Without a doubt, one of the biggest reasons why the Memphis Grizzlies surprised the NBA last season with the second-best regular season record in the league was due to the success of their young core. Whether you define it as natural progression or unexpected breakouts, Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and Jaren Jackson Jr. each took their game to the next level. This is a big reason why the Grizzlies are in such a good position in the present and the future.
However, another huge factor in the Grizzlies success was several players returning to form. Both Tyus Jones and Brandon Clarke were significantly more valuable last year, after having subpar campaigns during the 2020-2021 season. Yet, perhaps the best example of a player reestablishing himself as a significant source of value was Steven Adams.
Adams enjoyed a big bounce-back season in Memphis after a year of struggles in New Orleans. Adams proved to be a reliable source of effective screens, productive passing, and physical play. However, the main source of value provided by Adams was his ability to continue his historic level of offensive rebound.
In fact, Adams was able to take his offensive rebounding to the best level of his career, and one few others have reached before in NBA History. Adams led the NBA with 349 offensive rebounds. He also produced the highest Offensive Rebounding Rate at 17.9%. Adams produced one of the more impressive offensive rebounding seasons in NBA history, to the level that only Moses Malone, Dennis Rodman, Jayson Williams, and Andre Drummond have previously reached.
However, do not let the fact that last year was the most productive offensive rebounding season of Adams’s career diminish how consistent he has been throughout his time in the league. This year will be Adams’s 10th season in the NBA. If Adams were to grab 115 offensive rebounds (his lowest season total to date is 142, which was his rookie season) this season, he will become only the 13th player in NBA history with 2,500 or more offensive rebounds in their first 10 seasons.
Adams’s career offensive rebounding percentage of 14.5% is the fifth highest among players who have played at least 17,500 career minutes within the past 50 years. Much like Tyus Jones’s ability to take care of the basketball, Adams has found his niche and produced historic value in that aspect of the game since he entered the league. For a team in Memphis who has prioritized finding ways to win despite their struggles from beyond the arc at times under Taylor Jenkins, featuring one of the NBA’s best offensive rebounders over the past quarter century is just another way to secure advantages that are needed to win.
And that is exactly what Steven Adams helped the Grizzlies accomplish last season.
The Grizzlies were one of the best teams in the league at gaining the possession advantage in games last season. In fact, statistically, only the Toronto Raptors were better at consistently producing more shots than their opponents in games. A few reasons for this success for Memphis was excelling in fast break opportunities and creating turnovers.
Perhaps the biggest reason for this success was converting second chance opportunities. The Grizzlies scored 1533 second chance points last season, 183 more points than any other team in the NBA. In fact, that is the most second-chance points an NBA team has scored since the 1996-1997 season (when such stats started being tracked). No team has come within 100 second chance points of the Grizzlies total from last year during this time frame.
The Grizzlies dominance on the offensive boards and converting them into second-chance points is logically now more critical than ever. With the losses of De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson, and the injury to Jaren Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies ability to create turnovers at an elite rate is more uncertain. Plus, without Melton and Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies are losing two of their three most reliable three point shooters.
As a result, the logical path for Memphis to take to win games this season is playing to its strengths. That involves moving the ball around and getting into the paint and producing on offense. It also means that Adams, along with fellow elite offensive rebounder Brandon Clarke, will have plenty of chances to gain extra possessions and produce second chance points as they likely will see more playing time until Jackson Jr. returns.
Though Adams offered plenty of value last year, the need for him to be a significant source of success may be even greater this year. Yes, the Grizzlies remain focused on the future just as much as the present when it comes to their roster moves. However, the franchise knows that the windows for contention in the NBA are often shorter than teams might think. As a result, Adams playing at a high level could be a huge boost to the Grizzlies getting off to a good to great start this season. And as last year showed, that could be a big benefit for Memphis to be where it wants to be in the playoff picture once a healthy Jaren Jackson Jr. returns.