Lowe’s 10 things: a burgeoning Lakers tandem, the saddest Toronto Raptor and a surprising revival in Cleveland

    Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) is a senior writer for ESPN Digital and Print.

Happy New Year! It’s Friday, and this week we examine a slick new partnership for LeBron James and the Lakers, a surprising Sixth Man of the Year candidate in Cleveland, weak taunting techs and delightful chemistry in Memphis.

1. Steven Adams and the Bane Train

Some commentators have wondered why the Memphis Grizzlies — No. 4 in the West with a bullet — seemingly downgraded by flipping Jonas Valanciunas (and Eric Bledsoe) to the Pelicans for Steven Adams.

The motivation for Memphis had little to do with their current team: In exchange for absorbing Adams’ salary, the Grizz moved up seven spots in the draft (and selected Ziaire Williams); snagged an extra first-round pick; and got out of extension talks with Valanciunas.

Leave all that aside. Adams is playing really well! He’s averaging 8 points, 11 rebounds, and 3.2 dimes on 58% shooting since Dec. 2. He leads the league in offensive rebounding rate; the Grizz are the league’s No. 1 offensive rebounding team. With Adams on the floor, their defensive rebounding rate would also rank No. 1; that number falls to league-worst levels when he rests.

Pretty much every Memphis frontcourt tandem featuring Adams has worked. The Grizz are plus-7 per 100 possessions with Adams on the floor, and about even when he sits.

Almost half of Adams’ assists have gone to Desmond Bane. They have delightful chemistry. Bane fools defenders by sprinting hard toward an Adams handoff, stopping short, and slipping backdoor.

That is a gorgeous, slower-moving backdoor-style cut down the middle into Bane’s pogo-stick jumper — a nice bit of wink-wink improvisation.

Bane’s emergence is part of the payoff from the Valanciunas-Adams swap. Valanciunas deserved and received tons of post touches. Memphis wanted to redistribute more offense to Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr., and others within a modern spread pick-and-roll offense. They wagered that system would help Ja Morant take another leap. (Umm, yeah.)

Adams is a brick wall screener. He requires zero post touches. He is the plant you don’t have to water. You don’t get this Bane with Valanciunas in Adams’ spot.

Adams can bulldoze inside if defenses blitz Morant — leaving smaller players blockading the paint:

Too many bigs stick with Plan A there — kick it out. Adams is wired that way, but realizes, Oh, wait, I’m enormous. Let me place the ball in the basket.

Morant is a superstar. Jackson has made huge strides on defense, but he’s been up and down overall. The Grizz are not where they are without Bane and Adams.

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