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Miami Heat 2020-21 player review: Bam Adebayo

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Adebayo had a star-studded fourth year, but still has plenty of room to grow.

NBA: Miami Heat at Brooklyn Nets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of year: Reviewing the previous season!

It’s now officially the offseason for the Miami Heat, who were swept out of the first round in the NBA playoffs by the Milwaukee Bucks — losing their four games by a combined 82 points.

Before we deep dive into everything regarding the future months for this team, let’s discuss the seasons for Heat players that played in the 2020-21 NBA season and finished on the active roster.

This is our second player review, with the first review being Precious Achiuwa. These will be conducted in alphabetical order.

Let’s get into it!

Brief Overview:

2020-21 stats:

  • 18.7 PPG
  • 9.0 RPG
  • 5.4 APG
  • 1.2 SPG
  • 1.0 BPG
  • 57.0 field goal percentage
  • 62.6 true shooting percentage
  • 22.7 player efficiency rating

The fourth-year center, coming off the shortest offseason in NBA history, underwent another leap. He saw career-bests in scoring, steals, assists and saw increased efficiency on his shooting efficiency in each area inside the arc. Adebayo’s rebounding dipped, but it was a byproduct of him defending so much in space (which I will get to later).

The 6-foot-9 force started in each of the 64 games he played in and was the team’s second best player — as expected — throughout the truncated 72-game season. He will continue to be one of the franchise’s cornerstones for the foreseeable future.

Numbers to Note:

54.3 - Though he wasn’t as efficient during Miami’s disappointing four-game spell against Milwaukee, Adebayo was far more aggressive with his jumper this season compared to his previous three. We saw flashes of his increased confidence in the bubble, but he really showed it off more this year.

Per Cleaning the Glass, Adebayo took a career-most 54.3 percent of his shots (including fouls drawn from such areas) from the mid-range — classified as all two-point shots that aren’t at the rim — netting such shots at a 45 percent clip. His mid-range frequency was up 14 percentage points from 2019-20 and eight percentage points from last year’s bubble playoffs. Per, Adebayo hoisted 22.3 percent of his attempts (at a 41.5 percent clip) outside of the painted area.

In summary, there is noticeable improvement in his jumper compared to year’s past, regardless of the disdain some might feel when he doesn’t immediately look at the basket.

One can assume it will be an ongoing development as his career elapses, too.

4.7 - Miami’s complex offense possesses a myriad of screens and cuts — with Adebayo at the forefront. Sometimes, the offense runs through him at the high post. Other times, he’s creating off the ball for his teammates. For now, we’ll focus mainly on the latter, though one of Miami’s staples is utilizing the Duncan Robinson-Adebayo two-man game with the dribble handoff.

Look away Zach Lowe, but Adebayo averaged 4.7 screen assists per game, tied with Orlando’s Wendell Carter and Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen for the fifth-most league-wide; they turned into 11.4 points a contest off screen assists, which is top-5 in the league. He’s not always the biggest player on the court, but the 6-foot-9 stalwart is one of the most physical specimens in the league — his brute screen-setting showcases that.

18.7, 12.5 - As I noted before, Adebayo averaged 18.7 points per game last year; the 12.5 figure refers to his field goal attempts per game. Only 13 players in NBA history have averaged at least 18.5 points on 12.5 or fewer shots, the last two being Dwight Howard (20.6 PPG, 12.4 FGA) and Corey Maggette (18.6 PPG, 12.4 FGA) in 2008-09. If he continues increasing his shot frequency while creating for others with his screen-setting and adept playmaking, he will be a force to reckon with for seasons to come.

72.7 - Per, Adebayo places in the 72.7 percentile in defending isolation situations — the fifth-best mark in the Association among players who have defended at least 75 isolation possessions this season. He has rightfully earned the trust of head coach Erik Spoelstra with soft-switching onto anyone and shutting business down. His 7-foot-3 wingspan, competitive spirit, tremendous instincts and lateral quickness gifts Miami’s defense with formidable versatility. It’s one example of many, but look at how he defends Kyrie Irving:

Irving’s ballhandling and on-ball creativity speaks for itself. Very few players possess the defensive acumen on both the perimeter and the low block — and Adebayo’s one of them. He didn’t receive a top-3 nomination for Defensive Player of the Year — an award Utah’s Rudy Gobert will likely win anyways — but Adebayo possesses the intangibles and mental makeup to win the award in the future.

Best game?

Jan. 23 vs Brooklyn Nets

Adebayo put together three strong performances against the Nets in 2020-21, but we’ll focus on his second one — when the team had just 10 active players. The Heat’s other star player, Jimmy Butler, was out with COVID-19. Going up against Brooklyn’s three-headed monster in James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — Adebayo had to put together a career performance to stand a chance. That’s exactly what he did, tallying a career-high 41 points on 14-of-20 shooting — including 12-of-14 from the free-throw line — with five rebounds and nine assists despite losing on the road, 128-124.

What’s next?

Adebayo’s first year of his five-year, $163M extension kicks in next season. So we don’t need to discuss his place on the roster: It’s firmly locked, with the key buried in some forest thousands of miles away. And no, I won’t give you a treasure map to find it.

Along with Butler, the 23-year-old is an active leader and will be a player voice for the front office and looming free agents in concert during free agency. Acquiring depth — and help — will be important to maximize their championship-window aspiration windows. It’s easier said than done, as it won’t be a walk in the sand for Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg to figure out how it will upgrade such talent, which is why Adebayo’s input will be just as valuable as anyone else’s.

On the court, Adebayo has improved each year he’s been in the NBA, and I’m anticipating yet another leap out of the budding star next fall. He’s risen into arguably a top-5 center offensively league-wide — featuring next-level playmaking (given his position) with capable two-level scoring prowess — topped-off with All-Defensive caliber attributes and production. He’s one of the most well-rounded centers in the league, but the public will harp on one point: Can Adebayo be more aggressive with the ball?

Among those who played at least half of the 72-game season, 73 players attempted more shots per game than Adebayo and 127 attempted more per 75 possessions, per Stathead. That’s a lot of players, though aggression is difficult to measure given the schematic role Adebayo operates in compared to others in the Association. If Miami acquires another high-octane, 20-point per game scorer, the pressure on Adebayo’s assertiveness isn’t as heavy. It’s hard to determine whether that happens or not in this thinned-out free agency market. Only time will tell.

The best adage to describe the 6-foot-9 star center is that he’s got #NoCeiling. The reality is, as hard as it is to believe, he’s got plenty of room to grow. But it goes without saying that his development will be crucial to Miami’s success moving forward. He’s been as good as one could ask for a player’s first four years, but it’ll be the following next four (or so) years that ultimately determine this team’s ceiling — not just his own.