The 2021 Tokyo Olympics officially kick off July 23, but the Olympic men’s basketball journey begins July 25 local time.
The four scrimmages for Team USA, along with Team Nigeria’s three scrimmages for Team Nigeria have recently concluded. Three notable Heat players from Team Nigeria — Gabe Vincent, KZ Okpala and Precious Achiuwa — along with Bam Adebayo of Team USA competed in scrimmages over the past couple of weeks. It was announced Monday that Vincent, Okpala and Achiuwa officially made the Nigerian roster.
After about a month camping exercise in Sacramento and Las Vegas, D'Tigers head coach, Mike Brown selected Josh Okogie (Minnesota Timberwolves), Miami Heat’s trio of Gabe Vincent, KZ Okpala and Precious Achiuwa. pic.twitter.com/Q6r1fogvE3— #NBBF (@nbbfonline) July 19, 2021
For each of the four players, there were ups and downs, ebbs and flows as well as getting acclimated to their new teams.
With the scrimmages officially wrapped up, let’s dive into the film and see what Adebayo, Achiuwa, Okpala and Vincent showed to potentially help their respective teams, and what they could provide to the Miami Heat in the future.
Facilitating in the pick-and-roll:
One of Miami’s notable pet actions is the dribble-handoff; the Heat have strung together league-high frequencies in handoffs in each of the last three years and ranked No. 2 in 2017-18, per NBA.com.
Over the last two years, Adebayo’s been in a myriad of advantageous 4-on-3, 3-on-2 situations from the action — specifically in his two-man game with sharpshooter Duncan Robinson.
Adebayo’s ability to slip and quickly read the defense has been one of his best attributes throughout his first four years. But instead of spamming the dribble handoff, Adebayo has used his high-level playmaking acumen in the pick-and-roll.
These two sequences occurred on consecutive possessions.
The first clip opens in a pistol action, a common staple within NBA offenses.
Lillard passes to Durant, who flows into a pick-and-roll with Adebayo. Both Duop Reath and Dante Exum blitz Durant, freeing up Adebayo for a 4-on-3 situation. Patty Mills tags off Lillard, while Nicholas Kay quickly pinches off Jayson Tatum from the strong side corner. While in the short roll, Adebayo recognizes that Kay over-helps, quickly rifling a pass to Tatum for an open 3-pointer. He missed it, but it was a good read from Adebayo nonetheless.
The second play represents an eerily similar situation for Adebayo, though it’s Lillard operating in the pick-and-roll instead of Durant. Kay mistakenly over stunts once again, leading to another quick pass from Adebayo to Tatum in the corner. This time, Tatum begins cutting before catching it and euro steps en route to a nifty finish.
This third clip is evidently negated because of the foul call, but Adebayo was still able to quickly process the collapsing defender as a rolling facilitator.
He screen-and-rolls for LaVine with Jock Londale — Adebayo’s defender — hedging. LaVine passes to Garland on the wing, who acts as the intermediary for Adebayo with an easier passing angle. Garland delivers the timely bounce-pass (that was nearly picked off by Josh Green), with Adebayo immediately dishes it to Tatum in the corner — which likely would have resulted in a shot if no foul was called.
Above, Lillard calls for the high pick-and-roll as time on the shot clock dwindles down. Adebayo flips the screen followed by Lillard getting blitzed from Ricky Rubio and Pau Gasol — gifting Adebayo an open lane to operate.
Like he does so well, Adebayo reads-and-reacts with pure instincts. He catches Victor Claver tagging on the weakside after receiving the pocket pass, feeding Durant for an open 3-pointer.
These mini developments are key for Adebayo. As I highlighted above — he has routinely taken advantage of open opportunities from dribble-handoffs in advantageous scenarios. Now, he’s diversifying his ability to create as Team USA’s primary roll facilitator.
Speaking of his playmaking, Adebayo distributed the rock in multiple facets throughout these scrimmages — not just out of the short-roll. Surprise surprise, it wasn’t much (if any?) different than what we’ve seen him showcase in his first four seasons with Miami.
Despite possessing slightly undersized traits compared to other traditional centers, Draymond Green and Bam Adebayo represent Team USA’s frontcourt with certain identical proficiencies: Both are switchable defenders who can both create shots for others offensively.
Offensively, Adebayo’s filled his role flawlessly.
#PointBam was in his bag during this sequence.
One of his most under-appreciated elements he adds offensively is the ability to bring the ball up the floor and becoming a secondary ball hander because of his keen handle. It is, however, developing into a trait that’s becoming popularized amongst modern NBA big men (paging Nikola Jokic, paging Nikola Jokic ...).
He does so on this play. He scans the floor before locating a cutting Lillard, who slipped the split action with Bradley Beal, for the bucket.
It’s difficult to deliver a better bounce pass than that.
Here, despite not necessarily self-creating a shot for others — Adebayo generates a 3-point basket from almost nothing.
Adebayo fumbled the initial pocket pass from Lillard. He then recognizes the incoming double-team from Facu Campazzo and still kept possession. Zach LaVine eventually transports from above-the-break to the corner, opening up an easy dump-off from the hectic double team. Adebayo offloads a well-timed bounce pass to the one-time All-Star en route to Team USA’s sixth-and-final triple of the first quarter.
Here, Adebayo fakes the dribble handoff to Keldon Johnson before giving the ball to Tatum on the wing. Reath switches onto Tatum, thus putting Goulding, a 6-foot-4 guard, on him.
Adebayo records the post touch near the right block. Exum rotates for the weakside double. Kay, originally defending Johnson, must split the difference with LaVine. He sinks to LaVine, thus opening a crease for Johnson to cut. Adebayo recognizes the cutting Johnson, relaying the crisp bounce pass for the right-handed lay-in.
The 24-year-old is a sensational instinctual passer, and does so in multiple facets. He’s excels at reading and reacting to how the defense plays his other four cohorts, and he’s only getting better at it as his career carries on. Miami and Team USA will flourish if he continues along this developmental path as an instinctual, multi-dimensional playmaker.
Confidence growing in mid-range?
Adebayo was an efficient mid-range shooter last year, knocking down 41.3 percent of his long 2s last year — in the 73rd percentile — per Cleaning the Glass. The efficiency didn’t carry over to the playoffs, shooting 2-of-10 on long 2s (49 percentile) against the Milwaukee Bucks.
He seemed to re-kindle the confidence — with positive regression result-wise — in the four Olympic scrimmages. Despite playing with better competition on the floor, Adebayo’s attempts seem more smooth with an up-tick in confidence. Adebayo doesn’t hesitate, looking more comfortable and free with his jumpers; might I add that he looks like he’s seeking it out more instead of automatically looking away from the basket off the catch.
This first clip was from when he was immediately inserted into the game in Team USA’s second scrimmage versus Australia. He catches the ball at the wing and immediately hoists the rock, resulting in a banked-in 2-pointer.
In the second clip above, the attempt didn’t drop, but it’s still an encouraging sign.
Beal, the screener in this scenario, slips the pin-down attempt. It gets shutdown from Adebayo’s defender, Marcos Delía, while Campazzo simultaneously shades Lillard — preventing any dribble handoff attempt.
Lillard rejects the handoff and Adebayo finds him on a basket cut. The 6-foot-2 guard recognizes Delía shifts over to mitigate the drive, immediately re-distributing a bounce pass to Adebayo’s spot: The right elbow.
Though Adebayo missed the ensuing shot, he didn’t think twice about launching it. On occasion throughout the regular season and in the postseason, Adebayo hesitated to hoist such attempts — oftentimes rotating his body to either side, looking for a potential dribble hand-off.
Lillard and Adebayo perform another screen-and-roll above. He receives Lillard’s pocket pass and takes a dribble before realizing Josh Okogie’s stunting from the wing. With Heat teammate KZ Okpala (see below) on his heels, Adebayo rises up for the free-throw line jumper.
Butler and Adebayo established themselves as Miami’s top shot creators, for better or for worse. It’s why Miami’s need for a true point guard — who could, for instance, maximize Adebayo’s opportunities in shooting spots where he’s most comfortable — becomes so pressing.
If Miami acquires a free agent point guard — such as Kyle Lowry or Lonzo Ball — or via the trade market, the equation changes in maximizing such shot opportunities for the now 24-year-old center.
Defending in space:
Adebayo is one of the best guard defenders amongst centers in the entire Association.
The center is considered one of, if not the most important player defensively because of how important they are to the overall schematic blueprint to a defense. Indeed, that’s the case with the Heat; their switch-y scheme isn’t possible without Adebayo at the helm. He switches onto guards in any ball screen action and routinely makes it difficult with incredible size, instincts and feel for the game.
Team USA has employed a similar defensive scheme with Adebayo painting a similar picture.
Above, a flare screen led to Adebayo defending former No. 5 overall pick, Dante Exum. Adebayo negated Exum’s drive, stonewalling him on the right block without baiting on the pass fake. The degree of difficulty Exum’s layup attempt — which wasn’t close — became incredibly high at Adebayo’s expense.
This second clip didn’t begin with a switch in the pick-and-roll — it transpired via a cross match.
It ultimately didn’t matter.
Adebayo pressured Ingles at the point-of-attack. No, it wasn’t a perfect on-ball rep, but the recovery was enough in the end. He briefly trailed Ingles after a slick hesitation, but recovered in-time to prevent the 10-foot shot attempt — though it resulted in a ridiculous buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
Below, Adebayo gets switched onto Sergio Rodriguez out of the double drag. He passes it off before receiving the rock soon thereafter with nine seconds remaining on the shot clock.
Rodriguez, listed at 6-foot-3, isn’t able to skirt past Adebayo and elects passing it to Gasol for the contested mid-range attempt at the end of the shot clock.
Above, Adebayo gets switched onto Rodriguez once again.
Spoiler alert: The same result occurred.
After a couple of hesitation moves, he attempts to blow by Adebayo. The 6-foot-9 center stonewalls the former NBA guard’s path to the paint. Rodriguez retreats and feed Willy Hernangomez on the mismatch just before the shot clock expired.
By trial and error, Olympic offenses are figuring something out: Adebayo defending a guard isn’t is a mismatch, it’s a daunting challenge.
A Heat player rejecting an attempted dunk with his left hand with less than two minutes to go in a given half?? Have we sung that song before? It sounds familiar.
Achiuwa made the highlight of the night last Saturday, and better yet, maybe the entirety of the scrimmages.
The 6-foot-9 big man perfectly timed a Durant dunk attempt. I don’t need to explain how tough that is given Durant’s freakish length and athleticism.
(Spoiler: It’s very difficult)
His value as a rim protector isn’t limited to blocking shots. It can stem from other “blocks”, too.
Above, Argentine forward 41-year-old Luis Scola (he’s still playing international basketball? Good for him!) nudges past Okpala on a basket cut. Achiuwa, defending Jose Vildoza, sees the cut in addition to Gabe Vincent shifting weakside and races towards Delía, Vincent’s man. Scola instinctually heaves the lob to Delía, but Achiuwa leaps to swat the alley-oop attempt away.
Achiuwa averaged 1.4 blocks per 36 minutes in his rookie season, but the sky’s the limit for the 21-year-old if you combine his growing feel with his athleticism and pure instincts.
“His ball skills are a work in progress for a prospect considered a tweener forward, not quite a particularly good ball handler or shooter for a wing at this stage,” wrote Jorrye Nixon of NBADraft.net in Achiuwa’s pre-draft evaluation.
“He’s not a strong shot-creator. Achiuwa relies on transition, straight-line drives and cuts. His ball-handling moves need work,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman, when analyzing each top pick’s biggest weaknesses after the 2020 NBA Draft concluded.
“Feel for the game is a major work in progress. Tunnel vision with the ball in his hands. Can handle in space but rigid with the ball in traffic,” wrote ESPN’s Mike Schmitz and Jonathan Givony in Achiuwa’s scouting report.
A common draft evaluation weakness amongst scouts and pundits? Achiuwa’s handle. Was it a fair assessment at the time? Sure. At times, it was a problem in his rookie campaign.
However: It’s a reach to expect a 6-foot-9 center to possess a tight, shiny clean handle at this stage of his career.
But what these three scrimmages have shown is that he’s made considerable strides in that regard.
Precious Achiuwa has been running the show with 12pts— Making of Champions (@MakingOfChamps) July 12, 2021
Argentina 46 - 59 Nigeria pic.twitter.com/3Bx8ETTXh0
In the clip above, Achiuwa hauls in the rebound after a missed shot. He followed suit by cruising coast-to-coast with his off-hand! He commits an in-and-out dribble to blow past Gabriel Deck before euro-stepping Scola for the lay-in.
In the clip above, he nearly loses the handle after attempting to drive baseline after a hand-off attempt. He re-gathers, pops a left-to-right hesitation between-the-legs, crosses over and then power dribbles into a counterclockwise spin move. Once he gathers, he attempts a right-handed jump hook soon after an ineffective pump-fake gesture.
Look at this sequence from Achiuwa:
Like Adebayo, he’s shown flashes of sensational defense in space. This instance, it leads to a torturous shot attempt.
But that’s not what sticks out the most.
Vincent (see below) corrals the loose ball and passes it to Achiuwa before falling out of bounds. Achiuwa shoots out of a cannon alongside the left sideline — similarly to the first clip — before delivering a gorgeous bounce pass to KZ Okpala at the dunker spot for the easy finish.
Here, Achiuwa catches the ball off the SLOB. Nwamu, the inbounder, clears to the opposite corner — opening up a lane for Achiuwa to attack Delía off the dribble.
He backs up, hesitates then explodes to the rim. Scola refuses to stunt off Okpala as Achiuwa bulldozed Delía for the rim finish.
Part of the reason why Achiuwa fell out of Miami’s rotation was the increased propensity to turn the ball over with his handle; the process was rushed. Now, the game appears to be slowing down, making reads — and, thus, the results — easier to come by.
He’s always been able to dart coast-to-coast, but the Heat ask more from their centers than just that. Predicating he isn’t traded and remains on the team, his improved handle in the half court and in transition could increase his touches — as well as his role with Miami in the future.
An old adage in basketball is, “The ball will find energy.”
That’s not always the case, especially in a couple of the instances below. But Achiuwa showcases a never-ending motor with his hard rim-running.
After setting a screen to free up Obi Emegano to the strong side, he catches the ball above the break, seeking an immediate flow into the dribble hand-off. He fakes one hand-off and flows into another with Emegano, immediately slipping the screen after recognizing the hard hedge. He doesn’t see Achiuwa darting towards the rim and gets fouled on the pass attempt to Stan Okoye.
Here, the start of this possession is a floppy action, Achiuwa acting as one of the screeners on the block with shooters running off them and guard Ike Iroegbu as the primary initiator.
Once Nwamu catches the ball on the wing, Achiuwa attempts to post up before screening Nwamu. He explodes to the rim after setting the screen, but Nwamu is slow to locate him and feeds the ball to the opposite wing. The possession eventually ends with Reath deflecting the ball out of bounds subsequent to Iroegbu’s errant contested layup try.
His rim-running will do more good than bad. He’ll draw the gravity. Case in point:
Achiuwa’s screen-setting in combination with his energetic demeanor sets up a flurry of opportunities for the Heat’s offense and, currently, Nigeria’s offense.
When I talked about Achiuwa’s best game of the year in his player review, I briefly touched upon him displaying his athleticism that enhances his vertical spacing ability.
He’s done the same in Nigeria’s Olympic scrimmages.
Above, the 21-year-old couldn’t corral the lob attempt because it was slightly too high and behind him. Achiuwa’s tip-attempt didn’t come close, but he continues to showcase exceptional athleticism when darting to the cup. His head nearly scraped the rim!
For this play, Achiuwa immediately flows into a 1-5 high screen-and-roll. With Deck on his left hip, Emegano notices that Scola is in drop coverage. When Achiuwa breezes past Patricio Garino’s lackluster tag on the weak side, Emegano lobs it for the light two-handed jam.
Extending his range?
“I know [Erik Spoelstra]’s going to kill me,” Nigeria head coach Mike Brown commented after claiming he wants Achiuwa to shoot more 3-pointers.
Mike Brown said he knew Precious Achiuwa would be a "vertical threat in the paint." But Brown added that if Achiuwa's feet are set and he's open, he wants him to take the three. "I know Spo is going to kill me," Brown said with a laugh.— Anthony Chiang (@Anthony_Chiang) July 12, 2021
He attempted just one triple in his rookie season, missing it. It came with 10 seconds to go in the shot clock.
Achiuwa doubled that mark against Team USA alone, matching his rookie season total with just under two minutes to go in the first half.
His first 3-point attempt came off a BLOB. Achiuwa caught it at the left wing, scanned the floor for a split second for any subsequent movements or actions (there wasn’t any.) He then recognizes Adebayo backs up before hoisting the rock.
Achiuwa’s next shot attempt emerged from distance, this time with a different result.
I have a feeling that Adebayo’s going to be receiving an ear full about this for quite some time.
If Achiuwa, who shot 32.5 percent from deep (on 40 attempts) in college, continues to expand his range, the different lineup variations Spoelstra could utilize would be endless.
Could Achiuwa play with Adebayo more in the future? That experiment was short-lived last season. They spent just seven minutes on the court together and finished a minus-7. The vision of Achiuwa becoming Miami’s stretch-4 isn’t a realistic short-term option. However, predicating on if either can consistantly shoot (and make) 3s — the thought of Achiuwa with Adebayo instead of behind him makes Achiuwa’s ongoing development all the more intriguing.
“You see the talent,” Brown said after Nigeria’s victory over Team USA. “You see the determination, you see the intelligence, you see the physical and mental toughness, you see the athleticism, the length, the quickness. You see all those things, and when he puts them all together, he is dynamite on the floor, even as a young guy ... It’s just a matter of him understanding how he can utilize all those attributes every single second he is on the floor. He is still learning, and that is why I say he is not even close to touching his ceiling.”
Okpala didn’t suit up in Nigeria’s final scrimmage. Brown labeled him as a “little banged up”, but he should be ready to go when the Olympics begin this weekend.
KZ Okpala was the only player on Nigeria's roster who did not play tonight vs. Australia. Coach Mike Brown said after the game that Okpala "was a little banged up" but added that "he should be good to go the next time we step out on the floor for a real game."— Anthony Chiang (@Anthony_Chiang) July 14, 2021
When he was on the floor, Okpala typically picked up the ball handler full court — off makes and live rebounds. He oftentimes served as Nigeria’s first line of defense, utilizing his physicality, length and tenacity to stifle opposing guards — occasionally leading to easy deuces on the other end.
He did it against some of the world’s best competition, too.
Okpala is up into Lillard’s jersey near half court. It’s understandable, given the 6-foot-2 guard is one of the most potent deep-ball shooting threats in the Association.
The 22-year-old shaded Lillard throughout the possession, staying step-for-step with him. He then walls-off Lillard’s cut and his pressure prevents him from touching the ball for the remainder of the possession.
Okpala wasn’t typically asked to be Miami’s top point-of-attack defender last year. Such a responsibility was typically preserved for Miami’s point guards — Goran Dragic, Kendrick Nunn, Avery Bradley (before he was traded) or Vincent — or Trevor Ariza. He has always been a very capable defender, but this could transition into a larger role in future seasons while his offensive game comes along.
Nigerian Olympic coach Mike Brown, the Warriors, assistant, "KZ [Okpala] is a remarkable talent . . . He has a chance to be, obviously, an elite defender." Says he could be an eventual contender of Defensive Player Of the Year. "His upside is tremendous."— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) July 9, 2021
Vincent strung together one heck of a performance against Team USA in its opening scrimmage, tallying 21 points and knocking down six 3-pointers in the winning effort.
The last time he recorded a game with at least six 3s was on Feb. 20, 2020, when he hit six 3-pointers in the G-League with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Miami’s G-League affiliate. He recorded a team-high 25 points in their 127-105 victory over the Oklahoma City Blue.
In the play above, Vincent showed excellent off-the-ball movement.
Okpala collects the ball in the corner before scanning the floor and attacking left. Vincent relocates from the opposite wing to the corner to unlock a more feasible pass. In the process, he catches Luciano Gonzales ball-watching on the wing, giving himself plenty of time to catch, set and fire for the triple.
If he continues knocking hitting 3-pointers with better efficiency, it’ll lead to more driving opportunities like this:
Physicality, quick hands defensively:
Part of what is endearing about Vincent’s game is his physicality defensively. Though he doesn’t possess the requisite size that’s valued in today’s game, Vincent makes up for it with a bulldog, physical defensive mindset that embodies his complete on-court demeanor.
After a guard-to-guard pick-and-roll, Vincent switches onto Bradley Beal, who finished as the league’s second-leading scorer last season with 31.3 points per game. It’s difficult to completely shut down Beal. Few defenders can accomplish such a challenging task, which is incredibly taxing in itself.
Beal attacks hard to his left and nearly bulldozed Vincent. The 6-foot-2 guard held his own, collapsing Beal’s air space to make his impending shot difficult. The potent scorer got the shot off, but Vincent does a good job with his contest.
After switching the back-screen on the BLOB, Vincent guarded some guy named Kevin Durant. Ever heard of him?
Durant, a four-time scoring title champion, received the pass and immediately drove left. Vincent doesn’t possess the size, nor length to wall-off Durant’s direct path — though his quick hands forces the turnover.
Team USA’s men’s basketball team is slotted in Group A with Czech Republic, France and Iran. Its first game will be on Sunday, July 25 at 8:00 a.m. EST against France, led by three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier and Nicholas Batum.
Nigeria, in Group B with Italy and Germany, will play Australia before Team USA at 4:20 a.m. EST.