Bam Adebayo admits he played nervous as a rookie. But as Adebayo enters his second NBA season, the Miami Heat is trying to get him to play more aggressive.
So far, so good.
“He’s shooting more jumpers,” Hassan Whiteside said of what he’s seen from Adebayo in training camp this week. “He’s pushing the ball more. He’s getting out on breaks, pushing it.”
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“Taking the ball off the basket, pushing it, making plays,” Udonis Haslem said. “Just expanding his game and doing a little bit of everything.”
“Just a lot more confidence,” James Johnson said.
In other words, just a continuation of the role Adebayo played in on the Heat’s summer league team in July. The 21-year-old big man averaged 14.0 points on 55 shot attempts, 9.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists in five summer league games.
That high-volume stat line will disappear once the regular season begins just based on playing as a reserve as part of the Heat’s crowded frontcourt rotation compared to his featured role on the summer league team. But the Heat is more interested in the process rather than the results when it comes to Adebayo, and the organization wants it to be an aggressive process.
“All summer, they’ve been preaching for me to be more aggressive,” Adebayo said of Heat coaches. “I feel like I’m doing that here and everybody is proud of me for doing it.”
Adebayo, who was drafted 14th overall last year out of Kentucky, worked with Haslem, former NBA All-Star Rasheed Wallace and Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard in the offseason to add to his offensive game.
What did Adebayo work on?
“Everything,” he said. “[I want to be] well-rounded. I’m working on threes, ball-handling, making my teammates better and getting open shots for myself.”
As a rookie, Adebayo averaged 6.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and stuck to his role in the Heat’s system — play defense and help facilitate the offense on the elbows as the handoff man or by setting solid screens. Most of his baskets were set up by others, as he didn’t use the dribble on 66.6 percent of his shots and 68.5 percent of his shots coming from within the restricted area.
The Heat wants to use more of Adebayo’s offensive skills this season, even if it’s just a slight jump from last year. As Adebayo put it, he’s “trying to be more like James Johnson” — the versatile Heat forward who can create offense for himself and others.
“Just talking with JJ and seeing how he gets players open and seeing how he gets his teammates open, I feel like I can do that for my team,” Adebayo said.
“Your first year, you’re like I’m going to get in where I fit in. The second year, the coaches tell you what you need to do. They want me to be more assertive and be more offensive, so that’s what I’m doing.”
While expanding his offensive game was an offseason focus for Adebayo, defense is still his strength. His most impressive quality last season was his ability to switch on smaller players and keep them in front of him as a 6-10 defender.
Players shot 5.3 percent worse than their normal shooting percentage and 8.9 percent worse from within six feet of the basket when guarded by Adebayo last season. That’s still the skill that’s going to earn him minutes.
“He doesn’t have to be somebody else,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s going to earn his playing time and impact our team in winning by doing the things that he does at an exceptional level. That’s defend, use his athleticism, be at the rim and impact in the paint.
“But he’s improved his other skills and he’s a perfect example of a player committing for five months at that age and doing it every single day, three to four hours. You’ll see a different player, no question about it.”