Bam Adebayo wasn’t alive when Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard played in his first and only All-Star Game back in 1996.
The Heat’s first round pick was born a year later. By the time Adebayo, 20, was becoming a budding basketball star, Howard, 44, was in the twighlight of his 19-year playing career, serving more as a mentor while collecting a pair of rings on the Heat’s bench.
So how did the Heat’s young fella get to know what his future position coach was like as a player?
“I watched the [ESPN 2011 documentary] Fab Five movie,” Adebayo said Thursday. “Just watching that gave me a good perspective on how he looked at things and how he carried himself.”
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Now that he’s with the Heat, Adebayo doesn’t need to see old highlights anymore of Howard to appreciate his skills as a big man. As a student at Camp Howard, the nickname coach Erik Spoelstra has tabbed Howard’s big man school (Howard was wearing a Camp Howard t-shirt Thursday after practice), Adebayo gets to go toe-to-toe with Howard every now and then in the paint.
It gets physical.
“Sometimes he’ll catch you off guard,” Adebayo said. “You’ll be posting up and he’ll really shove you and it will catch you off guard. He’s got this thing where he’s like, ‘Never relax your shoulders.’ So I’ll always be prepared.
“[He’s] not bad for an older guy.”
Adebayo, who didn’t play much in the Heat’s first four preseason games and struggled when he did (he was 1-of-10 from the field), had a breakthrough performance in Wednesday’s win over the Wizards.
Spoelstra said Adebayo was “a thousand times better” than he was in his first four preseason games.
“For a guy that’s come up through the ranks in AAU and being a top flight recruit, going to a top flight school [at Kentucky and] being a lottery pick, he is very humble and really gobbles up all the teaching that’s being offered to him by the staff,” Spoelstra said of Adebayo, who scored a team-high 15 points (6-of-10 shooting) Wednesday and had a pair of dunks on alley-oops.
“And you can’t give him enough. Each day he becomes a different player because of his openness and his eagerness to get better.”
Spoelstra credits a lot of Adebayo’s quick growth to Howard, who now in his fourth season as an assistant has developed a track record for helping Heat big men improve.
Center Hassan Whiteside led the league in blocks two seasons ago and rebounding last year and Willie Reed had his best season as a pro last year before signing with the Clippers this summer.
Spoelstra is excited about what Howard might be able to do with Adebayo, who at 6-10, 255 pounds has a 7-foot, 3-inch wingspan and a 39 and 1/2 inch vertical leap, which ranks second-best among centers at the draft combine dating back to 1987.
“You can throw it anywhere to the top of the backboard and he’s going to get it,” Spoelstra said of Adebayo. “Defensively he can cover a lot of ground and even switching on the point guard... [he] is getting out there and switching at the end and showing some foot speed.”
Adebayo said getting a chance to run with the regular rotation his last two preseason games has allowed him to get into a better flow and rhythm. He’ll likely see similar minutes in Friday’s preseason finale against the 76ers in Kansas City.
The Heat are in no rush to get Adebayo on the floor. With Whiteside, backup Kelly Olynyk and do-it-all weapon James Johnson as options at center, Miami can afford to be patient and allow Adebayo to grow with time.
All Adebayo is focused on, he says, is getting better with each lesson at Camp Howard. And then doing it on the floor when he gets into games.
“Pretty much just being smart is the big thing about it. Just getting reps, making sure you’re doing everything to a tee is what he’s been teaching me,” Adebayo said. “Just how to be a beast.”