The Heat is by no means asking Bam Adebayo to defend one of the NBA’s greatest shooters of all time.
But Miami’s 6-10, 20-year-old rookie center out of the University of Kentucky didn’t back down when he found himself on the perimeter Sunday night guarding Golden State Warriors superstar Steph Curry.
“It’s competitive nature,” Adebayo said. “I just go out there and play hard no matter who I’m guarding or what I’m doing. I’m just going out there to try and help my team.”
Commendably, Adebayo has often given those humble responses in his first season in the league.
What Adebayo did by staying step for step with the elusive 6-3 Curry, a career 43.5 percent three-point shooter and forcing him to pass up on his shot didn’t have a major impact on the outcome of the Heat’s 123-95 loss to the Warriors.
But it showed another glimpse of his athleticism and willingness to take on different challenges as the Heat continues to rely on Adebayo as starting center Hassan Whiteside rehabs his injured knee.
Adebayo made his third consecutive start since the Heat shut down Whiteside for the time being to rehab the left knee bone bruise that continues to cause him discomfort. It’s unclear when Whiteside will be back in action, so for the time being Adebayo appears to have the starting spot at center.
In the past three games, Adebayo isn’t exactly lighting up the stat sheet, averaging 6.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.3 steals in 22.9 minutes per game. But Heat coach Erik Spoelstra credited Adebayo for doing a lot of little things to impact the game.
“Those are the obvious ones that people notice,” Spoelstra said referring to Adebayo guarding Curry. “But he does a lot of little things right. Now, he doesn’t have a firm grasp of our defensive system yet, but he’s learning and he’s picking it up very quickly, so he’s getting more disciplined, understanding the nuances of our pick-and-roll defense in particular, so that’s going to be remarkably different even three months from now.
“But, yeah, that [defending Curry] is an example of physical gifts and his discipline. Now, Curry looked like he was trying to get him up on a shot fake on a couple of times and trying to get him to bite for the three and try to drive by him. And he’s very, very disciplined. He did that to [Karl-Anthony] Towns and [Jimmy] Butler earlier in the year, when both of those guys are very savvy. He has some competitiveness in the heat of the moment.”
Adebayo drew some praise recently from veteran Hornets center Dwight Howard, who gave him a hug after the two battled during the Heat’s win Friday night. Adebayo drew a pair of offensive fouls off Howard that forced him to the bench in the third quarter of that game with five fouls helping the Heat’s comeback.
Adebayo has developed some chemistry on offense, with the Heat’s guards often connecting on well-timed alley-oops. Between the Cavaliers and Knicks games, Adebayo even went on an 11-for-11 shooting streak and had a double-double (13 points, 13 rebounds) against Minnesota on Oct. 30 during Whiteside’s first prolonged absence this season.
Adebayo will face two more big challenges during this upcoming road trip.
On Wednesday, when the Heat faces the Spurs in San Antonio, Adebayo will get a rematch with LaMarcus Aldridge, who torched the Heat in its first meeting in Miami on Oct. 25 with 31 points and seven rebounds. And next Monday, the Heat travels to Memphis where Adebayo would likely match up against Marc Gasol.
“It’s different experiences,” Adebayo said. “It’s going out there and studying my matchups and knowing the personnel. We’re going to see them again and see other teams again so it’s just going out there and studying the game plan.”