Reviewing the Miami Heat’s Young Prospects: Bam Adebayo

(David Santiago, Miami Herald)

When the Miami Heat drafted Bam Adebayo with the 14th pick in the 2017 draft, there seemed to be a collective sense of confusion among Heat fans. Assuredly some fans blurted out questions like: “Did the Heat just draft a Bismack Biyombo clone???” or “Aren’t they still on the hook for $75 million to Hassan Whiteside?” (okay, okay, I did this). Putting fan sentiments aside, even national sports media had less than favorable reviews about the pick. Some outlets were shocked he was selected in the lottery. Others questioned his shooting, defense, or fit in the modern NBA.

A few months later, however, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported that Adebayo made 60, yes 60, out of 100 3’s in his Heat workout. The Heat were also said to be enamored by his defensive footwork, which they felt would translate into the ability to guard perimeter players.

All in all, Adebayo’s rookie season should be deemed a very solid and successful one. Although he unfortunately fell a vote shy of being named to the NBA All-Rookie team, he flashed an array of skills that project a promising future.

While Bam’s measurements (6"10 in height and a 7"1 wingspan) may end up limiting his abilities as a rim protecting presence, his elite athleticism and lateral quickness against opposing wings are fairly uncommon traits for players his size.

Fresh in the minds of many Heat fans are probably highlights of Bam’s defense against some of the NBA’s biggest names. Most memorable are moments of perimeter defensive brilliance against the likes of Jimmy Butler, LeBron James, and Steph Curry:

Digging into his film a little deeper, you can see how impressive Bam’s defensive instincts really are. Watch how he defends this play against the Bucks:

Matthew Delladova tries screening Bam to provide Khris Middleton with a mismatch. Instead of leaving the smaller Tyler Johnson out to dry, Bam shakes off the screen and helps double Middleton. For a brief second you almost think he’s forgotten an open Delladova at the top of the key! But watch as he scrambles to close out on Delladova. He avoids falling for the pump-fake, follows Delladova into the paint, and alters the shot.

But wait, there’s more! Watch again as Henson passes it to Middleton and cuts into the paint. The play includes an action with him calling for the ball. However, Bam drops back just slightly, closes a passing lane, and still manages an impressive pivot to Delladova.

What’s more, Bam’s bulky frame allows him to jostle with beefier centers in the high and low post:

Per Synergy Sports, he allowed only .67 points per possession on post-ups (a fantastic 88th percentile rank).

On shots within 6 feet of the rim, Bam had a defensive field goal percentage of 52.2% against 2.7 attempts a game, per The attempts are low and more playing time will be needed to paint a clearer picture. Still, this is an encouraging number. An elite defensive big like Rudy Gobert had a DFG% of 51.9% on 7.7 attempts against shots within 6 feet.

He also does a great job forcing bigs that put the ball on the floor and drive into taking tough jumpers:

There are certainly areas of defense Adebayo can improve upon. He’ll need to work on positioning when guarding the lob threat in a pick and roll. He can beef up his rim protection and verticality. His defensive rotations may need to be refined. But these issues are common among young players. Progress will come with more game time and repetitions. It’s clear the defensive end is his calling card.

While Adebayo is still quite raw as an offensive player, he’s sneakily shown signs of a being a solid passer. Now more than ever, NBA bigs are required to demonstrate a variety of skills like shooting, perimeter defense, and passing to stay on the floor. It’s great seeing Bam make passes like this:

Bam receives the ball back after executing a dribble-hand off. He takes one dribble into the paint and immediately fires a pass to the left corner, leading to a fairly open 3.

This time he slips a screen, takes a dribble into the paint, and again fires a pass to his left. These may appear to be simple reads finding the open man, but they can throw a defense into a frenzy when executed by a big. Watch the two plays again. Each time, 3 defenders swarm Bam (and ultimately sag off shooters) to keep him from barreling toward the rim.

Still wondering what the big deal is? Here’s Al Horford executing a similar action. The Celtics torched the Sixers in the playoffs with corner 3’s coming from passes like these:

In terms of the scoring aspects of his game, Bam is going to need a lot of work. While he showed positive signs as a rim runner, his shooting left a lot to be desired. Per basketball-reference, Adebayo shot 8 for 26 (30.7%) on jump shots between 10 and 16 feet. He shot 3 for 14 (21.4%) on shots between 16 feet and right inside the 3 point arc. Additionally, on 2-pointers greater than 10 feet away from the basket and classified as “wide open” by (when the closest defender is greater than 6 feet away), Adebayo shot 27.8%.

There’s clearly some intrigue about Bam’s potential as a long-range shooter (his form looks relatively fine) and the Heat should be in no rush to see him extend his range. The sample sizes are small and don’t present damning conclusions about his jump shooting. He’s still nearly a rookie. But even the ability to nail mid-range jumpers could alleviate some of the Heat’s spacing issues in lineups with other non/poor 3-point shooting bigs (Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson). It’s clear he needs to earn respect from defenses:

He’s also struggled mightily in post-up situations, generating only 0.65 points per possession on 31.4% shooting, per via Synergy. That’s good for a measly 14th percentile. His post-ups at times seemed clunky and often ended with the ball caroming off the backboard.

That said, this should be among the least pressing areas of his development. The post-up has clearly been identified as a low efficiency shot in recent years, especially for players lacking an arsenal of fancy footwork and pump-fakes (Side-note: Perhaps Bam could hone this skill down the road. Some NBA intelligentsia seem to be suggesting we could see an uptick in post-ups in the coming years. The more teams master the art of switching on defense, the more the need for 1 on 1 brilliance may arise).

Bam Adebayo’s potential presents exciting possibilities for the Heat. Under a coach in Erik Spoelstra, who stresses the importance of “positionless basketball,” Adebayo could develop into the type of big man teams, coaches, and fans crave in today’s NBA: incredibly versatile with ball-handling skills, passing ability, perimeter defense, and shooting. While Hassan Whiteside may currently be entrenched as the starter at center, it’s clear the Heat have a long-term building block in Bam Adebayo.