Bam Adebayo has been climbing the ladder of labels for some time now. A good defender for his size to a great defender. A great defender to an elite versatile defender. And now, an elite versatile defender to the the most versatile defender in this league today.
Adebayo has missed a big chunk of time this season to finish off the calendar year, which blended into some of the month of January as well, so that basically hurts his case for defensive player of the year in the big scheme of things.
But putting that award aside, he’s doing things on that end that we haven’t seen from him before. It’s one thing to be so physically gifted and elite at clamping up your team’s favorite perimeter player, but it’s another thing to be taking the necessary leaps on the minor side of things, just like many talented offensive players develop.
Just as a quarterback or a point guard pick up on certain reads to make as time progresses, safeties and back-line defenders do the same. And at this moment in time, we’re seeing the reads of Bam Adebayo hitting new levels.
It’s a pretty tough task to try and dissect a pick and roll that includes both Adebayo and PJ Tucker, but Erik Spoelstra has developed a plan to make that what is seen most frequently against talented guards, while Jimmy Butler roams on the weak-side.
In this play above, Fred VanVleet comes off the screen as Adebayo blitzes him immediately. Bam gets a decent portion of the ball to throw off the trajectory of the pass, but Scottie Barnes scoops it up anyway. As Barnes begins to make the next simple read, which is the lob inside to the big in the dunker spot since Miami’s rotations are off, Adebayo fixes that problem.
He swarms in to one-hand pick off the pass, just showcasing the amount of area he can cover in a matter of seconds.
It’s instinctive, and that is when the best quarterbacks, point guards, and safeties reach their peak in terms of reads.
Half of the matter is just pure reads, and the other half is utilizing that physical gift of his to make his presence known each and every possession. Like I said before, it’s one thing to lock up these superior guards on switches time and time again, but it’s another thing to do it once ball-handlers try to avoid you.
Since Adebayo has returned, we’ve seen him pick up on something that I haven’t seen before this point. When that offensive player picks up that ball without the ability to put it back on the deck, he’s going to swarm you. At an uncomfortable rate.
This is unlike the sneaky Jimmy Butler steal and scores, since in that instance, they don’t know it’s coming.
With Adebayo, they see it developing, but there’s nothing they can do to stop it.
Looking at the clips above, this is something Adebayo has been doing on a regular basis since his return, which is not allowing any type of entry pass. We constantly have talked about the mismatches on the back-side being problematic following switches, but well, it isn’t an issue when they can’t actually make that insertion.
How is this eventually countered for the offense?
Well, it leads to them making that extra swing pass to their left or right, so that player can then feed it inside to the mismatch, but this isn’t Omer Yurtseven blitzing anymore.
As seen in that earlier play against VanVleet and the Raptors, his recovery speed is one of the best I’ve seen in the half-court. So by the time that swing pass is being made, Adebayo is in route to recover.
But more importantly, it can’t be figured out as easily as it was last year. This Heat team has the personnel to mix things up defensively at an outstanding rate, which just leads to pure Bam Adebayo fun.
Speaking of that personnel around him, that’s what is propelling his play, and that’s an absolute fact.
How is that exactly?
Since this isn’t last year anymore, Adebayo actually has a ton of trust in his back-line help when that switch is made. He couldn’t usually make that gamble to try and break up a pass on an entry pass, since if he was unsuccessful, it was an easy bucket 100% of the time.
Now we see a defensive front-court trio of Butler-Tucker-Adebayo, who can all make up for the others mistakes when they occur.
In that clip above from last night against the Spurs, they’re running their primary action with the Butler-Tucker-Adebayo trio navigating screens. Once again, there’s no clear outlet there.
Butler and Tucker switch on the screen, then Tucker and Adebayo switch again on the next stagger screen. Derrick White ends up losing it into the hands of Adebayo, but the point is that no advantage was created.
Tucker deserves a ton of credit for this all coming together, since it almost feels like he’s the base to it all. But Bam Adebayo is the propelling factor. He’s the guy that can elevate this defense to another level come playoff time, as the dynamic duo with Erik Spoelstra continues to emerge.
Conversations can be had on a regular basis about Adebayo’s play in terms of offensive aggression or different ways to score, but nobody can question his defensive impact. And actually, it should hold a lot more weight than currently viewed.
The amount of consistency he provides on that end of the floor on a regular basis is unreal, and he hasn’t skipped a beat after missing about seven weeks of time.
He’s an elite, versatile talent on that end of the floor, but his increasing reads and stronger supporting cast is leading to these extra steps being made at a faster and faster rate.
“Best defender 1 through 5 that I’ve seen in a while in this league,” said Heat’s back-up center Dewayne Dedmon on Adebayo.
And that’s a hard point to argue.
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