Breaking Down Bam Adebayo’s Defensive/Passing Dominance vs Spain

Team USA came away with the win in the final exhibition game against Spain, and although Bam Adebayo wasn’t the focal point in the scoring column, he was in all of the other primary areas.

So, as we usually do in these pieces, let’s dive right into all things Adebayo from last night’s game, which of course must start with the defensive side of the ball…

The Perimeter Lesson: Two Mismatches Become One

There were two different defensive principles that stood out with Adebayo yesterday, but we must start with the one that everybody loves to discuss: perimeter clamps. In a very similar defensive scheme to the Miami Heat, Adebayo finds himself on opposing guards time and time again.

While that doesn’t seem problematic, it is for the guard switching onto the rolling big. The thing about these type of switches in a general sense is that it usually creates two mismatches. The guard can take the slower big man off the dribble in space, while the big man can body the smaller guard on the block.

But when Adebayo is defending the action, the number of mismatches shifts from two to one. The perimeter lesson continues to be a tale of two halves. The opposing guard tries to take advantage of these switches early in the first half, before realizing in the second half a pass and relocation to the corner is the best call.

In the first clip above, Adebayo finds himself defending in space at the top of the key as others clear out a bit. Without much effort, he cuts off the ball-handler with his quick feet, forcing a kick-out as the shot clock ticked down to 3 seconds. That’s just a usual occurrence for Adebayo, but opposing NBA defenses have already found this out. These other Olympic teams are just finding out now.

Looking at the second clip above, you can see what I mean when I say there’s only one mismatch in the action. Once again, the ball-handler tries to take advantage of Adebayo off the dribble, but it goes absolutely no where. He retreats and feeds his big man with Damian Lillard defending for a bucket.

This defensive skill-set should be his biggest strength on that side of the floor, but I’m not so sure that it is……

Help-Side Dominance is the True Defensive Strength

As stated previously, it’s always fun to point out those possessions since it just showcases pure versatility and talent. But I don’t believe that is when he is at his absolute best for defensive disruption.

He’s not an interior force that can deter guys away at the rim with shot blocking, but he is a weak-side deterrent. When he is in the action, he disrupts his match-up while the other guy has a rough time. When he’s not in the action, his free-lancing, instinctive ways kick-in for absolute dominance inside the arc.

Let’s take a look above at some of the clips. In the first one, we see Adebayo awaiting a possible off-ball screen on the weak-side, before the big slips the screen, leaving Adebayo ball-watching once again. Without hesitation, Adebayo comes for the cut-off as Lillard is fronting the post, and it leads to a turnover.

That is how Team USA can do a full 360 with their defensive scheming. Yes, utilize talent on that end of the floor, but not at the cost of weaker defenders. Sustain the switch heavy scheme, but there must be total commitment to doubles and help-side quickness for it to work. And that means they will have to try to keep Draymond Green and Adebayo on the weak-side as much as possible.

Looking at the second and third clips above, this was the outcome of back to back possessions. He may be known as a perimeter stopper, but his interior defense has been strong as he attacks passing lanes. First, he deflects the ball on the entry pass into the post, which gets the team out into the open court where they thrive.

The final clip is Adebayo at his best. USA blitzes the initial action, leaving Adebayo defending both the corner and the rolling big man. He immediately cuts him off and strips it for yet another fast-break opportunity.

And speaking of fast-break opportunities…..

Extra Transition Reps

Something I talked about in Adebayo’s 2020-2021 season recap is the amount of transition opportunities he gets on a game to game basis. Players with that type of size and speed isn’t an ordinary combo, so it must be utilized in any way possible.

In Miami, it always felt he was looking for Jimmy Butler to make a play or Goran Dragic to try and get to the basket, but it’s going to be crucial for him to do more of that. And that’s one thing these Team USA reps will do for him, as he has a bit more fast-break freedom.

He had back-to-back transition tries early in the second quarter on Sunday night, and the first one ended in Butler-style. He put his head down to take the contact and get to the free throw line, which is always an important thing to do with the skill-set he has.

Although the second play didn’t end positively, as he lost the ball out of bounds while running at full speed, you can see how it can be effective. He absolutely beats everybody down the floor as expected, but ultimately is stopped by himself. That’s usually the takeaway with Adebayo in many circumstances, since it feels the only guy that can slow him down is Bam Adebayo.

Team USA’s Offensive Key 

Now, back into some of the half-court offense stuff, his play-style has been consistent since the first exhibition game. He’s a pure rolling threat, except he is the primary play-maker when put in that position.

Spacing has been a bit problematic with Team USA, but there’s a reason that hasn’t been the case in Green-Adebayo lineups. It’s not about maximizing shooters and scorers, it’s about setting up shooters and scorers.

Looking at the first clip above, Adebayo just checks into the game and uses some slight trickery. He acts as if he’s not going up for the screen to stay in the dunker spot, before sprinting up to the top of the key for the pick. They continue to blitz Lillard which ends in yet another pocket pass: also known as Adebayo’s home base.

Three defenders end up at the top by Lillard, as Adebayo is in the middle of the floor with plenty of options as only two defenders stand in his way. He looks right which sends the perimeter rotation in that direction, while both defenders crash him with the ball. He immediately turns for an easy corner kick-out to Kevin Durant for the triple.

This was pretty similar to the first play ran when Adebayo entered the game in the first quarter. In the second clip, they blitzed Durant in a similar fashion, as Lillard back-pedaled to the three-point line and Adebayo surveyed the floor with Ricky Rubio in front of him. He rises up for a contested layup which is off the mark, showing that a repeat of the first clip would’ve been the best call.

The kick-out was there for Lillard, which essentially will be their offense moving forward. Adebayo is the key for good looks on this team, and it’ll continue to be the key for him in the Heat’s offense.

Making Plays Off Pure Skill

As much as I dive into the importance of adding a point guard for primary play-making duties, that will never stop Adebayo from doing what he does, nor should it. He’s a natural passer that perfectly sets up his teammates for good looks, and that will always be a staple of his game.

When calling somebody a natural passer, it means that they do stuff in a way that I continue to use as a description for Adebayo: instinctive. Things won’t always go according to plan in a certain set, but being able to adjust mid-play and find the open man is when the word instinctive comes into play.

Looking at the first clip above, it’s initially a reiteration of that action I discussed in the last section. They blitz Zach LaVine, Adebayo receives the pocket pass, kick-out for the corner three. After the miss, Adebayo grabs the rebound and does what he does best: react.

He rises up to take the contact and get the big man in the air, and hits Keldon Johnson in stride for the bucket. That is far from an easy play to make, but it just looks so effortless when a big with his skill-set is doing it.

Another thing about his passing in these games is that he continues to force the ball into tight windows. It’s quite the gamble at times that can get him in some trouble with that Heat squad, but those timely gambles are working out well for him in these exhibition games.

Johnson slips the screen as Adebayo leads his man for a layup. Running sets, free-lancing, transition lead passes. It’s all in his bag as a passer, which is why it’s more than an unselfishness with his play-making. It’s just that he’s utilizing his talent and strengths.

Some Post-Move Flashes?

The final thing we got a quick glance at yesterday was a good looking post move. It’s an area of his game we always come back to, since that can open up everything else in the offense.

In the clip above, he forces the switch for the mismatch, but he never seemed to know how to take advantage of that with the Heat. His play-style is not overpowering an opponent with his back to the basket using incredible strength, so he improvises.

He uses his comfortable face-up game to get to a favorable spot on the block, after a quick jab into a baseline spin puts him in perfect position. He pump-fakes, uses some of that elbow and shoulder to create some space, then finishes with the left hand on the hook.

Once again, I don’t ever see him punishing mismatches on the block consistently with size, but some finesse moves to create an easy shot with space is the one thing he needs, and clearly it’s a capable addition.


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