By Ben Standig
Special to Atlantic10.com
LAS VEGAS -- Making adjustments is part of the transition from college basketball to the NBA. Jaylen Adams is no exception. However, because of how St. Bonaventure used the Atlantic 10 men's basketball Co-Player of the Year last season, the playing tweaks aren't onerous. The mental side is another story. It led to a subpar first impression at the NBA's annual Las Vegas Summer League. Then the real Jaylen Adams returned.
The Baltimore native experienced plenty during his four years in Olean, N.Y. Adams didn't just play for the Bonnies. He started 108 out of 110 games. The 6-foot-2 playmaker ran the show much of that time. St. Bonaventure improved from 18-13 his freshman campaign to 26-8 during the 2017-18 season, which ended with the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012 and third since 1978. When big spots arose, Adams had the ball.
Then came the Summer League. The showcase at the University of Las Vegas campus is for players at various levels of the basketball world to show their wares, improve their game. Adams arrived undrafted, but with a professional home. The Atlanta Hawks inked him to a two-way contract, a relatively new tool teams can use to fortify depth while having a player primarily assigned to their G-League franchise. Landing this gig counts as a coup, yet isn't binding. Others on two-way contracts were released during the 11 days of the NBA Summer League. Show up and show out.
Adams came off the bench and played only 13 minutes in Atlanta's opening game. There were just a few additional minutes in the second game against Portland. There were plenty of missed shots. Adams went 3-for-14 from the field.
"It's definitely a mental adjustment coming from 40 minutes a game to limited minutes," Adams said. "At the same time, I am just trying to be as effective as I can be in those minutes and just trying to keep growing and learning."
Even without his shots falling, Adams displayed other facets of his game that helped spark the Bonnies.
"I heard a lot of things about him," Hawks summer league coach Chris Jent said. "I think he's shown he's a good basketball player. Those shots haven't fallen for him, but he's able to generate shooting opportunities. He's attacking the paint."
He also found his way. Adams explained after his second Summer League game that his comfort level began rising. Learning more about Atlanta's system, the coaching staff helped. Proof came in his next outing.
Adams continued coming off the bench in the Hawks' next game, but the missing shots subsided. He sank 8-of-12 attempts for 24 points in only 23 minutes.
"Jaylen Adams played very well," an enthusiastic Jent said after Atlanta's win over Chicago. "You saw what he did in college today. I was happy for him."
What Jent and others saw was a quick guard capable of penetrating, sticking long shots and running perhaps the most common play on the NBA level. Adams sank 5-of-7 shots from beyond the 3-point arc against the Bulls.
"Every time down the court (at St. Bonaventure) it was a pick and roll. Just those added opportunities in the pick-and-roll … and my ability to shoot. I think those are two things that transfer the best (to the NBA)," said Adams, who averaged 10.3 points, 3.3 rebounds 2.8 assists in four games.
His playing location could get transferred a bunch from Erie, Pa., home of the Hawks' G-League entry, to Atlanta depending on how he performs and what the NBA needs. The Hawks selected Oklahoma point guard Trae Young fifth overall in the 2018 NBA Draft before tabbing former Maryland wing guard Kevin Huerter 17th. Following Summer League Atlanta shipped out starting point guard Dennis Schroder, but replaced him with veteran Jeremy Lin.
Despite the playing time obstacles, Adams jumped at the two-way opportunity with an Atlanta franchise that changed head coaches during the offseason.
"I liked it. It was a brand new (coaching) staff. Trying to build around young guys, trying to give young guys opportunities right now. I think that was the biggest part of it," he said.
Adams noted the existence of other familiar faces on the Hawks, namely former Saint Joseph's star DeAndre Bembry, who was selected Atlantic 10 Player of the Year in 2016. Last year's rivals B.J. Johnson (La Salle), E.C. Matthews (Rhode Island) and Peyton Aldridge (Davidson), who shared the Player of the Year honors with Adams, were also putting in the work in Vegas.
"It's a little family, so I'm glad to see them succeed and glad to see them on this level," Adams said. "It's a little bit of love, a little bit of support. I wish the best for all of those guys."
There's an adjustment coming for all of them regardless of where their professional careers start. Adams began making mental changes at the NBA Summer League even though he likely won't face the same playing time barriers for Erie. Once again, the ball will be with the high-scoring playmaker. That means opposing defenders will need to tweak their guarding plan. It likely won't take long for the Co-A-10 Player of the Year to find his groove.