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Can Steven Adams sustain, and even improve, upon his success last season?

A successful season for Steven Adams is simply sustaining his production from last season.

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NBA: Preseason-Miami Heat at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

When you think of the Memphis Grizzlies, there are a few fun and exciting narratives that immediately come to mind. This is a young, talented team that plays an exciting brand of basketball. They are a roster full of confidence and composure, ready to take on any and all foes. Ja Morant is one of the most must-see talents in the game.

And, last but not least, Steven Adams is bound to do something that makes everybody realize why he is one of the most lovable players in the game.

You may not believe it, but the point about Adams may be as valid as the point about Morant. Everyone legitimately loves Steven Adams (maybe not Tony Bradley). And while his persona and humor contribute to reasons why NBA fans and personalities around the league think highly of him, his quiet yet significantly valuable production on the court is the reason why the Grizzlies enjoy having him on their roster.

It is not hard to identify, from a box score perspective, where Adams provides value. He is one of the best offensive rebounders of his generation, securing advantages more often than not for each team he has played for over the past decade. His physical style of play can lead to effective defense and turnovers at times. Furthermore, once he arrived in Memphis, Adams ability to make good decisions through his passing was a nice wrinkle to his low usage offensive game that helped the Grizzlies many times, especially early in contests.

Beyond his on the court production, Adams has embraced his teammates and the Grizzlies franchise and fanbase from day one. He seemed like a perfect personality to fill the “veteran presence” role for one of the league’s youngest teams. Along with his production on the court, Adams positive impact on the Grizzlies culture and locker room likely played a part in the recent two-year extension that will keep him in Memphis for the next three years.

As a result, the main way Adams can have another successful year in Memphis is simply sustaining the success he established last year. However, both from an individual perspective and how he supports others on the court, there are a few ways Adams could improve to make him even more valuable.

Effective Passing

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Adams production as a passer last season certainly stands out when you simply compare it the rest of his career before he arrived in Memphis. However, Adams was also one of the best passing big men in the entire NBA last season. He was one of only six players to produce 250 or more assists from the center position las year. It is no secret that Adams is not a threat from deep. The way he overcomes that limitation is by helping other Grizzlies find the best shot possible on offensive possessions.

Per cleaning the glass, the Grizzlies eFG% was 1.9% better when he was on the court compared to when he was not. Memphis’s overall three point percentage was 3.4% better when Adams was on the court compared to he was off. Compared to other NBA bigs, this placed Adams in the 80th percentile for positive difference in eFG% rate and and the 91st percentile for positive difference in overall three point percentage. The only other big to meet those two percentiles was Jonas Valanciunas (min. 1500 minutes played).

Though Adams certainly can be defined as a low usage player, the fact he can still impact and help improve the performance of others shows how effective the growth in his passing and decision making was last season. He had one of the best AST/TO ration among centers in the NBA. Furthermore, due to Adams needing the ball significantly less than Valanciunas did in Memphis due to the difference in the their games, other Grizzlies had more opportunity to take the next step in their development as scorers, such as Morant and Desmond Bane.

Adams continuing this success by effectively distributing the basketball will help Memphis continue to evolve into a balanced and consistent offense.

Scoring Upside

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to actually scoring points, that is simply not a strength of Adams game. In fact, his shot attempts per game have literally been cut in half over the past four years (10.1 in 2018-2019, 5.1 last season.) However, there may be potential upside in Adams ability to score.

Last season, Adams produced his worst single season shooting percentage on shots within 10 feet of the rim since his second year in the league. Combined with his lowest shot attempts per game since his rookie season, it becomes clear why Adams produced the lowest single season PPG of his career since his rookie season. However, there is hope for improvement.

If Adams can get back to career norms in terms of shot accuracy and combine that with one or two more points per game, especially while Jaren Jackson Jr. is out, he could become more consistent at scoring double digit points. That could come from him receiving passes down low for easy looks at the basket or put backs off of offensive rebounds.

When Adams scored 10 or more points last year, Memphis was 15-4. The key for the Grizzlies is encouraging Adams to confidently take the shot if he has a high percentage look. With a full summer in the Grizzlies system, Adams could become a bigger scoring threat than many expect this season.

Supporting the Stars

NBA: Preseason-Miami Heat at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

While it is always best to measure a player’s worth by looking at his own individual stats, it also is important to see how he impacts others. As mentioned above, Adams clearly does that for the Grizzlies as whole when he is on the court. However, the biggest benefit for the Grizzlies with Adams on the court is when he plays with Morant and Bane.

Last season, when Adams was on the court with Morant and Bane, Grizzlies lineups averaged 121.3 points per 100 possessions and produced an eFG% of 54.9, per cleaning the glass. When Morant and Bane were on the court while Adams was on the bench, these numbers declined to 108.1 points per 100 possessions and an eFG% of 48. In other words, lineups with Morant and Bane were significantly more productive with Adams on the court, especially early in games. For both players to continue to evolve into potentially the NBA’s best backcourt, Adams contributions will be a huge source of support.

This, in general, points to the main reason why Adams is such a critical component to the Grizzlies success over the next few years, and why Memphis made sure he stayed. Numbers clearly show the Grizzlies best talents are at their best when Adams is on the court. Regardless of what Adams does on an individual level, if this truth remains in place this season and beyond, Adams value to the Grizzlies will remain significant.

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