Summer League can be a difficult environment for a big man to thrive in, at least when it comes to succeeding in the way that they’ll eventually have to succeed during the regular season.
For all the changes that the NBA has undergone over the past decade, the offseason has long been the guard’s season. Most July squads are full of players that have never played together much less in an NBA environment. They get a few days to practice together before they are thrust before the league’s cognoscenti, often playing three or four days in a row. And for as advanced as team summer programs have become with the increasing importance of the G League – the HEAT are running the same systems at all levels in all times of year – offenses still lack for fluidity and spacing. The guards get the ball more often, so they tend to get the most shots.
Through Bam Adebayo’s first two games in Orlando, the HEAT are doing their part to ensure he isn’t lost in the usual big man shuffle. As he gets touches on both the elbows and the block, including a regular diet of jumpers, Adebayo is leading the team in shots (30). The efficiency hasn’t been there (10 makes) but it’s the volume that’s of greatest interest right now.
Few realms exist in which Adebayo will be leading the real Miami team in shots next season, but the HEAT, as is their way, are not putting him in a box right now. There have been post-ups, isolations, pick-and-rolls and handoffs available for the taking, and he’s taking them. We’ll have time later on to discuss what comes of these offensive forays, and what they could eventually mean down the line, but for the moment we can just sit back and let him find his way.
“He’s obviously one of the featured guys,” said HEAT Summer League coach Chris Quinn. “[The] shooting is, you can see it, it’ s not broke. [It’s] something that maybe he hasn’t been asked to do in the past. We’re giving him the freedom to get the ball down low and make plays for us. At the end of the day we want him rebounding, we want him defending, those will be the things we want him to focus on the most.”
In the meantime, there have been plenty of flashes of the player Adebayo will likely need to be next year. One came at the end of the first half in Miami’s loss to Orlando.
First, Adebayo put in his usual energetic work on the offensive glass, including this through-contact, out-of-zone grab.
Then, dealing with some foul trouble (yes, it happens during the summer) or perhaps simply wanting to experiment, the Magic turned to lottery pick Jonathan Issac as a small-ball center. Now, Issac is certainly tall and long but he has a similar frame to a young Kevin Durant. This was a size and strength advantage that Adebayo won’t enjoy too often, but it offered a revealing couple of minutes.
The sequence of the day came on the other end. Matched up with Issac on the perimeter, Adebayo showcased the agility that could foretell him becoming a plus defender in a league that has become ever more enamored with switching across multiple positions.
“That’s the way the game is going,” Quinn said. “The Issac kid is very talented, you can see he gave us fits on both ends of the court. But Bam, he has the ability to guard out on the perimeter, he moves his feet well. It definitely gives you more options on both ends of the court.”
There is of course a difference between sticking with Issac, who is still in the early stages of his developmental process, and switching out onto the league’s premier guards. This is merely an interesting place to start, just as Adebayo has flashed interesting skills all over the court with pull-up and fadeaway jumpers, long outlet passes and even an attempted crossover.
But it’s the rebounding, defending and dunking that will earn Adebayo minutes early in his career. And in typical HEAT fashion, there won’t be any settling for early returns.
“Obviously we’re going to ask even more from him,” Quinn said. “Can he get one more rebound? Can he get one more blocked shot? How many extra efforts can he make that impact winning? That’s what we’re going to need out of him this coming season.”