Bam Adebayo’s season had an unfortunate ending after being swept in the first round by the Milwaukee Bucks. But that shouldn’t dictate his overall progression and career year he had in the regular season.
This obviously was far from a normal season in the NBA, which made this period of time even more developmental centric than usual. He recorded a career high in points, assists, steals, and free throw percentage, while slightly adjusting into different offensive schemes.
As we know, the dribble hand-off was ran into the ground the year before with Adebayo and Duncan Robinson, while opposing defenses were prepared to start the season this year. This led to some new base sets for these two offensive sticking points, and both sustained that effectiveness in the regular season.
In most of these roster evaluation pieces, we take a look back at the positives and negatives of the season, but for the Heat’s young centerpiece, it’s necessary to take a different approach. I always highlight “what’s next” for each player, in terms of an off-season deal, but Adebayo’s next steps are more important than them all.
But before we look into that, let’s take a quick look back into the two primary areas of sustainability and growth…
A Brief Reflection
The Shooting Expansion
One again, recency bias has seemed to completely takeover the season perception of Adebayo. When watching a certain player or team super closely throughout a certain period of time, it’s important to take a step back at times. That moment is now.
The latest discussions that I’ve had about him is the unwillingness to take the given jumper against the Bucks in the post-season, but don’t allow that to blur the number of leaps he has made in this short amount of time.
The mid-range jumper has become a staple of his offensive game now, but take a quick look at the clip above. Retreating the ball out to the perimeter as the shot clock trickles down, he turns into a deep two with a great contest and buries it.
Yeah, he wasn’t doing that a year ago.
I’m going to dive into his jumper later in this article with a closer lens, but the progression to this point must be noted. This one ability opens up the rest of his game tremendously, and it shifts into a much cleaner fit with Heat’s star Jimmy Butler.
Continued Defensive Excellence
This wouldn’t be an Adebayo breakdown piece without touching on his defensive excellence. I could turn this article into a novel if I highlighted each of his suffocating perimeter lockdowns this season, but let’s just cut it down to one.
And why not showcase how he’s able to slow down the greatest shooter in the history of the sport.
He switches onto Stephen Curry, arms up eliminating the shot, great cut-off when he tries to dribble left, and the perfect angle with the basket to put him in no-man’s land. This is nothing new for Adebayo.
Similar to the shooting, closely evaluating Adebayo this season left us pointing out unnecessary soft switches or easy dump-offs to a big being defended by a guard, but this isn’t the time for that. Opposing guards were aware, when Adebayo switches onto them, it wasn’t the normal big being forced to stay in front of a guard. With this guy, it’s his happy place.
We focus so much on his perimeter defense, but I don’t believe his interior positioning is touched on enough. Yes, bigger guys are able to overpower him at times on the block, but the key phrase there is “at times.” Trust me, he gets his fair share of wins down there.
Just watch this sequence against Portland: he catches the ball out of mid-air off the Damian Lillard blow-by, showcasing not only athleticism, but more importantly, his defensive positioning to get to that spot.
In a matter of seconds, Enes Kanter gets Adebayo in the post, but Adebayo ends up sending it back. As Jayson Tatum knows really well, Adebayo knows which hand to utilize when going for a block without fouling. Off the spin, he switches into a right hand contest as Kanter goes up with his right, and it leads to an absolute stuff.
The defensive IQ is absolutely through the roof when watching him rotate freely each and every night, mostly since miscues don’t occur often from an individual perspective.
The Next Steps
Now, that’s enough reflection regarding Adebayo, since as Pat Riley likes to say, it’s always about the next thing. Well, the next thing for Adebayo isn’t just one thing, especially being labeled as a guy with no ceiling. He recently committed to the USA team in Tokyo, which I believe will be very crucial for his development.
Playing against top talent, getting some extra game reps, and just a great confidence booster for a guy who is never done making leaps. But as for specifics, let’s take a look at some things that have caught my eye for the future, and the possible ways of utilization for Erik Spoelstra and the coaching staff.
When diving into the next steps of his shooting, this would be number one on my list: a go-to move into the mid-range jumper. As I’ve reiterated many times, this is considering his defender isn’t camping out under the rim when he has the ball in his spots. And clearly, I don’t think he will allow that to take place again.
Aside from that, this go-to move changes everything. He completed the first step of knocking down the shot at the elbow consistently, but he has to allow his talent to takeover at times. That talent definitely took-over in this match-up with the Brooklyn Nets when he dropped 41.
An iso for him as he turns toward the basket. A hard jab towards the empty corner leads into a hard drive right and an immediate pull-up at the free throw line. He has the length and high release point to make the jump-shot pretty close to unblockable, but the process before that jumper is the part to harp on.
There were times when an overly emphasized pump-fake came into play, where defenders would stop and stare without biting. There were also times when he threw his favorite jab-step, not just to create space, but to get into a comfortable motion.
His jumper always looked smoother when it was followed by that quick jab, and that’s exactly why that go-to move is important. A move that’s comfortable. A move that gets him to the free throw line consistently to fire away. A move that increases shooting confidence.
He’s obviously capable of doing so, but it’ll be necessary to see it come into NBA game speed next season.
If you want an example, here you go. He faces the basket with a scoring mindset, and flows right into that jumper that I was just discussing. After teams watch film on him, they know he likes the pull-up jumper after the jab. But well, he mixes in an extra element.
After that jab, he gives that quick hesitation, acting as if he’s going to shoot. Instead, he explodes by and finishes with his left at the basket. The point of this clip isn’t to say that he needs to utilize the hesi consistently as his go-to move. It’s showing that these added layers to get him to his spots go a long way.
Referring back to him joining the USA team this year, maybe some of those fun one-on-one drills that we saw once upon a time with Jayson Tatum and others will surface the internet again. It’s another reason that type of experience can elevate his game more than a normal off-season. There’s nothing like facing NBA talent, no matter if it’s game seven of the Finals or a competitive one-on-one in pre-game.
A Three Point Shot?
If I’m going to be honest, the three-point shot just doesn’t seem to hold high importance this off-season for Adebayo. Of course that expanded range would change a lot for the team’s offensive scheming, spacing, and possible acquisitions, but pushing the young centerpiece into a certain direction is not necessary at all. Natural development is the essential part for a player of his caliber.
Yes, he has had plenty of end of shot clock moments where he shows that it’s in his bag, but as I pointed out previously, the focus should be to completely master the second level in the half-court before jumping the gun.
It’s why I just don’t see that happening at this point. Do I think it will eventually come about? Absolutely, but a few more boxes are going to have to be checked before that is harped on.
More Transition Offense
On a positionless team, Adebayo is essentially the point guard for a good portion of the game. The takeaway from that statement is two things: Adebayo is really talented and Miami needs a point guard.
That’s a discussion for another time, but those possessions as a point center have showcased a huge strength that I don’t believe was taken advantage of enough. An exceptional scorer in transition.
On this play, Adebayo correctly decides to just go make a play early in the shot clock, instead of setting up offense in the half-court. It leads to him going at the defender, taking contact, and knocking down the one-hand push shot plus the foul.
Why is transition offense such a positive for Adebayo? Well, that’s easy: he’s playing freely on those possessions.
Here’s another example of that fast-paced excellence. While running the floor quickly, he acts as if he’s going to flow into a DHO with Robinson, but quickly dives toward the basket instead.
It leads to a wide open lane as he takes the bump and lays it in at the rim. It’s one of those reasons the way he’s being utilized comes up so much, even being mentioned by Pat Riley in the latest press conference.
The spots that he is put in are clearly comfort areas. It allows him to survey the floor and play-make in the middle of the court, which is something I’ve noticed a lot of current playoff teams are missing at the moment. But although he’s terrific in that spot, a player with that type of talent shouldn’t be your half-court play-maker each and every possession.
He needs the same amount of freedom that he has in his fast-break offense to translate to half-court offense. But well, what’s one way that can be shifted over?
They’re going to have to be creative with blending Adebayo into a scoring role, but the best way to do that is getting him downhill. I’ve talked about his self-creation from the mid-range, but his best offense still seems to occur when he’s moving toward the basket with the ball in his hands.
We saw some inverted PnR’s, but not enough. Almost every one of them were created by Robinson, who is the perfect guy to run it. His defender is always glued to his side, which he began to utilize to his advantage. He would use the defender as a screener into the guy guarding Adebayo, leaving him with a run-way to the basket as seen above.
Adebayo can then use his athleticism to his advantage, and it opens up the floor for everybody else out there. There are plenty more ways to free him up in this exact way, but some extra inverted pick and rolls would be a great start.
The future is bright for Adebayo, and this last playoff series doesn’t change that. He has all of the tools to continue to build upon his game to take this Heat team to the next level, but it’s all up to him to develop that. And with his work ethic, that shouldn’t be in question.
He’s taken his game to the point where everybody knows who Bam Adebayo is. But now it’s time to show them who he really is.
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