With another knee injury to Hassan Whiteside, rookie Bam Adebayo has gone from borderline rotation player to Heat starter.
Whiteside, in extended comments Friday morning, said he will be out indefinitely with a knee bruise, and Adebayo — speaking hours before Friday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets at AmericanAirlines Arena — said he’s prepared to handle the load in Whiteside’s absence.
Coach Erik Spoelstra said Adebayo will start with Whiteside out.
The objective, Adebayo said, is “just taking off what H did. Just being vocal, high motor and just getting my teammates involved. Telling them when screens are happening and when they’re not happening.”
Does the work he put in behind the scenes pay off now?
“You got to take it as serious as if I wasn’t playing,” he said. “Just coming in here every day and preparation and being ready.”
He said he will prepare for a bigger role “like I would if H was still here. Just doing my own routine and keeping my routine in sync and getting my mind right before the game listening to coach’s schemes, and go out there and try to execute.”
Adebayo has turned heads around the league.
In a podcast with Richard Jefferson this week, Cavaliers forward Channing Frye: “That [guy] I played [Tuesday night] was humongous. I had never seen him before, I’m very impressed. He’s going to be on the scouting report for the rest of the league. Do y’all know how hard it is to put the ball as a righty, drop step and dunk on the left side of your body over somebody. Did you see how he moved Kyle [Korver]?”
Cleveland’s Kevin Love said of Adebayo: “He’s good.”
Cavaliers guard Dwyane Wade said: “He was dunking on everybody. … That’s how athletic you got to be to make things up in mid-air.”
Adebayo is averaging 5.3 points and 3.9 rebounds in 12 games, including four starts.
He had 19 points and six rebounds in 18 minutes against Cleveland on Tuesday, shooting 7 for 7 from the field.
Against the Knicks on Wednesday, Adebayo had nine points, five rebounds and two steals, shooting four for five from the field in 30 minutes. But his defense was uneven in that game.
“I like the progress,” Spoelstra said of Adebayo. “It’s hard not to see the progress Bam is making. Look, he makes mistakes, too. He’s not doing everything perfectly.
“He is really trying to apply everything he is learning while he is going through that process of learning our system, learning our culture, learning the NBA game. It doesn’t clutter his mind from bringing the thing he is best at, and that’s his energy, his athleticism, his multiple efforts. Those things are his foundation and he’s growing in all the other areas.”
Players guarded by Adebayo are shooting 49.2 percent against him, compared with 44.6 percent against Whiteside.
Spoelstra said the Heat’s defensive system will not change without Whiteside, though Adebayo and Olynyk aren’t nearly the shot-blockers nor defensive deterrents that Whiteside is.
“It’s going to be tough,” Whiteside said of Adebayo’s challenge in the Heat’s defensive system.
▪ Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker was ruled out for Friday’s game with a shoulder contusion.