It’s December 1st at 3 pm. You may have been leaving school, bored at work, or if you’re like me, preparing for the drive up to FTX arena for the Heat vs Cavs game, as Miami awaited an inevitable emotional and physical collapse.
Then ‘Bam.’ Literally.
The notification hits our phones that Bam Adebayo has torn his UCL and will undergo surgery. No specific timetable at this moment in time, just a quick blur of what the rest of the season would look like for the Heat.
Luckily shortly after, we learned it wasn’t season ending. Just around a 4 to 6 week process at best case scenario, which was far from the worst possible outcome after the immediate thoughts.
Then we all turn to evaluating the Heat’s roster. And the crazy thing is all of our minds went in the same exact direction. We didn’t question the guy stepping up into the role of Bam Adebayo. We instead questioned who would fill the role for the guy stepping up, Dewayne Dedmon.
Why is that? Why did so many of us not question the way he would at least help Miami survive many nights as the starting center? Well, it was simply his ability to just be solid.
Ever since entering the starting lineup 8 games ago, he’s averaging 9 points a game on 56% shooting, 60% shooting from three, 10 rebounds, a block, a steal, while throwing in 2 assists. That’s the definition of a trusted back-up big in this league.
Every challenge that has been thrown his way, he has hit out of the park. How is Miami going to deal with the inability to switch in the majority of their lineups? Oh, Dedmon will just play some of the best post defense of his career, while blitzing like a young version of himself.
How will Dedmon be able to slow down Joel Embiid in a game Miami shouldn’t even be in by halftime? Well, holding him to 3 of 10 shooting looks like he found a decent defensive outlet.
Will the offensive restrictions be noticeable with Dedmon and PJ Tucker in the starting front-court? Yet that can’t happen when Tucker becomes an interior/rolling powerhouse, and Dedmon starts stretching the floor with an above the break three-ball.
Over the last 8 games, the Heat are .500, which is essentially the formula to surviving over this period. The young guys have produced at a high level, Duncan Robinson is getting his shot back, Tucker is playing over his head. But the reason the Heat have gone 4-4 instead of 3-7 or 2-6 is due to Dedmon being the “mechanic.” Fixing things when asked.
It felt like there have been long periods where Miami’s tried to utilize Dedmon like Adebayo too much. News flash: that just can’t ever happen. You can get away with that with Tucker, but Dedmon needs to be Dedmon on a night to night basis.
Against switching teams, they’ve found the release valve. Screen, roll, occasional pop, repeat.
Against heavy drop teams, they’ve transitioned him closer to a Bam role. Screen, roll, hand-off, repeat.
That is how Miami was able to exploit the 76ers on Wednesday night, and how Robinson was able to catch fire. Two wing threes in the first quarter from Robinson came from Dedmon laying out Danny Green or Matisse Thybulle, so Robinson gets a clear lifting area.
On the other side of things, the Heat have been a much better defensive team when Dedmon is on the floor, going from a 106 defensive rating when he’s on the floor to a 113 rating when he’s off.
Want to take a guess at what that is? Fixing things.
The Heat went from staggering the minutes of Jimmy Butler and Adebayo last season to staggering the minutes of Tucker and Dedmon this year. And I’d argue that method is even more important in this year’s setting.
They’ve gotten decent deep bench production as of late, but they plainly can’t survive without their guy in the middle. His build may not scream versatility, but his role absolutely does.
His attempts have been rising. His production has been rising. His stock has been rising.
“He gives us a different kind of feel at that center position than Bam,” Erik Spoelstra said earlier this season. “Couldn’t be happier about the minutes and productivity he’s given from that position.”
And I think many would agree. Usually when a guy like that enters for an injured star, expectations are really low. Other times when a guy enters for a struggling starter, expectations are really high. But with Dedmon early this month, expectations were leveled across the board.
Dedmon is who he is at this stage of his career, and Miami in particular isn’t trying to change anything about him.
“I’m just here to have fun,” Dedmon said last season. And now Miami’s starting to have some fun as they brought their car into his shop to fix.
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