Breaking Down Bam Adebayo’s Team USA Performance

In these Olympic exhibition games, there’s been a Heat player that has shined in every one of them. Gabe Vincent knocked down 6 threes for Nigeria against Team USA in the first match, while Precious Achiuwa put on an offensive display in the second game.

Now, Bam Adebayo was finally the focal point of the day, not just from a Heat sense, but even being the post-game interview for Team USA after the win. In my last two pieces, I’ve dove into all four Heat players from these games, but today’s will be a little different.

Nigeria had a rough game against Australia on Tuesday night, and other than a few good looking Achiuwa buckets around the rim, nothing really stood out from the Heat guys. So, let’s jump right into Adebayo’s performance against Argentina, playing as much of an all-around game as possible….

Rolling Dominance Sustains Heat Priorities 

This is the role that I expected Bam Adebayo to solely play with Team USA, but clearly it has expanded much greater. Adebayo scores 10 seconds into this game, and it’s all due to a flash from the past as a lob threat.

Coming into the league, that was the role many expected him to play with the Miami Heat, but putting a “ceiling” on him was the wrong choice. When running PnR’s with the Heat at this stage, while lacking true guard facilitators, his rolling has to be much slower a lot of the time, instead of a full out dive.

Of course he received the occasional lob this past season, but the team basically forced him into a stop at the elbow so the guard can build some momentum to try and score style of play. But with the talent on Team USA, it’s just an instinctive dive every single play.

Looking at the clip above, this type of initial action not only benefits Team USA as a whole, but also Adebayo’s evolving skill-set. He sets the off-ball screen for Bradley Beal, before redirecting the screen to flow into a PnR back to the left side. It forces a 2 on 1 which leaves Beal with a pretty easy decision: throw it up for Adebayo to throw down.

After that was the initial possession of the first half, the opening of the second half looked pretty similar. In the second clip above, they worked the ball through Adebayo so he can get Zach LaVine flowing left as a defensive miscommunication occurs.

Although the help is there for the tag on Adebayo, he has the clear size advantage and regains possession after the miss for a put-back layup. He is much more than a rim runner at this stage, but his athletic build means that he must be utilized in that fashion on this squad.

And well, this type of effectiveness sustains Heat priorities: a point guard.

A Passing Clinic

Looking at the stat sheet at the end of the first quarter may have been a surprise for some to see that Adebayo dished out 5 assists through 7 minutes, but that wasn’t even the most impressive part. It was actually the way he was doing it.

When discussing the reasons that these Team USA reps are so great for him, it begins with the trial runs in different spots of the floor. His play-making ability is obviously one of his main strengths: easy DHO’s, face-ups at the elbow, etc. But mixing it up in this way propels confidence and comfort in the long run.

In the first clip above, Adebayo’s running the floor with the ball in his hands, but he knows exactly what he is doing. When passing half-court, he gave a quick glance over to Lillard, getting an idea of where he was on the floor. Lillard slips the off-ball screen which leaves his defender in the dust, as Adebayo turns into post-up positioning. (And as we know, that’s a signal for a pass or a turnaround jumper)

He sets up Lillard with a crisp bounce pass for the bucket. There’s a major parallel with the second clip above as well, even though they look entirely different. Adebayo hits Kevin Durant in stride in transition, but it just shows what makes him such an amazing passer.

He’s just a natural, and more importantly, he’s instinctive. Bigs that are instinctive passers are hard to come by, but that is what makes him so special. He just reacts.

Reacting to a defense isn’t a teachable skill, and playing against these other teams gets him additional looks at very diverse offensive play-styles. That’s why this time is so crucial.

More Pocket Pass Effectiveness

I don’t want to make this piece all about selling the point about adding a point guard, but these pocket passes make it hard to pass up. I touched on it in depth in my last piece, but this possession shows why it’s so important.

They’re running a high PnR, which is something Adebayo and Duncan Robinson did a lot of down the stretch of last season. The difference is that Robinson wasn’t a threat when he got inside the arc, leading to much different defensive scheming.

Lillard and Adebayo are able to play back-yard ball with this easy 2 on 1 due to the defender dropping down instead of blitzing. The Robinson-Adebayo combo, on the other hand, never saw the big drop.

Instead of a rotation frenzy that the Heat dealt with once the help-side stepped over, team USA is able to get easy opportunities at the basket with the firepower on the perimeter. It’s not just about finding a guy to make that pass to Adebayo, but a guy with enough gravity to make it effective.

Diversifying the Pocket Pass Reception 

Now, they actually used that pocket pass so much in this game, that it became semi-predictable. And that will happen on a higher scale in the NBA.

Let’s just say that Miami grabs a point guard and utilizes this offensive play-style next year. It is then on Adebayo to mix it up a bit with different looks to make a defense uncomfortable. If not, it’ll be on top of the scouting report and can easily be taken away.

For example in the play above, it’s a similar possession except Adebayo gets caught behind the back-board in the dunker spot, which wasn’t the first time it happened in this game. Actually, both times it happened a three was the outcome of the possession, but that is besides the point.

On possessions like this when the defender is trying to fully recover on the ball-handler, Adebayo will need to drift out a bit to that coveted baseline jumper. If the defender tries to cut off Adebayo’s roll, then he must continue the dive, but becoming a pocket pass threat from different spots will be so important.

He has pretty much mastered the drift-out to the elbow in these actions, but the baseline spacer will be the next step.

Tough Shot-Making

If there was an Adebayo moment from this game that was the most promising, it was definitely this one.

He does his own version of the “Kelly Keeper” with a fake DHO into the drive. With his defender still glued to him pretty closely, he turns it into a step-back jumper on the baseline. Bucket.

This is that offensive freedom that many expected him to gain in this USA environment. That may not be his role on this team, but seeing him realize the things that he is capable of is such an important element.

From a film sense, this play is pretty simple, but this is much more about the mental side of things. Having enough confidence to take a contested step-back in this fashion tells me all that I need to know about his next step. And yet, he’s currently thriving on Team USA in many of the offensive sets the Miami Heat use.

Watch this Closely Miami…..

So, we’ve talked about pocket passes and drifting out into a jumper, but here’s a quick example of how the Miami Heat could really utilize this type of stuff.

Let’s just take a look at this play. Offense is once again running through Adebayo as it seems he’s searching for a DHO. Beal fakes as if he’s going for the hand-off then dives to the basket, forcing both his defender and the big to drop down.

Lillard gives a slight fake as well before cutting to the basket in the open floor, essentially leading to a double pocket pass. Adebayo hits Lillard which draws the big even deeper into the paint, before dishing it right back to Adebayo on the elbow for a good look.

He may have missed, but this is the stuff Miami could try and mix into the scheme to maximize Adebayo’s scoring abilities. The expansion of his mid-range game should not be taken lightly, meaning they can get him plenty of open looks in similar spots.

The only issue, which continues as the theme of this discussion, is that some type of downhill threat is needed to make this possible. And once they get that, I believe the offensive play-book can open up a bit more.

Defensive Dominance

After breaking down all of the offensive stuff, we have to finish it off with some defensive discussion. This game was probably his best game on that end of the floor, which says a lot due to him dictating stuff since the first exhibition game.

To begin with the on-ball stuff, it’s no surprise that he can lock up any opposing guard that he switches onto. The only difference between this and the NBA is that players think they have a mismatch when he trots over the screen on the perimeter.

In the NBA, they usually pass away and reposition to the corner to eliminate him from the play, and I guess these teams are learning that quickly. In the first clip above, the ball-handler tries to put the move on Adebayo for the blow-by but gets absolutely nowhere. He then flows into a turnaround jumper which once again generates zero space, resulting in a perfect contest and block from Adebayo.

The second clip is much more than just a defensive stop. He contains in transition without fouling, using his length and quickness to his advantage. This led to him finding an offensive mismatch on the floor, which is just running in the open court. None of these guys his size can keep up with him in transition, forcing him to turn on the speed boosts on this play for an easy lay-in.

Lastly, we get a look at the third aspect of his defensive excellence in the final clip above. That term “instinctive” finds its way back into things due to his comfort levels on that end of the floor. If you asked me what Adebayo did best in this game from a specific sense, I would answer perfect weak-side help and solid rotations pretty quickly.

Although he was defending out on the perimeter, he notices Beal in no man’s land at the top as well, resulting in him back-pedaling down without even checking where the offensive player is. He just knows.

As the big turns on Draymond Green, Adebayo mucks things up a bit, forcing a miss, which is a good summary of what these Green-Adebayo lineups are meant to do.

We know what Adebayo can do on the defensive end of the floor, but this time with team USA is about offensive comfort, and it’s pretty clear that he’s gaining that little by little before they even get to Tokyo.


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