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Through the screens of Steven Adams

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Golden State Warriors v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

When it comes to team building, the goal is obviously to put together the correct pieces around your best talent that will lead to the reaching of the perceived ceiling for that roster. In today’s NBA, focused on pace and space, the traditional “centers” of old seemed destined to become obsolete as positionless basketball takes over. Players such as Rudy Gobert, Mason Plumlee and Steven Adams still provide enough value to be paid quite a large sum of money.

In reference to the value of Steven Adams, it would be wise to throw out the 2020-21 season that was a circus side show the people in New Orleans are used to seeing on Bourbon Street, not inside the Smoothie King Center.

No Steven Adams is not the offensive force that Jonas Valanciunas was last season for Memphis, but Adams has never had the pressure to be that. Surrounded by the likes of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Paul George, Victor Oladipo, Shai Gilgeous Alexander, Adams had a pretty set role and has thrived in it.

Valanciunas has always been relied upon for offensive contribution, as he has taken 8 or more shots per game every year of his career minus his rookie season. Adams has met that mark just thrice from 2016-2019. Why the sudden uptick? Well, Kevin Durant left the summer before the 2016-17 season and took 19 shots per game with him, and there were attempts to be had.

Last season, Adams tied for his second lowest total of his career, but with the likes of Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and Lonzo Ball, that is totally ok. It is also ok to see the efficient 12 shots per game of JV be distributed to 6-7 shots of Adams as a PNR threat and the rest to guys like Jaren Jackson Jr. and Xavier Tillman Sr.

The offense is certainly destined to change with the subtraction of Jonas Valanciunas as his and Adams’ games differ slightly. The Grizzlies typically sought to ride Valanciunas early in games and second halves, as everyone got their legs under them and into the flow of the game. He took 239 of his 742 shot attempts in the first quarter and another 217 in the third. His lowest shot total came in the fourth quarter (159), and he only took 8 three pointers in the closing quarter, converting none of them. In fact, Valanciunas only shot 57 three pointers total in the regular season, hitting 21 one of them. It is very much a fabricated myth that Jonas is some floor-spacing big.

If a center is not spacing the floor, then he must excel at the other parts of the game such as rebounding, screening, protecting the rim and now, switching onto perimeter players defensively. Everyone knows about Valanciunas’ rebounding prowess, top-10 amongst active players in every rebounding statistic, which led to the Memphis Grizzlies leading the league this season in second chance points (15 per game), and Jonas himself leading the league in that category with 5.2 per game.

In Brook Lopez’s age 28 season, after being in the league 8 seasons, he fired 5.2 three’s per game after shooting 31 total in his career. So it is not unfathomable that Steven Adams heading into his age 28 season might up his three-point shooting, but his career free throw percentage of 55% would suggest it is not likely. Adams is an elite PNR big that is a better fit next to Ja Morant than Jonas Valanciunas. Take this stat for what it’s worth, but Adams has had more screen assists than any player to suit up for Memphis since 2016-17 when the stat became a thing. In that span, his screens have led to an average of 9.1 points per game, while the starting centers for Memphis have led to 6.7 points per game.

Check out this compilation of Adams as the roller in the PNR with Russell Westbrook, a similar style player to Ja Morant:

A few things of note:

  1. Adams attempted 22 more dunks in 2019-20 than JV did this past season. Adams is much more of a lob threat than JV, so advantage Adams as a roller.
  2. Despite playing one less season, Adams has 92 more career assists than Valanciunas. Adams is a quicker decision-maker with the ball on the roll and excels at finding his teammates left open by the weak side help defender.
  3. The Memphis Grizzlies were top of the class in floaters last season as most players excelled at the shot. Adams, when not rolling for a lob, has the ability to join in on the fun hitting floaters in the paint. In fact, while Jonas shot more lay ups and jumpers, Adams relied on the floater/mid range hook second most often.

So imagine Adams rolling to the basket and catching the lob from Morant, hitting a floater, or kicking it to the corner for Jaren Jackson Jr or Desmond Bane to drain a three. Adams can still fill the void of second chance points left by JV, as he has 309 more offensive rebounds over his year-shorter career. Adams is also third amongst active players in OREB rate, while Jonas is 8th.

Fun Facts:

  • Adams and Valanciunas differ in Offensive Rating by .1 with JV having the slight advantage
  • Each have 1 career triple double
  • Adams is 7th all-time in Effective FG% (.591) while JV is 14th (.575)
  • Both players were original Toronto Raptors draft picks

2021 NBA Playoffs - Memphis Grizzlies v Utah Jazz Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The most notable shift will be that Adams will not demand touches to be an effective player for the Memphis Grizzlies. He has no problem setting hard screens, rebounding and defending without scoring — if that is what the team needs of him. This allows for an uptick in shots for the likes of Jaren Jackson Jr., who is a favorite Most Improved Player candidate.

For his career Jaren is at 11.6 shot attempts per game, the offense should now shift in a way that allows for Jaren to reach near 18 attempts per game — while Ja and Dillon maintain their offensive load, and Desmond Bane absorbs the Grayson Allen attempts.

So while in a vacuum, it may seem that the Grizzlies downgraded because Adams does not average 20 points per game, at worst this was a lateral move for Memphis in their quest for future contention. It opens more shots for the younger developing players, while giving Ja a more capable pick-and-roll partner and better defender.

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