Jordan Adams has started his sophomore season at UCLA with a bang.
After injuring his foot in the Bruins’ Pac-12 tournament semifinal matchup against Arizona last season, there was some question as to whether it would take Adams some time to attain his usual high level of play in the 2013-14 season.
Those questions have been answered with an unmistakable roar.
In the first five games of his sophomore season, Adams has averaged 22.2 points, shooting 56.3 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from beyond the arc. To reinforce his reigning status as UCLA’s best all-around player, he has also averaged 3.4 steals over that span, inflated by an eight-steal performance against Sacramento State.
Although UCLA has a few other dynamic talents in Adams’ fellow sophomores Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker and freshman Zach LaVine, Adams has remained the only reliable offensive force for the Bruins.
On a team predominantly comprised of developing talent, Adams has been the only constant, period.
Despite the various factors that constitute a team, UCLA doesn’t stand a chance at doing any damage in the Pac-12 or beyond if Adams isn’t on the court for the Bruins.
This is true not merely for the fact that he is the best player on the court when he’s in the game, but because he brings intensity and passion to the game that most college players in this era don’t possess.
Adams’ excellent start to the season is hardly a surprise to anyone who looked past the flair of top recruit Shabazz Muhammad last season and properly assessed Adams as UCLA’s best all-around player in his freshman season (15.3 PTS, 1.8 AST, 2.2 STL, 1.2 TO).
Muhammad made flashy dunks; Adams made big steals and played his guts out ’til the final buzzer.
As we’ve come to learn with players like Muhammad, greatness is difficult to assess in an era in which most college players care little for the “student” in student-athlete and depart for the NBA at the first chance they get.
Accustomed as we are to UCLA legends like Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor and Don MacLean, we scan past players like Muhammad who use college as a runway for the NBA.
The only exception may be Kevin Love, who averaged a double-double (17.5 PTS, 10.6 REB) and was an All-American in his freshman and only season at UCLA.
Yet, Jordan Adams appears to be of a different breed.
He seems a player who appreciates the college game, understands its value in player development and acknowledges just how difficult it is to “make it” in the NBA. Recent premature UCLA departures Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee could hold seminars on that topic.
Add Adams’ apparent wisdom and tremendous work ethic to his unique, dynamic talent and you have a recipe for greatness.
However, Adams has plenty of ground to cover before he etches his name into UCLA history.
In the first four games of his freshman season, Adams averaged 23.5 points against lesser opponents, similar to his high scoring average to start his sophomore season.
While the decrease of his scoring average as the Bruins began to play tougher opponents was natural, what became a concerning issue for Adams was his drop-off in three-point shooting, and he finished the season at 30.7 percent.
What was even more concerning, and damaging to his team, was that he was a mere 2-of-14 (14.3 percent) from beyond the arc in games against ranked conference opponents in his freshman season.
Despite the negative effects of Adams’ decline in perimeter shooting given his status as the team’s go-to outside shooter, he nevertheless remained the most accurate guard from the field with 44.7 percent (Larry Drew II: 44.6 percent, Shabazz Muhammad: 44.3 percent).
With what he’s displayed this season in addition to the prowess he showcased last season, Adams’ potential in a UCLA uniform is limitless.
He can make shots from anywhere on the court, attack the basket with skillful precision, make his free throws (2012-13: 84.3 percent), play effective defense and, above all, do it with genuine passion.
From his performance in a UCLA uniform so far, it’s evident that greatness runs through Jordan Adams’ blood. He’s a pure competitor.
Yet, in the current college basketball culture, Adams’ legacy won’t mean much if he decides to pack his bags and leave Westwood after his sophomore season.
I’m not convinced that most players these days give half a hoot about the legacy they leave at their college, but if anyone might, it’d be a player like Adams. If anyone cared about having their jersey hanging from the rafters, it’d be him.
However, as talented and driven as he is, greatness is a label reserved for only the proven elite.
Until he proves himself worthy of such an honor, we’ll keep it where it belongs.
High and out of reach.