Barry Jackson

Heat’s Adebayo is “going to be a force”; Panthers’ Ekblad makes changes

Miami Heat's player Bam Adebayo, during a practice for the Heat's Summer League games at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, June 28, 2017.
Miami Heat's player Bam Adebayo, during a practice for the Heat's Summer League games at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, June 28, 2017. pportal@miamiherald.com

Chatter on two of the Heat’s and Panthers’ ballyhooed young players:

• Heat veterans’ praise of rookie forward/center Bam Adebayo has been eye-opening.

“That guy Bam has a chance to be something really special,” Heat guard Tyler Johnson told me. “You watch him at Kentucky, I thought he was a Dwight Howard, big bodied, couldn’t really move.

“You put him on the perimeter and he can guard one through five. You would not expect a guy that big and with such broad shoulders to be able to have the touch he has. But he has nice touch. I’m telling you, he’s going to be special.”

Johnson sees similarities between Adebayo and former NBA star Chris Webber.

Adebayo likes Kevin Garnett as a comparison.

Heat guard Wayne Ellington put it this way: “He's going to be a force to reckon with in this league for a long time. He's going to be the steal of the draft. Bam as a young guy, his work ethic is so impressive to me. We all know about his athleticism and the way he flies. But he also can shoot pretty well. His jumper has been pretty consistent. He's getting back to the three-point line and he knocks them down and does it pretty consistently.”

Adebayo said he’s ideal for this organization’s culture. “I feel like I'm a Heat guy. I fight, I scratch, I play hard.”

Here’s my Tuesday piece on factors in Dwyane Wade’s decision to join Cleveland, the Heat’s reaction, fallout and straight talk on Wade’s choices the past 15 months.

• For the first two years of Aaron Ekblad’s career, NHL people spoke of him potentially becoming one of the game’s handful of top defensemen. In August 2016, NHL Network ranked him 46th among all players.

But Ekblad’s third season was a regression; he dealt with a neck injury and finished the season with a minus 23 plus/minus in 68 games after closing at plus 12 as a rookie and plus 18 in his second season.

“I think Ekblad was disappointed in his performance last year,” GM Dale Tallon said. “Our exit meetings with these guys were eye-opening.”

Among Tallon’s messages to Ekblad: “Stop trying to carry the weight of the team on your shoulders because you signed a new contract.”

So Ekblad, still only 21, made significant changes, losing a considerable amount of weight (he declined to say how much) and spending far less time with his friends in Windsor, Ontario, instead using the offseason time to work on his game.

He said he didn’t “go to downtown Windsor,” Ontario to hang out with his buddies once this offseason.

“I've had a long time to get my neck healed up,” he said. “I worked my [butt] off this summer to put myself in position to be steady and reliable and to carry the offense and try to contribute to that as much as I possibly can. I shed some weight this summer, to be thin as well as strong. I came in pretty heavy last year. I've lost a lot of pounds; it's significant.”

Because of the neck injury, “last year at the beginning of the year I felt timid. That is not the way to play. Dale and I had a talk that I had to get to the puck quick…. The neck is feeling better.”

Is he driven to be one of the league’s top three or so defensemen?

“I am realistic,” he said. “I am not going to say I will be best defenseman in the NHL [this season]. That is my goal. That is somewhere I want to be at some point. I am going to be the best possible player I can be. I do believe in myself.”

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