Miami Heat

Bam Adebayo in middle of best stretch of his NBA career. Here’s why Heat isn’t surprised

It didn’t take long for Dwyane Wade to notice there was something different about Bam Adebayo.

“I remember sitting down with Bam on a plane and showing him some clips of what I think he can do,” Wade said of a discussion he had with Adebayo just weeks after he was traded to the Heat last season. “… Bam did it right away. Bam did exactly what we talked about the day before on the plane. I knew right then and there, the kid is able to take something and apply it that quickly. That’s special. He figured out fast.”

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The more minutes Adebayo gets on the court, the faster he figures things out. It has become a trend, with the second-year big man playing the best basketball of his young NBA career in his new starting role.

After spending his rookie season and most of his second season playing off the bench, the 21-year-old Adebayo has made 12 consecutive starts. He’s averaged 11.3 points on 63.1 percent shooting, 8.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, one steal and one block in 26.9 minutes during this stretch.

“It’s just I’ve gotten more aggressive,” said Adebayo, who is questionable for Friday’s game against the Bucks because of a right hip bruise. “My teammates need that from me. I feel like last year, I sold them short because I wasn’t aggressive. But this year, I’m more aggressive and it’s paying off for us. I’m getting more assists, getting more touches and coach is starting to trust me with the ball in my hands.”

While Adebayo is averaging 32.8 touches per game this season, his touches have jumped to 46.7 during the past three games. His shot attempts per game are also up from 5.5 for the season to seven during the past 12 games.

“My teammates pushed me to be in a bigger role and here I am,” Adebayo said. “So now I’m out here scoring, having fun, getting my teammates involved and doing inspiring things on both ends.”

Adebayo was forced to become a starter when Hassan Whiteside went out with a strained hip, and he has started ever since — even after Whiteside returned from injury — because he has only gotten better in the role. The Heat owns a 9-3 record since Adebayo entered the starting lineup.

Adebayo’s latest stat line included a little bit of everything, with six points, 15 rebounds, five assists and two steals in 29 minutes in Wednesday’s win over the Spurs. Those defended by Adebayo shot 3 of 12 from the field and 2 of 7 from within six feet of the basket.

But one of the most impressive aspects of Adebayo’s performance Wednesday was the fact the Heat felt comfortable running its offense through him late in the game with the Spurs rallying. Adebayo, who has played the second-most fourth-quarter minutes on the team, has recorded the third-most fourth-quarter assists among Heat players (52) behind only Josh Richardson and Wade.

“Everybody was so exhausted from our defense,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I played J-Rich again a full fourth quarter, played good minutes. Dion was a little bit kind of taxed there at the end. Our normal offensive package going down the stretch, nobody wanted to do it. Everybody was too tired from that pressure, kind of got us out of that.

“So only thing we went to was to throw it to Bam and play out of him in the high post. That says a lot. When a Hall of Famer is throwing you the ball and saying, ‘OK, you create an opportunity for us and get us into a trigger. Not only down the stretch but throughout the course of the game.”

The Heat has produced positive results with Adebayo on the court. Miami has outscored teams by 33 points with Adebayo playing during his 12-game stint as a starter.

“Most teams don’t have a Bam,” Wade said. “You can see, as well, as he’s been in the starting lineup, he’s been playing very well, he’s been very active. He’s been changing the game. So I love the confidence that he’s playing with. He’s got such a bright future ahead of him. He’s only definitely scratching the surface of how good he can be. But the one thing I love about him is how he’s able to apply the things that he’s learned, applied the things that he’s worked on. That’s huge.”

When Adebayo was asked if he feels this current stretch is the best he has had since he was drafted by the Heat with the 14th overall pick in 2017, he didn’t hesitate with his answer.

“For sure,” said Adebayo, who is averaging 8.4 points on 57.8 percent shooting, 6.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists in his second NBA season. “Just because I’ve been the aggressor and everybody is cheering me on to do that. Just by being aggressive and seeing the floor.”

Adebayo’s recent play hasn’t surprised the Heat, though. They expect this and more from him.

“I got really high expectations for him,” Goran Dragic said. “He feels more comfortable, more minutes and more opportunities to do something good. With his body [6-10, 255], the sky is the limit.”

Justise Winslow (right thigh bruise) and Rodney McGruder (left knee soreness) are doubtful for Friday’s game against the Bucks. Winslow has missed three consecutive games with his injury and McGruder has sat out two straight with his knee issue.

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.