During the Miami Heat’s first-round dispatching of the Atlanta
Hawks, Bam Adebayo showcased precisely why he finished among the
top-five in Defensive Player of the Year voting this year. His
perimeter mobility, length and wide-ranging ground coverage walled
off drives for Trae Young and rendered a top-three regular-season
In three of those contests though, Adebayo took nine or fewer
shots, including two games with a combined 11 shots and 15 points.
Miami didn’t encounter much trouble coasting past Atlanta, but
Adebayo surely wasn’t casting his holistic All-Star-caliber imprint
upon the series.
Against the Philadelphia 76ers, Adebayo has been the series’
best player en route to a pair of blowout victories. Through two
games, the 24-year-old is tallying 23.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.5
assists and 1.5 steals on 80% True Shooting. He’s averaging 10.5
shots and 9.5 free throws, notable leaps from the 8.4 shots and 4.4
free throws he averaged during Round 1.
With Joel Embiid sidelined, the Sixers’ other options at center
— DeAndre Jordan, Paul Reed, Millsap and Tobias Harris — are
ill-equipped to contain Adebayo offensively. Some are too slow to
track him (Jordan, Millsap). Others are too small (Millsap,
Harris). Another is too inexperienced as he garners his first
extended trial of playoff basketball (Reed).
Jordan’s idle nature as a drop defender exposes him in
pick-and-rolls. Harris lacks the length to alter the Heat center’s
finishes. Reed, prone to overzealous tendencies, has fallen for
quite a few pump-fakes and has sent Adebayo to the foul line.
Together, they’ve all proven incapable of neutralizing or slowing
his interior scoring prowess.
Adebayo isn’t doing anything radically different to generate
these heightened scoring numbers. He’s just flourishing against a
greatly beneficial matchup and amplifying Miami’s leading perimeter
duo of Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro.
His timing and discretion as a roller have been crucial too. He
routinely picks the optimal angle or path from which to begin his
dives and sets hulking screens. Butler, Herro, Gabe Vincent and Max
Strus have all been recipients of his excellent screening, and his
keen understanding of when to migrate toward the rim eases the
burden for ball-handlers.
With seven screen assists through two second-round duels (per
NBA.com), only Deandre Ayton (10), Giannis Antetokounmpo (10) and
Dwight Powell (8) have more. Scoff at that statistic to your
heart’s desire, but there’s a degree of utility in it. Adebayo’s
screening is integral to the prosperity of Miami’s half-court
offense, which is not flooded with standstill creators and requires
him to aid perimeter scorers in their quest for space.
He’s also snagged six offensive boards in two games while also
occupying the attention of defenders to spring free teammates to
gobble up second chances instead. Not only is Adebayo excelling in
the glamor category of scoring, he’s checking the boxes of
grunge-work like screening and rebounding.
The Sixers likely want nothing to do with him the rest of the
series. While they can’t control how he imposes himself
offensively, they’ve quickly made evident their intention to avoid
Among the sporadic instances in which he’s directly involved in
a possession, the way he vibrantly and aggressively embraces
switches has flustered Philadelphia. He’s erased driving angles
numerous times and omnisciently roamed in help. Tyrese Maxey has
struggled to attack downhill against him (though Maxey, with 34
points, was stellar in Game 2). Adebayo consistently obstructs
assignments from turning the corner against him.
The All-Star’s brightest defensive superlative in this series
has been his deterrence. Philadelphia’s clear preference is to
exclude him from the action altogether. According to NBA.com, he’s
been a primary defender for ~184 possessions, and those players
have only attempted 17 shots against him. As a team, the Sixers
have scored 155 points, good for 84.2 points per 100
Most often, when Adebayo switches onto someone, they hardly even
look to create and remain far removed from any threatening scoring
position. As such, he can retreat to a free safety role,
complicating passing windows and disincentivizing driving
Whether it’s Jordan, Reed, Millsap or Matisse Thybulle,
Philadelphia is playing someone (or multiple someones) that Miami
feels comfortable disregarding to suppress whatever Maxey, Harris
or James Harden are looking to do. Adebayo is the man often tasked
as a helper to further suppress those efforts.
During Adebayo’s 67 minutes in this series, the Heat have
outscored the Sixers, 166-125. During his 29 minutes on the pine,
Philadelphia has outscored Miami, 70-59. He’s the biggest
(available) differentiator between a competitive pair of games and
two double-digit wins for Miami.
Embiid’s unfortunate absence pervades across various angles of
this matchup. But it’s perhaps been most pronounced in Adebayo’s
play, given the multifaceted manner in which he’s overwhelming the
Sixers. Until or if the big fella returns, these problems will
likely persist for Philadelphia and continue to behoove
With Adebayo at the heart of everything, the Heat are in
control, two wins away from their second conference finals
appearance in three seasons.
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