The lesson Monday night for rookie Bam Adebayo was about preparedness, and coach Erik Spoelstra tested the Heat’s first round pick by throwing him a curveball.
With 7:28 left in the first half, Spoelstra did something he hadn’t done in Miami’s first three preseason games. He threw Adebayo, 20, into the fire with the Heat’s regular rotation, subbing him in for backup center Kelly Olynyk and pitting the rookie opposite Dwight Howard, an eight-time All-Star and five-time All-NBA first team selection.
The results didn’t go well. Adebayo, admittedly surprised to find himself in the game, picked up three fouls in three minutes and eight seconds. He grabbed one rebound, a steal, but turned it over once and missed his only shot in a stretch the Hornets outscored the Heat 10-0 before Spoelstra brought out the hook .
But there was value, Spoelstra said, in every second the rookie was out there.
“The biggest lesson right there is you always have to be ready,” Spoelstra said. “... That’s the life of a young player trying to break in. And the Tyler Johnsons, the Josh Richardsons, and the Rodney McGruders know that world very well. You don’t play for a couple weeks, two or three weeks if not more, then all of a sudden, boom, coach throws you in there in the second quarter. And yes, you’re expected to know what’s going on and be productive in those minutes.
“You saw in the second half, he was razor sharp alert. A big difference. He’ll understand that going forward.”
Adebayo, who made appearances late in each of the Heat’s first three preseason games, played the final four minutes and 51 seconds of Monday’s win over the Hornets. He went 0-for-3 with an offensive rebound and a blocked shot down the stretch.
More importantly, Adebayo helped the Heat hold on for the victory, rising up to get a hand in the face of former Kentucky teammate Malik Monk, who took and missed the final shot of the game for the Hornets.
But his first half experience was an eye-opener.
“It showed I’m younger than everybody else because everybody was in a smooth rotation and pace,” said Adebayo, who received rave reviews during training camp two weeks ago from his teammates and coaches.
“I didn’t know how to handle that at first. But you go through adversity.”
Of the 30 first round picks in last June’s draft, Adebayo has played the third-fewest minutes this preseason (26), more than only Denver’s Tyler Lyndon (24 in four games) and Chicago’s Lauri Markkanen (15 in only one game played). Adebayo has gone 1-of-10 from the field, 7-of-16 from the foul line and has six rebounds, three steals, one block and five turnovers.
Armed with a deep rotation, odds are Spoelstra will not have to play Adebayo right away. The rookie, whom Pat Riley compared to Shawn Kemp back in June, can continue to mature and learn while sitting on the bench most nights.
“It’s a learning experience you know,” Adebayo said Monday. “This is what our third game? I’m just going to keep building, keep getting better.”
Asked about Adebayo’s first taste of real NBA action against rotation players, Tyler Johnson remembered Monday what it was like the first time he got thrown into the fire as a rookie.
It was his first preseason game Oct. 18, 2014 in San Antonio. Things didn’t go well at first either for Johnson.
“I remember I was matched up against [Manu] Ginobli and for three or four minutes I just kept going back and forth saying ‘Man I can't believe I'm guarding Ginobili!’ I think he crossed me and scored real quick,” Johnson said. “I was like ‘All right. That’s kind of over now.’ I settled into the game.”
Johnson finished with 17 points in 36 minutes against the Spurs. Although he finished on the right foot, he said it wasn’t easy adjusting at first to playing on basketball’s biggest stage.
“It’s not so much the speed [that gets you the first time you play] because in practice you try and anticipate it as much as possible,” Johnson said. “It’s more attention to detail. You mess up one quick thing and then all of a sudden you’re looking over your shoulder like is ‘Coach watching me or whatever?’
“But [Bam] did a great job. We have a lot of trust in him. He’s done a lot of great things in the preseason. It was good for him to get those first half minutes under his belt. He’s going to continue to build and he’ll be just fine.”