55-year-old is nearly impossible since he is one of the most respected coaches on the planet.
Cleveland hired Blatt to become their new head coach on Friday, inking him to a four-year contract with an annual base salary of $3.33 million and incentives that could increase his yearly pay to $5 million. Some fans were confused by the decision to hire Blatt, as they had never heard of the international coach since he hasn’t played or coached in the NBA. However, the reaction from those in the know was overwhelmingly positive.
Over the last two decades, Blatt has established himself as one of the game’s best overseas coaches and he has a trophy case packed with international championships, Olympic medals and Coach of the Year awards to prove it. He turned around Russia’s national team, winning the 2007 Eurobasket championship and taking home a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics. The word “genius” often gets thrown around when Blatt is being described, as he has a reputation for being an offensive mastermind and one of the best coaches in the world when it comes to game-planning and making adjustments.
Now, he’ll have the opportunity to coach on basketball’s biggest stage, leading a talented Cavaliers team that seems poised for success at some point in the very near future. Blatt explained his decision to coach in the NBA now as saying that it’s “the only challenge I have left.”
Parker, who played for the Cavaliers from 2009 to 2012 several years after leaving Maccabi Tel Aviv, is confident that Blatt will be able to duplicate his success in the NBA.
“I’ve gone on record as saying that he’s the best coach that I’ve played for,” Parker said of Blatt. “I also played for Larry Brown and Doc Rivers, but I don’t really count them in that just because I was on the bench and in street clothes for most of my time with them (laughs) so I never really got to play and experience that. But as far as everybody else, I’ve had great experiences with David. He has a great basketball mind and he’s very creative. I think one of the things that is special with David is his adaptability. You hear about coaches that have a specific style, where they go out and they need certain players to fit their style, but David is really able to adapt to his roster and kind of adjust and tailor the philosophies and strategies to the types of players that he has on the team. He’s had success with the Russian national team, with the teams in Israel, Russia and Italy and with the Olympics. He’s dealt with all kinds of different environments and competitions and rosters and cultures and stuff, but he’s successful. It’s because of how he’s able to adapt and create relationships and get players to buy in to his vision of the team. He’s done well.
“Some coaches have the ability to do the X’s and O’s, the strategies and the philosophies and they have that all ironed out, but they can’t really relate with the players, they can’t really communicate with the players and get them to buy in. Then, there are other coaches that are player coaches who can get players to buy in and have great relationships, but kind of fall short on the X’s and O’s side of things. What makes David unique, and what he has in common with a lot of the great basketball coaches in the world, is that he can do both. If you look at a lot of the coaches who have had long-term success, that’s something that they’re able to do. I think that’s his strength, that he’s able to do both of those things.”
In recent days, Cleveland had narrowed their coaching search to Blatt and former NBA player Tyronn Lue, who has spent the last four years as an assistant coach under Doc Rivers on the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers. A number of teams were trying to hire Blatt as an assistant coach, including the Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves, but he wanted to take the reins of his own team. When Cavaliers general manager David Griffin approached Blatt about the head coaching vacancy, he was determined to land the job.
“I feel strongly about my fit for the job and this team’s potential,” Blatt said in a statement. “This is an opportune time to join the Cleveland Cavaliers. We are going to work extremely hard to achieve the kind of results we all expect and know are possible.”
As Blatt pointed out, this was perfect timing for his transition to the NBA, since he’s coming off of an outstanding year. Blatt and Maccabi Tel Aviv completed the triple crown this year (winning the Euroleague, Israeli-League and State Cup), and he was named Coach of the Year as a result.
Former Florida Gators star Alex Tyus played for Blatt and Maccabi Tel Aviv last season. The 26-year-old, who was the MVP of Euroleague for the month of April and made the Israeli League’s All-First Team, wasn’t shocked that Blatt was able to use his success as a springboard for an NBA job.
“We had one of the best seasons in European history,” Tyus said. “We won the triple crown – we won the Israeli Cup, the Israeli League Championship and the Euroleague – which was an amazing experience. It was not a bad year at all (laughs). We won everything.
“I wasn’t surprised to see him become an NBA coach. I’ve never had a coach like him before; he’s just different in terms of how he is off the court and as a player’s coach. He has a totally different approach and it makes you comfortable as a player. I know a lot of guys struggle overseas with different coaches and the European mentality, but he’s definitely different. Even when I look back to high school and college, I think he probably relates to players better than any other coach I’ve ever had. I’m not surprised [he’s getting this opportunity]. I could really see him doing well in the NBA. I’ve always thought of him as an NBA coach.If you’re all in and you’re willing to do anything to help the team win, you’re one of the guys that he really likes and he’s the best coach. He garners a lot of respect from players, and from everyone in Europe. He’s won at a high level in Europe for a long time, and he connects very well with players. He understands our mindset. He can relate to players, and I also think he’s a great guy. He cares about his players and if you’re one of his guys, he’ll really go to bat for you and help you out a lot.”
Around the NBA, many executives applauded Cleveland’s hire and felt that bringing in Blatt is a dare-to-be-great move that could really pay off for them in the long run.
“Cleveland deserves a lot of credit for hiring a guy that a lot of other teams have always liked, but have been afraid to take the plunge on,” said a Western Conference executive. “It’s also a smart move because if Blatt had become an assistant coach with the Warriors, after one or two years he could have become a guy who would have his pick of jobs. He is a brilliant and competitive coach who will definitely be an improvement over Mike Brown. But, of course, there will be challenges as part of the transition process. For example, he is maybe the best game-planner in the world, but now he has a lot more games to worry about and much less time to plan for them. There is a lot of work to do in Cleveland, to fix the culture, which would be a challenge for anyone. The upside though is that if they become a playoff team, Blatt has proven to be the rare coach that can outcoach his opponent when he has time to prepare. In the NBA, this could make him a coach that can steal a playoff series.”
Although hesitant to make the following comparison because he didn’t want to put too much pressure on his former coach, Parker feels that Blatt is very similar to San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.
“I think the best comparison is Popovich,” Parker said. “I hate to say that because of the timing of it after the kind of year that the Spurs had and what they’ve done for almost two decades now. But in terms of the coaching style, I mean his teams move the ball, they pass, there’s spacing, they keep it open and, like I said, David tailors his offense based on his roster, similar to what the Spurs have done and the evolution that they’ve kind of undergone since Tim Duncan has been in the league. You see him kind of getting on guys and holding guys accountable, but you won’t ever hear those players saying anything bad about Pop. I think that David is able to walk that line as well. I just hesitate to say Popovich just because of everything that comes along with saying that name and comparing the two. It’s almost like when people are comparing players and say, ‘Oh, he’s the next Michael Jordan.’”
Like Popovich, opposing players dreaded having to face Blatt’s teams.
“I never played for him, but I played a lot against him and I think he has all the abilities to be successful in the NBA,” Dallas Mavericks guard Gal Mekel said of Blatt. “He won every title possible in Europe, he has a great basketball IQ and he always gets the most out of his players.”
“He’s a great dude, he’s literally a genius and he has a lot of ambition,” CSKA Moscow guard Aaron Jackson said. “He is on top of the world – deep young team with the number one draft pick and Kyrie Irving.”
Blatt will inherit a Cavaliers squad that won just 33 games last season, missing the playoffs in the depleted Eastern Conference. However, the roster features young talent such as Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev (who played for Blatt on Russia’s national team) and whoever the team selects with the No. 1 overall pick in next week’s draft.
“If anyone can [maximize Cleveland’s potential], it’s him,” Parker said. “I think one of the key things with David is he’s able to relate to players and get them to buy in. With the Cavaliers, I think there’s definitely talent on the roster, but getting players to buy in, believe in the vision, come together and play as a team is the key, as it is anywhere. But I think it’s a good situation for him because he definitely has talent to work with there. It’s not a situation where he has to wait for two or three years to get players to be able to do anything with. I think that he’ll hit the ground running there and they have the ability to make some noise, so we’ll see.”
“I think he’ll do a great job regardless of who’s there,” Tyus said. “He does well with what he has to work with. He’s the type of coach, especially playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv, where management always had a lot of say on the players that they brought in, so he always had to work with guys that he maybe didn’t necessarily want. That’s a whole European thing; I don’t know if NBA teams work like that too. But he’s always done a good job of having good teams and getting the best out of his players, regardless of who they are and I think that that’s something that’s going to help him out a lot right away playing with Cleveland. He does a great job of adjusting. We played a lot of four-out, one-in [last season], and I know in the NBA that’s something that works sometimes. But I think he’s really good at adjusting to whoever his personnel is, so I think he’ll do well.”
While Blatt has drawn praise for his offensive strategies, Parker and Tyus feel that he’s a well-rounded coach who is equally effective on both ends.
“I think most people, maybe from the outside looking in, would say that his strength is on the offensive end of the ball,” Parker said. “I think that he gets a lot of credit for a lot of the innovative things that he has done offensively and some of the offensive sets that he’s put in that have worked out. Those get a lot of the attention, but he’s a defensive coach as well. I think he’s balanced. I don’t think that he’s light on either end.”
“You just have to be able to make an impact on the game in different ways; that’s something that Blatt really looks for,” Tyus said. “I would say that he’s really good at both offense and defense. He has a good balance. Defensively, he definitely wants his players to be able to guard their man and make plays because those are obviously the most important things defensive wise. And then on offense, he has a lot of good strategies and can use players to their strengths.”
The Cavaliers decided to think outside the box by hiring Blatt, making him the first NBA head coach to come straight from Europe. Only time will tell if Blatt can duplicate his success in the NBA, but the move certainly seems promising today.
Bulls Pursuing Magic’s Arron Afflalo
One name to keep an eye on this summer is Orlando Magic shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who may be traded before the start of the 2014-15 season.
The Charlotte Hornets had previously been mentioned as a potential suitor for Afflalo and now the Chicago Bulls are pursuing the veteran shooting guard as well, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.
Orlando is clearly rebuilding, which is why the 28-year-old is “very available.”
The Magic had a number of conversations about Afflalo prior to last year’s trade deadline, but ultimately held onto their swingman.
The Magic have the No. 4 and No. 12 picks in the 2014 NBA Draft, but they could be open to acquiring additional picks or young assets.
Chicago has the No. 16 and No. 19 picks in the draft, which could make them an intriguing trading partner for the Magic.
Last season, Afflalo had a career-year in Orlando, averaging 18.2 points per game on 45.9 percent shooting, which is why his trade value is at an all-time high.
His contract is also very attractive to teams, as he’ll make just $7.5 million in the 2014-15 season and then has an early termination option the following year or can opt in to another $7.5 million salary.
Chicago really struggled to score and shoot the ball last year, so their interest in Afflalo makes a lot of sense.
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.”