There’s a lot to digest when it comes to NBA Summer League. Due to the irregular start times and the everyday nature of both the Orlando and Las Vegas slates, you probably weren’t able to catch everything that happened.
And if you weren’t able to catch all the little flashes over the past two weeks, you might have missed Bam Adebayo changing the conversation about his potential.
When the Miami HEAT chose Adebayo with the No. 14 pick in the draft, his ability to be a defensively versatile, hyper-athletic rim runner was immediately obvious. Getting a player who can just do those things well, at that point in the draft, is almost always a win. But somehow most everyone – those who saw it stayed quiet – involved in the draft process missed that there’s more than that to Adebayo, and possibly a whole lot more. Adebayo says much of what he’s shown these past two weeks he simply didn’t need to do on a Kentucky team that had De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk running the show, which he notes with a casual self-awareness, but the facts remain that even the team that drafted him is finding somewhat unexpected avenues to explore.
As Summer League head coach Chris Quinn says, “We’re just trying a little bit of everything.”
Now, nothing we talk about below is guaranteed to pan out. This is Summer League, after all, and plenty of players before Adebayo have shown skills during the offseason that they weren’t able to translate to the upper levels, especially not immediately. It’s not even that important if all the shots fall or if some of the attempts become turnovers. This is just about seeing what there is to see. Big things have small beginnings, after all.
The Jumper Buffet
While some of the things we’ll discuss Adebayo didn’t get a chance to show at Kentucky at all, he did take about 100 mid-range jumpers last season. Most of those, however, were fairly standard catch-and-shoot shots off the creation of others. When Adebayo got to Orlando he immediately showed an ability to get jumpers off in other situations, both in the post and off the dribble. The efficiency wasn’t quite there as there were some rough misses in between the makes, but for now it looks like the HEAT development staff will be working with a more expanded perimeter menu.
Adebayo’s feet and his defensive agility in general is one of the most striking and important aspects to his game right now. If he can eventually switch one-through-five effectively and contain all but, or even including, the quickest point guards then that’s a massive weapon in itself. But combining good feet with good hands is where you begin to get an elite recipe. Adebayo doesn’t appear to gamble for steals very often, but he’s had some eye-catching steals in traffic that you certainly don’t see big men make every day.
The Bust It Open
The most fascinating ‘new’ aspect to Adebayo’s game that’s been revealed during the past couple of weeks has been his ability to handle and push the ball in the open court. We didn’t see it at all during the first game or so in Orlando, but somewhere around this move…
The HEAT saw that there was something to explore there. Soon, Quinn was calling for Adebayo to ‘bust it open’, meaning to push the ball up the floor, in set situations such as after free-throws. From there on we saw Point-Bam more and more and by the time the team reached Las Vegas, Adebayo was looking to break out with the ball just about anytime he grabbed a defensive rebound.
“We give him the freedom to bust out,” Quinn said. “You can see how fast he is with the ball.”
There’s still plenty to learn and develop as far as what to do once the ball is up the floor if the defense can get set or there is otherwise no runway to the rim, but as you see in the pass above, Adebayo is a ready and willing passer. A five-man capable of pushing the ball up the floor and even make the simple plays is a rare commodity in this league – just look at what Draymond Green is able to do for the Golden State Warriors, or even Al Horford in Boston (Nikola Jokic is another good example as far as pushing pace, but he might be a Top 10 passer in the league).
The Short Roll
Adebayo hasn’t been asked to do a ton of playmaking, he did make a pass the other day that’s essentially the model for what a pace-and-space center is asked to do these days.
That’s essentially the play Green maximized during the Warriors’ first title run against Cleveland. Again, it’s just one play in Las Vegas and learning how to make quick-twitch playmaking decisions on the move, in traffic, is a long process, but if Erik Spoelstra ever asks Adebayo to find corner shooters on the short roll, this might be the genesis.
“He’s shown he can be a complete player,” Quinn said. “He was getting the short roll pass, and the lob he had to Okaro was really nice. We’re just asking him to imprint his will on the game.”
The Footwork That Makes The Feet Work
We already mentioned Adebayo’s impressive footwork on the defensive end – he could turn into a nightmare for opposing guards and wings – it translates to the other end of the court as well. The majority of Adebayo’s post-ups came in Orlando as the team focused more on pick-and-roll spacing in Las Vegas, but in the opportunities Adebayo did have he was able to patiently work his way around and under post defenders.
It would be surprising to see many post-ups for Adebayo in his first year, but even if he doesn’t turn into a high-volume option in that area (few of which even exist in the league anymore), having the skillset to post smaller defenders when other teams switch the pick-and-roll would make Adebayo that much more a dynamic player.
This could all be a teaser trailer for Adebayo’s prime. Some of it may not manifest at all. That’s the fun of the beginning of a career, especially for a player so young. So many possibilities, and they don’t all need to come to fruition for Adebayo to become an incredibly useful part of the rotation. Now we have to wait and see.
If there’s clarity on anything right now, it’s that for what most of the basketball universe thought Bam Adebayo was three weeks ago, he’s clearly capable of more than that.