The Heat has the personnel to play big lineups in an NBA that’s trending in the other direction.
While teams are playing smaller and faster than ever this season, Miami currently features three centers in its rotation — seven-footers Hassan Whiteside and Kelly Olynyk, and 6-10 Bam Adebayo. With only 48 minutes to split at center each night, Miami plays two of the three big men together during certain stretches of games in order to fit them all into the rotation.
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But the big-big combination that has been the most productive for the Heat actually doesn’t include Whiteside, who is Miami’s starting center. It’s the Adebayo-Olynyk tandem that has been the most effective.
“They both complement each other very well,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Adebayo and Olynyk. “Their skill sets on both ends of the court fit. Their connection wasn’t something we had to drill endlessly, hours behind the scenes. It happened pretty quickly.”
Entering Wednesday’s road game against the Nets, the Heat is outscoring teams by 14 points with Adebayo and Olynyk on the court together this season. It’s just a continuation of last season, when the duo finished as one of Miami’s top two-man combinations with a plus/minus of plus-96.
That adds up to a plus/minus of plus-110 for the Adebayo-Olynyk pairing since the start of last season. By comparison, the Heat has been outscored by 10 points with Olynyk and Whiteside on the court together and outscored by 20 when using the Adebayo-Whiteside combination during that stretch.
And recently, the Adebayo and Olynyk lineups have fared especially well. Miami is a plus-37 when they are on the court together during the past six games.
Why does the Adebayo-Olynyk pairing work? Their styles just fit together, which is unique for two bigs playing next to each other.
This look features a paint player in Adebayo and a shooting big man in Olynyk who spaces the floor, plus Olynyk is not forced to defend power forwards because Adebayo is athletic and quick enough to consistently take on that defensive assignment.
“He’s a really active guy, rolls to the rim hard, finishes well,” Olynyk said of Adebayo. “When you find him, he makes plays. He’s always looking to get everyone else involved. The way they guard him is different than the way they guard me. So it kind of just gives the defense different looks. Defensively, he’s a big help. He’s active, he can move his feet and do a lot of different things. I think it’s just two guys who do different stuff. But when you put us side by side, it makes it really tough to guard.”
“I feel like we complement each other well just because we’re two different styles, but we go together,” Adebayo said. “We’re in sync. Him being able to space the floor and me being able to post up, it creates a headache and then we both crash the glass.”
The ever-evolving Rodney McGruder
One of the biggest Heat story lines to start the season has been the improvement of Rodney McGruder.
McGruder, 27, entered Wednesday averaging career highs in points (13), rebounds (5.3) and assists (3.5) this season. He’s shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 46.6 percent on threes.
“It shouldn’t be a surprise,” Spoelstra said. “He spent so much time developing his game. His work ethic is outstanding. So you’re going to see results. He’s an exceptional three-point shooter now. Now he can shoot off the move and probably the biggest area he’s improved is off the dribble and making the game easier for other guys. He did not have that when he first got here. That’s been a lot of sweat equity behind the scenes, dedicating himself to player development.”