Alright folks, we’re back here in The ‘Shop with another special guest for the week. Allow us to welcome Harrison Faigen, the Associate Editor in Chief of Silver Screen & Roll (among a host of other cool things and places we will undoubtedly get into), to this holiday edition of our weekly discussion.
Jabari: Harrison AKA Pau Gasol’s little brother Faigen, thanks a lot for joining this week. Since the holiday season is upon us, let me start you off by asking what your perfect “gift” would be from the NBA this season? Our Joel Brigham did a fun collaborative piece with the Basketball Insiders team on this very subject, so I’m eager to see your response to this.
Harrison: Thanks for having me and happy holidays to both of you as well. The NBA has given me some solid gifts already, from a new CBA (Yay no lockout!), to a surprisingly fun start to the Lakers’ season (we’ll ignore the lump of coal that is their last 11 games). Aside from turning injuries off, I think the main thing I’d like to see from the NBA is a more reasonable schedule. It sounds like the new CBA will at least partially address this, but I’m tired of it being the “smart” move to rest players when it would seem like it wouldn’t be that hard to stretch the season out a bit more to make doing so a little bit less necessary (except in case of injuries or real wear and tear).
What about you guys? What do you want from Adam Silver-Claus?
Lang: Welcome to The ‘Shop Harrison. Appreciate the time. This NBA season has been good to me. Seeing guys like Russell Westbrook and James Harden put up these historical type of numbers has been awesome to watch. I know some people are nitpicking in the moment, but I’m not. When you have two certified goodie monsters putting in top level work, just sit back, shut up and enjoy the show.
One thing I want from Adam Silver-Claus goes back to the topic of resting guys. Overall, I don’t like what’s been going on because it hurts the product from a fan’s perspective. But anytime I go too far down that road I start to sound like old school bitter artists that complain about this generation’s music. I don’t want to be the “get off my lawn” guy, but I do think Silver-Claus should enforce the guys at least showing up to the arena, unless the rest is announced with sufficient notice. That way the player can still be available for fans to sign autographs, take pictures and what not. What are you thinking Jabari, is this wishful thinking? To, at the very least, have guys accessible and in the building even if they’re supposed to be “resting?”
Jabari: I actually agree about players being available for fans and even the media when simply “resting” here and there. Not sure the league will enforce it, but I would like to see that happen for the fans that wind up paying the exorbitant prices for the tickets. In order to avoid simply echoing what each of you said, I’ll agree the NBA has been very good to us so far this year and thus far under Silver-Claus, in general. Just like I asked for in Joel’s article, can we just get some great games to enjoy on Christmas Day? No blowouts, no duds. That’s all I ask.
For the sake of today’s discussion, let me get each of you to choose just three of the potential Basketball Hall of Fame candidates (NOT an actual limitation) from the group that was recently announced. For me, although “Twitter” will foolishly argue against it at times, Tracy McGrady is an absolute no-brainer. I also cannot tell you how much the fanboy (since the “Fab Five” days) in me appreciates that C-Webb (20.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, ROY, 5x AS & All-NBA) is finally being nominated.
I also think Ben Wallace (6x All-Defensive Team, 4x DPOY) makes a lot of sense for those of us that actually watched his career. Either of you putting Sir UTEP 2-Step, AKA Tim Hardaway, in? Is he far enough away from his post-career controversial commentary (let Google be your friend) and does he have a strong enough resume (17.7 PPG, 8.2 APG, 5x AS & All-NBA) to finally make it in?
Harrison: I agree that McGrady is a shoe-in. The only argument against him is going to come from the “RINGZZZZ” crowd but prime McGrady was unbelievable for some truly godawful Orlando Magic teams. Easily one of the best scorers I’ve ever seen, and it was incredible to watch him and young Kobe Bryant cook on the same nights back in the day.
The other two guys Jabari went with probably mirror my list (Webber is arguably the best passing big man ever and keyed a Kings’ attack I loved to hate as a kid and Wallace was one of the most imposing defenders in league history), but just to keep this interesting I’ll throw out Bill Bertka’s name as someone who should already be in the Hall of Fame. Bertka is a basketball lifer who has not only continued to be a part of the Lakers’ draft process well into his 80’s, but he was a pioneering coach who helped bring the first advance film study to the NBA as well.
Jabari: GREAT mention of Bertka, Harrison. I actually forget that he’s not already a member because I think that’s an absolute absurdity. He’s in great shape at the age of 89, but it sure would be great to see him be able to enjoy this honor rather than slipping him in after-the-fact. But I figure the Hall would know about honoring the historical greats throughout history more than I would. Last thing about the HOF before moving on, now that players only have to wait four seasons (one less than before) to become eligible for candidacy, should we expect to see Rasheed Wallace’s name on next year’s ballot?
Harrison: After growing up as a Lakers fan, my main memory of Rasheed is him beating up on a young Luke Walton like he wanted his lunch money, so as painful as this is for my inner child to admit, yes Rasheed should at the very least be nominated for the Hall of Fame next year. He was a stretch four-five before the term even existed and a great player in the era he played in, and he’s easily a top-ten among guys you’d like to see get a chance to play in this era because they’d fit better.
Lang: Man, I’m coming off as a Debbie Downer this week. Guess I’m not the same when I’m hungry. But Rasheed wouldn’t get my vote for the Hall of Fame. I don’t believe we ever got to see the true potential of Rasheed Wallace manifest, which is a damn shame. From 2000-2003 we saw consistent flashes of what he could have been but at the end of the day, only four All-Star appearances in 16 seasons and no All-NBA or All-Defensive nods to leverage speaks volumes. But respect to ‘Sheed. He helped transform the way power forwards are expected to play in today’s game. Definitely one of his era’s best. Definitely a trendsetter. NBA champion. Great teammate. But just not a Hall of Famer in my view. Ball Don’t Lie.
Jabari: I also get where you are coming from with ‘Sheed, Lang. He’s one of my favorite of that generation of players, but I’m not sure the actual resume will get him there. Selfishly, I want him to make it because I think the speech and moment would be epic, but I’m not certain it will happen.
Alright, last topic of the day will have to do with some trade talk. Even though my standard position on trade rumors is to take them with a grain of salt, I think the Lakers may actually be in a position to potentially capitalize on one (or more) situations where a disgruntled and/or dissatisfied, veteran player may be actively campaigning for a change of zip code. Harrison, I’ve heard you discuss some of the options that could be out there for them on your @LockedOnLakers podcast (S/O to Anthony Irwin, and be sure to follow the show on Twitter), so let me get you to put on your honorary ‘Jim Buss’ hat to rank each of these players in terms of the order of interest the Lakers SHOULD have and tell me what you’d be willing to part ways with: DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Greg Monroe (why are you smiling?), Nerlens Noel, Arron Afflalo. Lang, tell’em why he’s spot-on or crazy in response.
Harrison: I get to wear the cap Jim Buss wears everywhere he goes? All right, I knew it was a good idea to come to the ‘Shop.
- Paul George: The perfect fit for what the Lakers need out of their off-guard/wing position in just about every way. An All-NBA level defense with ball-handling and shooting skills to boot, George would slide in seamlessly alongside D’Angelo Russell to create the best Lakers ballhandling combination since prime Kobe and whoever the Lakers wanted to put next to him. Unfortunately, the giving up assets thing is the tough part here. The Pacers would be unlikely to bite for much short of the entire Lakers’ young core in a deal and George isn’t good enough to mortgage your entire franchise over.
- DeMarcus Cousins: A similar case to George, but a slightly less clean fit schematically and more potential off-the-court issues (and to be fair, probably more raw talent). Recent press blowup related fines aside, the Kings seem dead set on keeping Cousins. But if I’m wearing my Jim Buss cap, I do check in around the deadline to see if Vivek Ranadive has an irrational love for any of the Lakers’ non-Russell or Ingram young players. If he’s willing to make the trade for something like Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson (unlikely but who knows, it’s the Kings), then I think you have to take the risk. However, the new CBA making even more gargantuan extensions possible for George and Cousins makes trades for either seem unlikely.
- Nerlens Noel: Our first (and possibly only) real trade candidate! I’ve seen a lot of Lakers fans suggest a Clarkson for Noel deal, and I could see some merit in that for both sides. That being said, Noel’s injury issues concern me quite a bit, as does his restricted free agency, which will force the Lakers to pony up big money for him with only half a season to see how he fits with the rest of the young group.
- Arron Afflalo: If you can’t tell by now, I’m not very pro-trade with this Lakers team. I think I (Jim Buss for right now) should show patience and see what this young Lakers’ core can be. Arron Afflalo is having a pretty mediocre season in Sacramento, and I’m not sure what or why the Laker would trade for him. He’s only not last on this list because of the last name.
- (986th) Greg Monroe: Ah, Greg Monroe. He whose signing with Bucks birthed actual columns on the internet suggesting the Lakers’ big market advantage was dead because “superstar” free agents like him were signing with the Bucks. That seems a bit premature, in hindsight. Monroe is playing less than 20 minutes per game for the Bucks, and while to be fair to him he’s a pretty horrible fit for their roster, I don’t see any way he’s a better fit in Los Angeles, or really the modern NBA. As a post-up and nothing else specialist, Monroe is part of a dying breed of defensively inept giants who are going to continue to get run off of the floor in all but the most special cases, and I do not endorse the Lakers offering anything of value for his $17 million contract this year with an option to make nearly $18 million next year.
Am I totally off on those, or being a giant TRADE RUMORZZZ buzzkill? Is homerism coloring my view of the Lakers’ young core?
Lang: Very strong take my man. I tend to agree. It’s weird to watch the decline of Greg Monroe. I will say this, people are totally trying to go away from back to the basket big men but I think the giants still have place in the league, especially come playoff time where the refs bite the whistle and games become ground and pound affairs. The ability to score easy baskets inside is magnified in the postseason.
I think the only player the Lakers need to be targeting on the above list is Nerlens Noel. I would give up a Larry Nance and Jordan Clarkson package to get the job done. Philadelphia may bite. They desperately need a guard to go along with their talented collection of young frontcourt players. The Lakers still need a center, even though Timofey Mozgov is only in the first year of a four-year deal. I would definitely pick up the phone, at the very least, if I’m the Lakers to gauge what Philly needs in order to make the trade happen. It’s apparent he is unhappy with how the “process” is going.
Jabari: You guys are probably both right in terms of what the Lakers could realistically grab on the market, unless they wanted to essentially gut the roster for a really big name. As I often say, even though they’ve hit a bit of a rough patch while dealing with some injuries over the last couple of weeks, they are in the position of actually having choices in terms of how they want to rebuild. We’ll certainly keep an eye on that situation over the course of the year, but on behalf of the site and obviously my guy Lang, allow me to thank Harrison for joining us for this week’s discussion. From each of us to all of you, enjoy your holidays…and hopefully with some great basketball in the background.
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.”