Before the month of February, Bam Adebayo was objectively having his worst season as a starter in the NBA. All numbers were down and efficiency was easily the lowest it’s ever been. While some pointed to simple regression, the reasoning behind this drop-off was largely related to a massive and necessary role change for Adebayo. The addition of Kyle Lowry meant Adebayo needed to change from “play initiator” to “play-finisher”, a crucial piece of development for the Miami Heat’s championship title aspirations.
Since the calendar hit February, Adebayo has learned to thrive in the role of a play-finisher, while simultaneously being the best defender on the planet. Looking back on Adebayo’s last month of basketball being played, it’s completely fair for Heat fans to wonder “are we seeing a real leap from Bam Adebayo?” Let’s dive into some of the numbers from the best month of Adebayo’s career:
Bam’s offense going downhill…. is a good thing?
To this juncture in his career, Adebayo’s Achilles heel as a face-up scorer had been his inability to get downhill consistently off the dribble. The Heat could mismatch hunt to find a favorable matchup for Adebayo but the aggression necessary to get all the way to the rim was not there. After being hardwired to create easy looks for others, Adebayo seems to have made it through the natural adjustment period to understand that it is OK to create easy looks for himself.
The change in disposition (S/o Ariel Attias) when driving to the basket should not be something that’s quantifiable as Adebayo has never been a high-volume rim pressure guy with the ball in his own hands, however; the numbers show a staggering difference when Adebayo would attempt to go to the rim on his own in the month of February:
In the chart shown above you will see Bam Adebayo’s February stats in blue and his Pre-February stats in orange. In his 11 games played in the month of February Adebayo showed an increase in these driving stats relative to his performance before the injury: Drives (+.7), Field Goals Made (+.5), Field Goals Attempted (+.6), Free Throws made (+.8), Free throws Attempted (+1) , Points (+1,8), Points Per Drive (+.33) and saw a decrease in Passes (-.4) and turnover % (-4.6%). While the volume of those numbers doesn’t pop off the screen, it is important to understand the picture that the numbers paint: Bam Adebayo is now going to the rim with the exclusive intention of scoring the basketball. A massive development for Adebayo to be able to anchor non-Jimmy Butler lineups on both ends of the floor.
Where is all the efficiency coming from?
Over the first 26 games leading up to the month of February, Bam Adebayo had been shooting 12.8 shots per game on 51.2% efficiency. Over the 11 games of February, Adebayo averaged 15 shots per game on 57.6% efficiency. An increase in volume typically tends to lead to a decrease in efficiency, for Adebayo it has done the opposite, why?
The simple answer, Adebayo isn’t just adding more shots, he’s adding the right kind of shots. Adebayo’s increase in field goal attempt volume is coming exclusively from within 5 feet of the basket. 1.9 of his 2.2 “new” shots each game are either layups or dunks, with the other .3 coming on hook shots. The most exciting part about this increase is Adebayo is creating more of these looks on his own. Before February, Adebayo was unassisted on 21% of his dunks and 48% of his layups. During February, Adebayo was unassisted on 31% of his dunks and 50% of his layups.
Adding the right kind of shots is important. Being able to create the right shots at will and doing it consistently shows a concerted effort to eliminate all variables except the most important person in the equation: Bam Adebayo. It doesn’t matter who he shares the floor with, this newly adopted “flat-out scorer” mindset is exactly what this Heat team needs.
A leap on defense?
Anyone who has watched the Miami Heat play basketball over the last 3 seasons would be able to tell you Bam Adebayo has been a great defender. Is it possible that the All-NBA defender could be even better? There aren’t many statistics to quantify the impact that Adebayo has on the defensive end, however; seeing Adebayo have the 4th most Stocks (Steals + Blocks) in the month of February will help bolster his DPOY candidacy in a major way. The Heat’s ability to force teams into contested jump shots as opposed to rim attempts has been detrimental to Adebayo’s individual statistics, but his improvement as a weak-side help defender has helped him overcome this obstacle and still take the “statistical” leap from a second team All-Defense defender to one the media can’t deny for the DPOY award.
FAQ’s on Bam’s month of February
While Adebayo played a near perfect month of basketball, the inevitable questions will be asked: Is this sustainable? How does this affect the Heat’s playoff outlook? Where else can Bam improve?
Let’s answer those questions:
Is this sustainable?
Yes. There will be fluctuation from a scoring perspective on a nightly basis but what Adebayo has done isn’t relying on some sort of irreplicable jump shooting efficiency (He’s actually struggling as a jump shooter), he’s simply putting his head down and using his athletic gifts more consistently. It’s completely possible, and in my opinion quite likely, that Bam Adebayo averages 20 points per game over the remaining portion of the season.
How does this affect the Heat’s playoff outlook?
The recipe for slowing down the Heat over the last few years has been to put an athletic big on Jimmy Butler in hopes of making anyone else beat you from the Heat’s roster. Previously teams could get away with stuffing a smaller, quicker defender on Bam Adebayo but that *might* be a thing of the past. If Adebayo can sustain some self-created offense against mismatches, this will force teams to choose which of the Heat’s stars they wish to slow down, and there may never be a right answer. Until the jump shooting normalizes for Adebayo, beating drop coverage remains a question mark but Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro and crew have shown the ability to beat it when necessary.
Where else can Bam improve?
The toughest dynamic to figure out is the Heat’s late game offense with a healthy Miami Heat team. There is an overreliance on Jimmy Butler and a shocking lack of Bam Adebayo. Whether it is by design or not, there needs to be a shift in the team’s process when the game slows down. Adebayo’s continued struggles from mid-range (29.2 during February) and his overall lack of volume as a pick-and-pop big (10 attempts over last 11 games) have paved the way for the smaller role in clutch moments, but can also be the reason for the Heat having a big turnaround in late game offense.
These two facets of offense were Adebayo’s strength in the 2020 playoffs as he shot 46% from mid-range and 51.5% on catch-and-shoot opportunities over a 19-game span. While improvement as a jump shooter isn’t the only path to success for this Heat team, having Adebayo function as an efficient two-level scorer will put defenses into an unsolvable bind and make life easier on everyone who plays for the Heat.
*All stats provided from https://www.nba.com/stats/
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