Forecasting as much as possible about the forthcoming season
We’ll get to my annual effort to predict as many things as possible about the upcoming season in a minute, but I want to address a couple of things first.
To start with, my post from last week about how the 2020 draft class was getting extended at a lower rate than previous classes, which made sense because that draft was the most affected by COVID-19, is now completely irrelevant. In the week since I wrote it, seven more players signed extensions, and the 2020 class now has by far the highest rate of extensions heading into Year 4 of any class since at least 2007. (With 14 of 58 players extending, that’s a rate of 24.1%. The previous high was 19.3% for the 2018 draft class.) Shows how much I know.
The most interesting aspect of this, to me, is how many players signed deals that come in below the mid-level extension. As ESPN’s Bobby Marks noted, that makes up almost the entire gap in extension volume between this year and previous years. I’m not sure whether or not this will be a trend, but it’s certainly not what I expected. (There had been at least some speculation that these types of deals would all but disappear under the new collective bargaining agreement, given the dramatic penalties for high spending.)
Then, there’s the Steven Adams injury, and this is just brutal. Memphis is already without Ja Morant for at least 25 games. Backup center Brandon Clarke has no timeline for his return from a torn Achilles. The players left to soak up the vacated Adams minutes include Xavier Tillman, Kenneth Lofton Jr., and Santi Aldama. Those players all bring desirable qualities to the table, but none of them is capable of nearly the same type of impact as Adams.
During his two years with the Grizzlies, Memphis has been considerably better with Adams on the floor than when he’s been on the bench.
Much of this can be attributed to his dramatic impact on the team’s efforts on the glass. With Adams, Memphis is the best offensive rebounding team in the NBA. Without him, it is an ordinary one. With Adams, the Grizzlies are a pretty good defensive rebounding team. Without him, they are a bad one.
Jaren Jackson Jr. is a terrific player and a fantastic defender, but as we have seen throughout his career, there are real downsides to playing him at center. The team’s rebounding suffers tremendously, his foul issues become magnified, and there is more space for opponents to attack the interior of the defense. That’s what Adams is there for, and it’s why he’s such a valuable cog in the Memphis machine.
But Adams also plays an underrated offensive role, given that he is arguably the league’s best screen-setter. He led the NBA in screen assists per game (5.6) last year, and was tied for second year the year before (5.5). Memphis unsurprisingly has been a better pick and roll team with Adams setting the screen than it has been with anyone else doing so.
Already without Morant for more than a quarter of the season, the Grizzlies were going to be a lot different this year to begin with. Especially considering they had also moved on from Tyus Jones and brought in Marcus Smart. But without Adams for the full season as well, things are just going to be a lot more difficult for everyone involved.
Lastly, I’m going to start the Three Things I Noticed on League Pass feature next week. The only big League Pass night this week is Wednesday, but Knicks-Celtics and Mavs-Spurs are on ESPN and I’d ideally like to make this Friday’s Film Findings episode about Victor Wembanyama’s NBA debut, so that’ll be taking up most of my time.
And now, without further ado, we try once again to predict as much as possible about the upcoming season…