Alright folks, thanks for joining us back in The ‘Shop for another discussion. Allow us to welcome in James Holas, a writer, podcaster and analyst for BBALLBreakdown, Blazers Edge and PressBasketball.com.
Jabari: Thanks for joining us today, James. Having finally gotten the chance to see and appreciate what Kristaps Porzingis looks like in person, I think it’s necessary to start things off with him. I’ve kept tabs on his progress and watched a quarter or half here and there, but last Sunday night was really something else. Not to be a prisoner of the moment, because I would like to see D’Angelo Russell at full strength when they square off at MSG on February 6, but Porzingis was the best player on the court (26 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks) at Staples Center for at least that night.
The Knicks are rolling right now (11-5 in their last 15), Porzingis is continuing to develop and impress, Derrick Rose is back in the mix and looking as good as he’s looked in years, Carmelo Anthony is at least buying into positive run they’re on… so why is Uncle Phil ruffling feathers and seemingly poking the bear with his readdressing of previous comments at LeBron, while seemingly taking jabs at Carmelo and his offense?
James: Man, I’m just glad I got invited to the big boy’s table today! First of all, let’s pump the brakes on New York “rolling.” Looking inside the numbers gives us a different perspective. Wins are wins and 11-5 looks dandy, but over the last 15 games, the Knickerbockers sit at a decent ninth in offensive rating, but a gross 24th in defensive rating, per NBA.com. Their -1.6 net rating over that span would be 18th in the league for the season. Good wins over the likes of Detroit and Charlotte are diminished by losses to the woeful Wiz and lowly Suns. They haven’t exactly faced a Murderer’s Row: beating up on the Timberwolves (27th in defensive rating the last 15 games) and this iteration of the Hawks (26th in offensive rating over this same 15-game span) ain’t “rolling.”
Now, on to Phil Jackson. The Zen Master is adding another layer of drama to the always tumultuous Knicks saga. The franchise is like a VH1 celebrity; even when things are going well, they somehow have to get themselves in the headlines for some nonsense. Phil Jackson has a long history of stirring the pot. It’s mind boggling- the guy JUST SAID how wrong he was for speaking on other teams’ players, but he can’t help himself.
Phil is known as a Machiavellian manipulator, a strategist who’ll needle even his own guys to gain an advantage. But in the case of LeBron, the Cavs are miles ahead of the Knicks; there’s no advantage to poking at the King unless he thinks getting his squad drubbed by 32 at the Garden could be some sadistic motivation for NY. The only answer I have for why Phil is stirring the pot is “Because he’s Phil.”
Lang: My man J-Holla is in the building. We’ve both been at this for a minute now, but this is the first I believe we’re linking on a project – directly. Welcome and respect to you my brother.
Let’s get to it. Kristaps Porzingis, in my opinion, has a higher career trajectory than D’Angelo Russell at this point; a seven-foot guy pulling off crossover pull-up jumpers from outside the three-point line? Check. Three-point range. Check. Handles? Check. Ability to grab 15+ boards on any given night? Check. He is plain ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I think Russell has high growth potential, as I’ve said countless times, but despite being more gifted than Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams or Nick Young he hasn’t done much to truly separate himself from them this season. This would be equivalent to Porzingis splitting time with Lance Thomas in New York. We’ll see if D’Angelo can change my mind when the Lakers invade MSG.
James nailed Phil Jackson. I just can’t get behind Phil’s statements on LeBron’s crew. The comments had too many undertones from an ugly era in our nation’s history for my taste. But let me add this about his needling of Carmelo Anthony. I absolutely love it. The Knicks haven’t beaten many elite teams and his meddling is just a way to ensure guys are staying humble. Phil is needling Carmelo because he wants his franchise player to change his game for two reasons:
1. To start compensating for the effects of Father Time because, make no mistake, Carmelo has lost a bit of zip off his fastball.
2. He understands the Knicks’ future truly rests on the shoulders of Porzingis. Period. By the time the Knicks are title contenders, if it happens, Carmelo will be the face of the franchise, but Porzingis will be the actual workhorse.
Yes, Phil is setting up the Knicks to be destroyed by the Cavs in a potential playoff series. But I also think he’s trying to light a fire under Carmelo, who has typically bought his “can” when going head to head versus Bron-Bron.
Jabari: I can’t even lie, while I have absolutely NO dog in the fight, part of me is pulling for the Knicks to somehow stay healthy enough to make a deep run so that we can get some type of showdown in order to make things a bit more interesting come April and May. Speaking of fun matchups, how good did that come-from-behind win by Minnesota on the road in Chicago feel to Tom Thibodeau? Not just because it must be nice to get a win your first time back into a building as a coach after being fired 16 months earlier, but also because his team really needed to start finding a way to win ball games in general.
Was this all about winning one in a big moment for your coach, or do you guys think a game like that can be the springboard this young group has needed in order to get going?
James: If this was a CBS special I’d say it was both, and the Wolves would rip off a crazy win streak and all would be well in Minnesota. But I’m gonna be the Darryl Downer by pointing out how the Timber Pups threw up on their shoes the very next game by letting the Rockets erase a 12-point lead in a little over two minutes to hang an L on them.
Reality is, the Bulls aren’t very good. Since the nice 8-4 start, Chicago is 5-9 in its last 14. If you’re a believer in net rating (the difference between a team’s offensive rating and defensive rating) being a bellwether of team performance, well, Chi-Town’s -3.6 net rating is good (bad?) for 20th in the league in that 14-game span.
And there’s no magic formula that will lower Thibs’ blood pressure over these Wolves; young teams take time. Not days or months, but teams need years to gel and learn. I was swimming against the grain all summer about Minnesota; I respect Thibs as a coach, but he stepped into a fully formed playoff team in his start with Chicago, this Wolves team still is learning to totter around and you can’t expect them to run with the big dogs yet.
So yeah, I’m sure nabbing a win over Chicago might have earned a smirk from Coach Thibs and some strutting in the Wolves locker room, but now it’s back to the grind for Minnesota
Lang: After years of talking to guys around the league, one narrative holds true and that’s how much trust is gained when guys overcome adversity together. Everyone can high five, wave towels and make dance moves together when you’re winning by 20 points a night, but it’s when you have to dig deep, go into that dark place and overcome adversity when you look at the guys next to you in the foxhole and start believing in them. I’m not sure the Chicago game does it alone, but it is games like those where guys typically gain that belief, that trust and that needed cohesion to get to the next level.
Jabari: Fair enough, and I tend to agree with each of your points on the Wolves, although I will openly acknowledge that my prediction of them winning more games than OKC is looking dumber and dumber with each passing week, so, perhaps, I was doing a bit of wishful thinking!
Alright, just a couple more topics before we get out of here for the day. Let me get your “They LIED to us” leaders in the paint at this point. So far, I have the Pacers (is the George Hill for Jeff Teague swap the actual culprit?), Blazers (with the Western Conference being a bit down so far to start the year, their slippage is even more suspect), Wizards (are they turning it around or setting their fans up for further heartbreak?) and Minnesota (we’ve covered this). Which teams do you guys have and in what order?
Lang: You know who lied to me, man? The Miami HEAT. They’re not on your list, but I have to include them here. When you turn your nose up at TWO future Hall of Famers, you better believe in what you’re doing. I get Chris Bosh’s health situation, but letting Dwyane Wade walk in free agency over a couple lousy million dollars is haunting the team. I love Pat Riley and the “mafia” he’s built down on South Beach over the years. He consistently gets mentally tough and high-character guys – dudes willing to leave it all on the court, dudes who put it all on the line. But Riley haggled D-Wade over a few million then turned around and matched the Brooklyn Nets’ $50 million offer sheet on Tyler Johnson.
Factor in Wade’s departure with Bosh’s absence due to his health and it elevated Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside into leading role positions neither were equipped to handle – as of now. Whiteside has the potential to be a franchise-leading man, but he’s still pretty green … playing behind Bosh and Wade provides air cover during tough times.
Remember, this team was one game away from the Eastern Conference Finals last season. One. Game. Away. Now they’re headed to the lottery with a first class ticket.
James: Can we get the Orlando in there too? Toss big bills at Bismack Biyombo, bring in Serge Ibaka, still scraping the bottom of the barrel.
But from this list, I think the Pacers are at the top, at least for me. I have a lot of faith in Paul George’s talents, and while I knew that essentially swapping George Hill for Jeff Teague was a downgrade, I underestimated how much Hill’s defensive chops masked Monta Ellis’ ineptitude.
After that, it’s Portland; this is my “I told y’all” moment. The Blazers are a victim of their own moderate success last season, and their front office made the egregious mistake of actually wanting Evan Turner.
Ah, the Wizards. I figured John Wall’s pride, the signing of “boards & blocks” Ian Mahinmi and the more modern thinking of head coach Scott Brooks would elevate Washington back into the Eastern Conference’s upper-middle class. They’ve been a little better of late, but everything I listed doesn’t matter if your guys can barely stand to be on the court together, and your bench stinks.
And lastly, the Wolves are another of my “told ya” teams. I spent the summer shaking my head at “Minny should win 50” talk.
And let’s throw the Bulls, Lakers and Knicks in the mix for their fraudulent first couple of weeks; they had their fan bases all amped up like they were, y’know, GOOD.
Jabari: Ha! Only thing about the Lakers is while they had the unrealistic folks thinking they would automatically jump into being “back” after, like, 20 games, an overwhelming majority of the folks I interact with on Twitter understood it wasn’t going to be as simple as the old “easy button” when it comes to learning how to win. You simply don’t go from zero to 100, no matter what the song says.
Last one and it involves the dunk contest. Accepting the fact that it wouldn’t happen because of liability and injury concerns, but I’ve argued for a minute that adding a dude beneath the rim to contest the dunk for one attempt per round would take it up another level. You’d get all the stylistic dunks and all that, but then you’d also have the opportunity for some ridiculous poster shots similar to the ones recently given to each of the Lopez brothers by Jabari Parker and Larry Nance Jr.
I want a field of Aaron Gordon, Zach LaVine, Larry Nance Jr. and Terrence Ross. Big men contesting options are Rudy Gobert (because I equally enjoy him swatting cats and getting dunked on) and Hassan Whiteside (because I think he’d legit take it seriously). Tell me why it’s a crazy idea.
Lang: Jabari, you’ve been on that West Coast moonshine I see. Ha. I like the originality of the concept, but in this social media era, there’s no way these guys are going to risk their respective reputations by getting dunked on during All-Star weekend. Could you imagine the memes? Could you imagine the Vines? Could you imagine the Twitter mentions? Could you imagine the Facebook shares? The posters, the YouTube highlight packages? I could go on and on. Why risk it? Why risk getting 720’d by Zach LaVine? The fans wouldn’t want Whiteside to be successful and actually get a clean block. I can’t see it.
But what I can see …
I’ve been saying this for some time now. I would love to see old school versus new school. Take the rookies and have them go against some of the recently retired guys. I’m talking about some of the players who can still move, but can no longer put together an 82-game season. Or, splice some of the old school guys with the rookies/sophomores. Could you imagine Allen Iverson running the break with Karl-Anthony Towns? But old school versus new school is probably the better option. Some old school who may still be able to get a few buckets: Derek Fisher, Stephen Jackson, Baron Davis, Danny Granger, Shawn Marion, Amar’e Stoudemire, Kenyon Martin and Jason Richardson immediately come to mind.
James: I legitimately laughed out loud at this dunk idea; me and my boys always bring up how dope it would be if they added a defender to the dunk contest.
But Jabari, why is it a bad idea? YOU’RE TRYNA GET SOMEONE KILLED. It’s one thing to get caught slippin’ in-game: 10 men on the court, the crowd “OOOOHs,” but the game keeps rolling.
In a dunk contest? No seven-foot NBA player worth his contract is gonna stand there, one-on-one, with the world watching and Shaq, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley waiting to clown, and let Zach LaVine embarrass them! You might see the first Belly-to-Belly Suplex during an All Star event, the big men would go to any means necessary to shut a dunk down.
Jabari: Lang, you need to come out here more often, because it AIN’T the ‘shine that we’re known for out here! Like I said, I know it won’t happen…but I’d certainly be ALL about it if they did. Just like I want them to bring back the ‘old timer’s game’ they’ve had variations of. But that’s another conversation for another week. We definitely appreciate James (@jholashoops) for joining us this week. I can assure you this won’t be his last time joining the discussion.
As always, you can tweet your thoughts to Jabari (@JabariDavisNBA) and Lang (@LangGreene).
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.”