Out of necessity more than by choice, Erik Spoelstra played Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo together last night against the Portland Trail-Blazers. But the move foreshadowed a question Spoelstra will have to wrestle with once Hassan Whiteside returns.
Can Bam Adebayo stay in the rotation after Hassan Whiteside returns? The Heat’s team physician cleared Whiteside to start working on the court, so the North Carolina native’s return is on the horizon.
Proof that Hassan Whiteside was on the court today. pic.twitter.com/pkZ3lhwsiJ— Anthony Chiang (@Anthony_Chiang) December 14, 2017
Whiteside missed five games early in the season, and that allowed the Heat’s 2017 first-round draft pick to play. But once Whiteside returned, Spoelstra went back to having Olynyk serve as Whiteside’s backup. That left Adebayo out of the rotation — according to Basketball Reference, Adebayo has played 100 percent of his minutes at center.
Now, Spoelstra said that the Olynyk/Adebayo pairing can work. The quote below comes from Anthony Chiang of the Palm Beach Post:
“They’re both skilled. That helps,” Spoelstra said of the Adebayo-Olynyk frontcourt. “Kelly can play beyond the 3-point line and play off the elbow and hand-offs and pick and rolls, and Bam can do the same. Might not stretch to the 3-point line, but we feel very comfortable throwing the ball in the elbow area or in the post and that Bam can make a play for the team.”
Playing Olynyk at the power forward spot would allow Adebayo to serve as Whiteside’s backup. But it would complicate the James Johnson/Justise Winslow pairing at power forward for the Heat. Would Winslow play some more at small forward?
Of course, Spoelstra may simply go back to his old rotation and use Whiteside and Olynyk at center. But Adebayo has provided a spark when he’s had the opportunity. He plays good, athletic defense and finishes well around the basket. Why did the Heat select Adebayo with their lottery pick if they were just going to sign Olynyk to a four-year contract to serve as Whiteside’s backup?
That question points to a larger issue with this middling team — could the Heat trade Whiteside if the team doesn’t turn the season around? Now, the Heat are where they were at the end of last season — fighting for their eighth seed. That’s a bad place to be in the NBA. A second consecutive finish of barely missing the playoffs would signal that this team needs an overhaul. Adebayo has proven he can play. Is there room for him, Whiteside and Olynyk on the same team in this rapidly-changing NBA? We’ll see.