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Has Bam Adebayo worked his way up to become Miami Heat’s best defender?

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Using a single metric Adebayo’s numbers on defense have steadily improved during the season.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Heat fans regard Josh Richardson as the team’s best defender, but is that still true today?

Lately Richardson’s defensive prowness has slipped, while Bam Adebayo’s defense has improved, as measured by Diff%: the difference in field goal percentage by players he guards versus their overall FG%.

Miami Heat DIFF%

Player Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Season
Player Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Season
Adebayo, Bam 3.7 -3.3 -1.9 -9.3 -3.9 -17.9 -5.4
Richardson, Josh -11.2 -8.8 -0.6 -8.6 -0.3 7.4 -4.6
Dragic, Goran -2.3 -5.2 0.7 -6.5 -0.3 -2.4 -3.3
Wade, Dwyane - - - - -13.4 13.6 -1.5
Whiteside, Hassan 4.6 -4.3 11.6 -1.0 -0.8 -2.4 -1.4
Winslow, Justise 0.8 2.5 0.4 -6.9 -0.6 -0.2 -0.7
Johnson, James -6.9 2.6 5.9 -5.1 -1.2 0.9 -0.6
Ellington, Wayne 6.5 -4.0 4.0 2.5 2.2 -17.8 1.0
Johnson, Tyler 3.0 -0.3 1.5 4.5 5.4 -3.7 1.9
Babbitt, Luke - - - - 0.8 2.6 2.1
Mickey, Jordan -2.4 32.5 1.7 56.5 -6.0 -31.9 2.2
Olynyk, Kelly 8.9 -0.8 1.1 3.9 2.5 1.5 2.4
McGruder, Rodney - - - - 6.6 8.1 8.0

In the first two months of the season Richardson was a lockdown defender, but thus far in March, opposing players have shot 7.4% better when guarded by him.

Whether it’s fatigue catching up to the demands of guarding the other team’s best player night after night, or some other factors, one issue is referee's getting irritated by Richardson’s theatrics on foul calls such as this one.

JRich can’t help Miami win games sitting on the bench due to foul trouble, because officials have a quick whistle on him, in part because Richardson embarrasses them all too often in front of thousands of people in the arena.

Meanwhile Adebayo has improved his defense to the point where currently he’s the Heat’s leader in the Diff% stat.

Bam’s Diff% ranks 9th best in the NBA (DGFA>200), and is #1 in centers off the bench.

What was true last November may not be true today, and relying on outdated numbers can cause problems as the playoffs approach.