“Picking my spots where I can actually really excel at, and not getting bored with scoring off that every play.”
That was what Bam Adebayo stated on media day, recapping his off-season focuses heading into a brand new season. Many may have skipped over that specific comment of his during that presser, but it was probably the most important quote of them all.
Why is that? Well, it pretty much looked like he was getting “bored” from those same spots all of last season. What spot was that exactly? Elbow touch, elbow touch, and even more elbow touches.
It wasn’t that it was a bad game-plan, since it was highly necessary for him to be slotted there last season with the roster constructed around him. He had to be in range for the constant screening actions for Miami’s non-shot creating guards, the insert pass into a DHO on the wing was right there, and it was the first step of his evolving jumper.
He would receive that ball at the free throw line, essentially with two ways to score: drive hard to the basket with limited space or let that mid-range jumper fly. And as much as people loved to highlight his aggression last year, his jump-shot attempts sky-rocketed.
But here we are yet again, looking at a guy in the preseason who is ready to explode once more. Part of it is natural evolution of a young player, but there’s an extra element to why this expansion is occurring now.
And his name is Kyle Lowry.
Like I said before, Adebayo’s role last season was simple and closed in because it was important for offensive flow. Adding Lowry to the equation pretty much means Adebayo can throw away most of his trends from last year.
That begins with his spotting in the half-court. It’s no more elbow spectating while someone is probing on the perimeter. It’s no more strong side spamming for him. Now, it’s Bam Adebayo being Bam Adebayo.
Looking at the clips above, there’s a common theme in his offensive set-up. He’s now starting right inside the wing, which may not seem like a huge shift, but it actually is.
The first two clips are a bit different, but can be equally effective. The first is a jumbled up strong-side corner but Adebayo still manages to get to his spot for the floater, then grab his own offensive rebound for the eventual and-1. The second clip is an empty corner, leading to a back-down for a turn-around bank shot in the mid-range.
What is the difference between those plays and his elbow set-up last season? Well, the space he has to operate is so much broader right now.
Asked Bam Adebayo about operating from that inner wing instead of the elbow every play:
— Brady Hawk (@BradyHawk305) October 12, 2021
I asked Adebayo about that shift in his game where that ball is being inserted, which he said, “It’s just realizing I have space. I feel like that was the biggest thing for me last year, I didn’t realize how much space I really had. So, I’m definitely looking to keep being aggressive, finding those gaps, trying to get fouled, get easy buckets, and help my team.”
And that realization in how much space he has can be a true difference maker. He has the attributes to both drive when defenders close-out and pull when defenders sink, but maximizing his spots on the floor is the crucial part. Or better yet, diversifying his spots on the floor.
Once that skill is fully attained, which it seems like he’s getting very close, then yet another leap will be happening right in front of our eyes.
The guys on this Heat team have been urging Adebayo to go into that takeover mode for a while from a verbal standpoint. But Kyle Lowry, on the other hand, is currently forcing Adebayo into that from a physical stand-point.
What I mean by that is he’s going to feed him whenever he sees an advantage, and immediately clear out. Looking at the clip above, they force a mismatch, Lowry gets it to him and spreads out as much as possible. Lowry isn’t enabling him to give it right back to his above the break safety net.
It’s go time, and that’s the only option.
Taking advantage of mismatches on the block was a major point of emphasis by many last season when discussing Adebayo. He may not have been super comfortable with his back to the basket, but when you have a guard on the block, that extra size must be utilized.
I asked Adebayo about that skill from Lowry to somehow always find him when he has a size advantage, which he said, “He’s like the director for traffic.” Adebayo paused for a second to ask how many assists Lowry had in the game, which the response was five. He says “mother-f*****” under his breath then jokingly says, “Yeah, five. Kyle’s taking all of my assists but I’m okay with it right now. I’m not really mad about it as long as we keep winning.”
“He’s controlling the tempo for us, he’s controlling the pace, and we’re just getting out and running,” Adebayo continued.
The full-court set-ups on the break from Lowry are great. The lob passes in the pick and roll are fantastic. But the ability to put him in different spots on the floor that he hasn’t been able to operate from up to this point is the true treasure of the acquisition.
Lastly, many have their opinions on the dribble hand-off. It has been a major staple of the Heat’s offense, and became an unstoppable combo between Adebayo and outside sniper Duncan Robinson.
The issue is that it became pretty stale last season, which felt like a major theme of last year’s dragged out season. Adebayo would get the ball at that elbow and drift out with his eyes roaming sideline to sideline. Offense was trying to be generated, but Adebayo’s self-creation was being held back.
Now, of course, that’ll still be a base to what Miami runs this season, but it’ll be in different ways. Like a main one: not Adebayo as the one handing it off, but instead, Adebayo receiving the hand-off.
Take a look at the play above, which wasn’t the only time this was seen in this game.
No switch is forced, no true advantage is created through that action, but this actually transcends any of that. It got Adebayo plowing to the rim in space. He wasn’t being trapped from double teams and triple teams. It’s just him, his defender, and the rim.
I asked Lowry about playing with a center who is able to create for himself in that fashion when receiving the hand-off from a guard, which he responded, “It’s great. It makes the game a lot easier and he’ll just continue to get better. He’ll find the ways to make plays for everyone else off that hand-off and off the dribble, and that’s gonna be huge for our offense long term.”
The starting point to Lowry landing in Miami was his close friend Jimmy Butler, but the guy who will continually keep him engaged and invested is Bam Adebayo.
Adebayo is still growing, still expanding, and still proving people wrong with that continued chip on his shoulder. We’ve seen him make that leap in the past, but that definitely wasn’t his last.
Butler propelled Adebayo’s game when he first arrived, and now it’s Lowry’s turn. And it’s going to be in a much bigger fashion.
Adebayo isn’t just trying to be one of the top guys on a contending team in the East. He’s on his way to becoming “the” guy with the picture perfect supporting cast around him.
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