The Offensive Evolution of Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson

The rise of Duncan Robinson and Bam Adebayo has been quite the ride. Not as individual players, but the offensive base that was revolved around them, then progressed as it became too much of a headache for opposing defenses.

The dribble hand-off was a staple of the Miami Heat’s offense, consisting of Robinson’s incredible ability to run full speed off screens and fire, while Adebayo sets the perfect and steady screen. It became almost too easy for the Heat in the regular season last year:

Robinson just runs the three-point line, as the defender goes under the screen, which is mistake number one when facing a shooter of this magnitude. He ran from wing to wing around the perimeter like a football player runs the sideline after the catch, which didn’t need any changes since nobody could stop it.

But well, that duo has been getting schemed against at the top of the scouting report, beginning in the post-season last year then growing even more this season. The question became: Could a catch and shoot guy overcome this defensive scheming?

The short answer is yes, if you’re Duncan Robinson. Things like starting offensive sets a few steps behind the three-point line have become a natural occurrence for him, stretching the defense as much as possible with the only option to put the ball on the floor and navigate off the Adebayo screen. And that right there has become a primary element of his game after some extra reps as the ball-handler.

When diving into some of the Adebayo/Robinson offensive sets, Erik Spoelstra has had to get really creative to free up Robinson.

A perfect example is this inbound play, as Adebayo receives the entry pass, Robinson’s off-ball screening becomes the decoy. He fakes the screen and flows into a dribble hand-off, which shows that even though DHO’s are trying to be eliminated, they’re still possible at times with some extra creativity.

Also, it’s just hard to scheme against this type of DHO. Slowly walking down the baseline, waiting for his time to explode. Right when Goran Dragic clears out, he sprints toward Adebayo and takes a sharp angle to allow him enough space to shoot over the top. Bucket.

If there’s anything that this tells me, it’s that Robinson is working really hard on the small things in his offensive game to make these things possible. I asked Adebayo about Robinson’s all-around improvements, which he responded, “He wants to win, it doesn’t matter how we win or what we do to win…He enjoys others success. So, that’s why I feel he’s playing out of his mind, he just spreads so much positivity.”

And that right there sums up the unselfishness of Robinson, that he will do the small things such as off-ball screening or play as a decoy if that’s what it takes to win, which is the reason he’s exploding at the moment.

So, it’s also important to note the amount of possessions that those DHO’s are totally taken out of the equation. He’s continually denied when navigating the Adebayo screen, but look at the creativity to get open next.

He passes out to Tyler Herro, rolls back into the screen and curls around to the middle of the floor where Herro finds him. Thinking back a few months ago, the next decision by Robinson would be to find the closest player to him to pass it to. But things have changed.

He decides to go with a one-legged baseline fade-away and it drops. I don’t think some people realize how much this weighs on a defender following this shot dropping. All of the efforts around screens to keep up with Robinson, just to catch it off the ball and score on the interior is far from being easy to guard.

This third quarter was probably his best all-around quarter of his career. Great defensive moments, putting the ball on the floor, knocking down shots, and impacting the game away from the ball. That’s why this evolving duo of Adebayo and Robinson continues to be effective.

 

The final way of trying to free Robinson in these sets is just to muck things up in the middle of the floor to confuse a defense. Usually this leads to both defenders flying out on Robinson for an easy pass down low to Dragic, but somehow, the opposite occurred.

Nobody stayed on Robinson, which led to him looping around to the corner for an easy corner three.


I’ve dove into a lot of Robinson here, but Adebayo’s role in the effectiveness will continue to increase over time. The pocket pass has been close to mastered between the two, which leads to getting Adebayo in his best offensive spot: downhill play.

Three defenders and four offensive players become the new offense, while the ball is put in their best play-makers hands.

When I asked Robinson about Adebayo stepping up offensively in those type of spots, he replied, “He can impact the game in so many ways without taking shots. He’s really good at picking his spots, and also knowing when it’s time for him to be who he is, to be an All-Star and dominate the game offensively…He, of course, rose to the occasion, like we all expect him too.”

Although Robinson has realized his offensive role and maximized it, it’s now time for Adebayo to do the same. He did that in the win over Boston on Tuesday night after Jimmy Butler went down, but it must become a normal thing even when Butler is playing.

As Robinson said, it’s about knowing when to pick his spots and to be the All-Star that he is. And when that occurs on the regular, this duo will take yet another leap in their offensive effectiveness.

Dribble hand-offs weren’t the only reason for their success. It’s the joint mindset of buying into the offensive scheme, which is mostly based off the aggression of those two.

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