As the 2018-19 season comes to a close, Peachtree Hoops will break down members of the Atlanta Hawks roster in “season review” form. This installment centers on rookie point guard Jaylen Adams.
Jaylen Adams was one of the better players eligible for the 2018 NBA draft that ended up going undrafted. In this era of the NBA, four-year college players such as Adams are increasingly overlooked in the draft in favor of younger, less experienced players who possess the physical and athletic profile to project more upside. Such was the case for the 2018 Atlantic 10 conference player of the year.
The Hawks secured Adams on a two-way contract in time to add him to their summer league roster for play in both Utah and Las Vegas. Adams entered his professional career with a perception that he’s not quite big enough and not quite quick enough to project him to eventually being likely to stick in the league as a perennial rotation player.
He was also seen as being something other than a distributor style of point guard, despite posting impressive assist rates during each of his four seasons at St. Bonaventure. He’s not the classic threat point guard that is looking to attack his defender with the dribble. Rather, Adams poses as a threat as a shooter, connecting on 43.6% from the three point line during his final collegiate season, to draw the attention of the defense.
It took some time across the 2018-19 NBA season but, in the final weeks, Adams was just starting to show some improvement. It’s a challenge to spend one’s first professional season bouncing back and forth between the G League and the best basketball league in the world.
“It was definitely an adjustment for me from game style,” Adams said during his exit interview. “I had 40 minutes (in the G League) to get everything I needed to get to and now here (NBA) you’re just coming in and getting the spot minutes. You kind of have to get to it right away. There’s no warm up. So, I think that was definitely a big adjustment for me. But I think it’s definitely going to make me better and prepare me for the long run.”
Adams was converted from the two-way contract to an NBA contract on February 20, nine days after the Hawks bought out Jeremy Lin. He spent the remainder of the season as the functional backup point guard for Atlanta.
He played in 34 NBA games, posting modest per-game statistics. His overall field goal percentage (34.5%) was not impressive, as Adams definitely seemed to be adjusting to dealing with much bigger defenders inside the three-point line. His three-point percentage of 33.8%, though, should be acceptable for his first venture into NBA action.
With that said, his per-36 minutes stats opens one’s eyes a bit. He posted 9.1 points, 5.5 assists and five rebounds. He had a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio, and held up better defensively than was probably expected. The Hawks were 5.2 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Adams was on the court compared to when he was on the bench, though some of that has to do with how the Hawks deployed their wing rotation, with the defensively-focused Kent Bazemore and DeAndre’ Bembry often coming of the bench to play with Adams. Additionally, Adams’ on-off numbers are boosted by the fact that he backed up Trae Young, who would make anybody’s shortlist for worst defensive player in the league this past season.
It can be difficult to know what to expect of an undrafted rookie point guard, but Adams’ per-36 numbers aren’t that far off of what Fred VanVleet posted his rookie season, and he received a two-year, $17.6 million contract from the Toronto Raptors last summer. VanVleet plays with much more force defensively than Adams, however, which is worth noting.
Those per-36 minutes statistics are in the range of a number of undrafted point guards that now have pretty solid footing in the league. Players such as T.J. McConnell, Ish Smith and Yogi Ferrell would fall under this umbrella.
Potentially as important as his statistical output is that he bought into the culture that was being implemented by Atlanta’s new head coach Lloyd Pierce. The Hawks performed better as a team once they played more consistently with energy and a team-mindedness, and Adams was a part of that embracing whatever role was asked of him week to week across the season.
“Where we started and where we ended up, just the group of guys we had on this team,” Adams commented. “We had a great chemistry. We came together and I think by the end of the year we were playing really well. ”
It is noteworthy that despite being undrafted and starting the season on a two-way deal, he did not sound at all differently than any of his teammates in exit interviews when reflecting on what the team accomplished this season.
“I really didn’t set a bunch of crazy goals because I didn’t know what to expect, where I was going to be or where I was going to end up this time of the year,” added Adams. “But it ended up way better than I could have planned it. I think it’s just a testament to the work and the organization believing in me. And, I look forward to what’s next.”
What’s very likely next for Adams is another round of play with the Hawks in the 2019 Las Vegas Summer League and then one of 20 roster spots Atlanta will be able to carry into camp ahead of the 2019-20 NBA season.
In an effort to increase the likelihood that he will enter next season as backup to Young, Adams will need to take advantage of a full summer of access to a professional team’s training staff to get stronger and perhaps a bit quicker. He’s a solid decision maker with the basketball already when he’s not letting opposing defenses speed him up. Also, despite his lack of experience, the ball does not stop moving when he enters the game.
All in all, Adams did about as much as he could have done with his first professional season. An undrafted rookie getting invited back for preseason camp the following season, which is expected to happen given his multi-year contract, is about as much for which one can ask.