The Trail Blazers signed Jaylen Adams earlier this week, an undrafted guard out of St. Bonaventure, as a substitute for Trevor Ariza, who opted out of the season’s continuation in Orlando. Adams has spent a majority of the past two seasons in the G League, most recently playing for the Wisconsin Herd. In 2019-20, he averaged 21.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists as the Herd went 25-8 in the 33 games he played.
The decision to sign a 6-foot-2 guard surprised most fans as Ariza’s absence left a void at the small forward position; Portland already has the guard positions covered by Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons.
Coach Terry Stotts cleared the air by admitting that Adams was signed for the practice squad and an emergency option if injuries occur. So, if the Blazers stay healthy (fingers crossed), is there a future for Adams with the Blazers, or will he strictly be an Orlando bubble signing?
Here is a look at what Adams offers and and how those skills fit with Portland’s system.
Adams is a dynamic scorer and playmaker out of the pick and roll, a style of offense the Blazers look to utilize often. He frequently uses a hostage dribble to give the roller more time to get in good scoring position and has a quick floater when the defender is on his back.
If his defender goes under the screen or the opposing big man sags back, Adams is comfortable pulling up for three. He shot 41.6% on above-the-break three-pointers and nearly half of his attempts from deep were unassisted.
He also has a nifty one-armed hook pass to find the roller after a slip screen or skip to the far corner. By driving hard and pulling the opposing big to the strong side, only one defender is left to catch the roller. If he does, the weakside wing is open. If not, the roller has an easy finish at the rim. Adams can read that defender and make the correct decision more often than not.
Despite only being 6-foot-2, Adams finishes well in the paint. He masterfully adjusts in the air to avoid outstretched arms to get his shot up. He converted 67.3% of his attempts in the restricted area; among 156 NBA guards who had more than 50 attempts on the season, that percentage would have ranked 16th.
Between his first and second year in the G League, Adams noticeably improved his driving abilities to create such opportunities. In 2018-19, 29.5% of his points came from the paint. This year, that percentage jumped to 41.1%.
In all these scenarios, he keeps his head on a swivel. He consistently finds the open man and isn’t afraid to make the simple pass that keeps the offense moving. However, Adams sometimes forces passes into tight windows when a better option exists. He finished this year averaging 3.8 turnovers per game.
Adams can’t stay in front of bigger guards. Here, 6-foot-6 Denzel Valentine backs him down to the paint and puts up a flick shot as if no defender was even there.
He does have the speed to stay with smaller driving guards and avoids fouling by keeping his hands vertical. Sometimes he is caught flat-footed on the perimeter, so a dribble move or two in these situations allows his assignment to find an open lane.
His off-ball movement leaves a lot to be desired as well. He gets caught ball watching and frequently misses rotations when an opponent gets to the paint. Even when he does rotate, he lacks the size to effectively impact the shot. Adams does have active hands in passing lanes. This season, he tallied just short of two steals per game.
The Blazers already possess a solid starting and reserve guard pairing that should hopefully be around a few more years. That said, adding another guard who can handle scoring and playmaking duties wouldn’t hurt the team. If anything, it can relieve McCollum of his bench point guard duties and still allow Simons to play off the ball as he improves his playmaking chops.
Adams has experience playing alongside another ball-dominant guard in Frank Mason. The two fueled the Wisconsin Herd’s potent offense and finished top two in G League MVP voting.
However, Adams’ defensive inefficiencies make him tough to pair with Simons, who also struggles on that end of the floor. Both are under-equipped physically to guard traditional NBA backcourts.
Additionally, while Adams’ presence enables Simons to play a more McCollum-like scoring role in the second unit, he needs to develop his playmaking in order to fill the point guard role. Portland has all its eggs in the Simons basket, meaning they won’t sacrifice his development for a potentially effective offensive duo alongside Adams in the second unit.
The Blazers could bolster its training camp squad with Adams, but his abilities on the court have been on display enough in the last two years. Outside of intangibles, it’s unlikely that the front office learns anything groundbreaking in the coming weeks.
Adams has the skills to make an NBA team—he was the MVP runner up and made the G League First Team this season! But, ultimately, Portland doesn’t have the right environment or roster composition to warrant signing him past the remainder of this unusual season.