During the offseason, the Memphis Grizzlies made a move that many people did not agree with. They traded Jonas Valanciunas to the Pelicans, even though he had consistently been their second-best player all season, for Steven Adams and draft picks. Before the season, Steven Adams was most well-known in Memphis for getting punched in the face by Zach Randolph and earning him a suspension for game 7 of the 2014 series against the Thunder. In retrospect, it wasn’t his fault, but a lot of the fanbase had not forgotten. Today, he has completed changed his image and become a fan favorite after just one season with the Grizzlies.
There was a lot of heated debate about the trade, but the front office saw an opportunity for growth. Valanciunas is a great player, but he also needed a lot of post touches to be successful. With the return of Jaren Jackson Jr. and the emergence of Ja Morant and Desmond Bane, the Grizzlies needed a center that would do the dirty work inside with a low usage rate. Adams played his role and rarely took shots away from the Grizzlies’ budding stars which allowed them to reach new heights.
The most noticeable impact was his rebounding, especially on the offensive end. In the regular season, the Grizzlies led the NBA in rebounds and offensive rebounds which were driven by Steven Adams’s relentless activity on the glass. Adams led the league in offensive rebounds per game (4.6), offensive rebound percentage (17.9%), and broke Zach Randolph’s single-season franchise record in both categories. The extra possessions he earned were often the difference between wins and losses, and his presence was severely missed during the Grizzlies series against the Warriors, They were out-rebounded in every game without him.
Adams also continued to be one of the best screeners in the NBA, something that really helped the growth of the Grizzlies’ young guards. He finished third in the NBA in screen assists, averaging more than 5 per game. Trying to guard Ja Morant one-on-one is difficult enough, when he is coming off of a screen set by one of the strongest players in the league it becomes nearly impossible. He should receive some credit for Morant’s improvement scoring-wise, as he helped Morant get to the rim easier than ever before resulting in a lot of easy baskets and highlight dunks. Even if he did not always set a screen, he was always a physical presence inside clearing more space in the lane. Adams’ does the dirty work that often goes under the radar and does not show up on the stat sheet, bringing a “Grit and Grind” mentality to the next generation.
The most surprising part of his impact this season was his passing, he averaged a career-high 3.4 assists per game and greatly helped the Grizzlies’ ball movement overall. He provided great passes to the Grizzlies’ cutting guards all season. He also built a lot of chemistry with Desmond Bane, who was the benefactor in most of Adams’s assists. Bane shot 55% from the field and a scorching 59% from three off of passes from Adams and was often the recipient of great bounce passes and leading to easy baskets. It seemed like the two of them were always on the same page.
Adams also had one of the greatest passes I have ever seen during Morant’s franchise record 52-point game. The degree of difficulty on both the pass and shot was incredible, but the pass from Adams definitely should have gotten a little bit more credit.
Defensively, Adams was solid and allowed Jaren Jackson Jr. to play a free safety type of role without having to focus on the more physical parts of the game. With Adams on the court, Jackson also fouled at a much lower rate than when he was the lone big in the lineup. However, his deficiencies were seen during the Grizzlies’ first-round series vs the Timberwolves. When guarding centers who play away from the basket such as Karl-Anthony Towns, he just simply did not have the foot speed to keep up. He was also attacked in pick and roll drop coverage by players like Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell.
Because of the ever-evolving small ball movement in the NBA, there are a lot of questions about what Adams’s future will be. The consensus is that Jaren will be the center of the future, because of his ability to play against those smaller lineups and more athletic centers that stretch the floor, but Jackson has also shown that he is not ready to take on that full-time role . Until he is, however, Adams is a more than capable alternative and will continue to have an impact on winning.