Stats in Denver(1987-88 to 1990-91)
In case you couldn’t tell from the above recap of Adams’ skill set, he was one of the best point guards in the league during his time in Denver.
Somehow, he doesn’t have a single All-Star or All-NBA appearance to show for it (in Denver, he was selected to one All-Star game in 1992 with the Bullets), but the stats say that he undoubtedly was. Let’s take a look at his passing numbers first.
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During his time in Denver, Adams averaged 7.2 assists per game and amassed 2181 total assists. Those numbers(min. 300 games) both rank 9th in the league in that time period. That might not sound all that impressive, but he was also one of just 3 players from ’87-’91 to put up 7.2 assists per game and fewer than 2.3 turnovers per game. Neither John Stockton(all-time assists leader) nor Magic Johnson(all-time assists per game leader) could match that.
He was actually remarkably efficient with the ball. During his time in Denver, he recorded 5+ turnovers in a game just 29 times. That means that he put up 5+ turnovers in less than 10% of his games for Denver. For comparison, despite Adams having a lower usage percentage by just 0.4% and having played just 20 fewer games, John Stockton put up 5+ turnovers in 85 games in that time period(about 26% of his games). So, with around the same usage percentage and in almost the same amount of games, Adams was much less turnover prone than one of the greatest point guards of all time.
One can argue that because Stockton was putting up so many assists during that time period, more turnovers were fine. And that is a valid point. However, Stockton couldn’t match Adams’ scoring.
Adams averaged 18.2 points per game in Denver, which ranked 27th in the league in that time frame(min.250 games). However, most of that time was spent playing in the shadows of Fat Lever and Alex English, 2 of the greatest players the franchise has ever seen. In the 1990-91 season, when both Lever and English had left for the Mavericks, Adams showed what he could do when he was the lone star on a team.
In that season, Adams averaged 26.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 10.5 assists, and 2.2 steals per game while slashing 39.4/29.6/87.9. In the entire history of the NBA, there have been only 4 players to put up 26.5 points and 10.5 assists per game over the course of a season: Oscar Robertson, James Harden, Tiny Archibald, and Michael Adams. When Adams did it in the 1990 season, he became the first player since Tiny Archibald in the 1972-73 season to put up those numbers and not until James Harden in the 2016-17 season would somebody do it again. What I’m saying is Adams is the holder of a once-every-decade type season.
Among the players on that list, Adams had the fewest turnovers(to be fair, turnovers didn’t start to be recorded until the 1977-78 season, after Robertson and Archibald had had their historic seasons) and the highest free throw percentage(87.9%). In fact, he also had a historic season relating to his free throw percentage.
That season, Adams became one of 7 players ever to shoot 87.9%+ on free throws while taking at least 8 free throw attempts per game. He joins Kevin Durant, Magic Johnson, Rick Barry, Dolph Schayes, Isaiah Thomas, and Kevin Martin on that list(A.K.A. some of the greatest free throw shooters of all time). His free throw shooting wasn’t even the best part of his shooting game, however.
As I said before, Adams was one of the first 3-point assassins. In fact, he might have been the first.
He was the first player to ever average 2+ three-pointers a game for an entire season. He also was the first player to average 2.5 three-pointers a game in the 1990-91 season. Nobody would put up 2.5+ 3-pointers a game again until the 1994-95 season.
During his time with the Nuggets, there were 4 players in the NBA to make over 400 3-pointers: Adams, Danny Ainge, Dale Ellis, and Reggie Miller. Ainge had the second most 3-pointers on that list with 474. Adams had the most with 630 3-pointers. That’s right, from 1987-88 to 1990-91, he made 156 more 3-pointers than any other player. That’s Steph Curry good.
He was the first player to ever take 4.5+ 3-pointers a game and shoot better than 36% on those 3-pointers. He was also the first player to take 5.5+ 3-pointers a game and shoot better than 36%. Nobody else would do that for 5 more seasons.
I think that all these stats show that not only was Adams one of the best point guards of his era, he was way ahead of his time. Nobody hit 3-pointers like him while he was playing for the Nuggets and when he was tasked with leading a team, he led them to the best offense in the league(1990-91).
Michael Adams is one of the best point guards to ever grace the Denver court. It’s time he gets the respect he deserves.