Here’s the thing you need to know about Jeff Adrien: Nothing about having to keep proving he belongs is new to him.
Generally NBA players on the fringe were stars somewhere in college. So it can be a shock that sustaining a career at basketball’s top level isn’t a natural extension of excelling in college.
Adrien, at least temporarily the Charlotte Bobcats’ backup center, is different. At 6-foot-7 he wasn’t supposed to be Connecticut’s senior big man when point guard Kemba Walker was a Huskies freshman. So he sure wasn’t destined to be a contributor to the Bobcats now that Walker stars in Charlotte.
“He’s hungry,” Walker described. “He’s all about work. He’s always outworked everyone.”
Of late Adrien has imposed himself on the Bobcats (6-6), making a difference with Al Jefferson injured with various ankle ailments. Jefferson might be back Friday night against the Phoenix Suns, and if so, Adrien’s minutes might dry up.
But Adrien jumped in so effectively that he – not Bismack Biyombo, the seventh pick in 2011 – has been finishing games in Jefferson’s absence. In the second half Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets, when the Bobcats built a 16-point lead, Adrien played 16½ minutes, Biyombo 7½. Adrien finished the game with 10 rebounds, seven points and a block.
A month ago, during training camp, Adrien seemed in jeopardy of being cut, since he is on a nonguaranteed contract.
The word “physicality” comes up constantly when Bobcats coach Steve Clifford talks about Adrien. Clifford is big on the idea of players sticking to what they do best during the season, while broadening their skill sets in the summer. Adrien seems a prime example.
“He’s undersized, and he’s not going to be a back-in scorer,” Clifford described. “But he’s quick, strong and tough as nails. When he gets away from that, he’s not as good.”
Adrien says he’s taken that to heart, not just because it’s his bosses agenda, but because it makes sense.
“There are things he’s been very specific about with me. Things I know I’m good at,” said Adrien, who has played parts of four NBA seasons with the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and Bobcats.
“That’s definitely helped me play better – to keep it real simple out there. Just rebound, be tough and finish plays around the hoop. And team defense, of course. Protect that hoop.”
Adrien gets a kick out of the fact that years removed from Connecticut, Walker still sees him for what a work ethic can overcome.
“The other day he beat me into the gym. Give him credit for that,” Adrien said. “I learned early-on that hard work often beats talent.”
Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129; @rick_bonnell