I don't think Bam Adebayo is having the surge he's having right
now without that Milwaukee Bucks series.
Not that Bucks series that resulted in a
second-round Miami Heat upset over the Milwaukee Bucks during the
Orlando Bubble. (A series where Adebayo more than held his own
against Giannis Antetokounmpo — in addition to The Wall — while
Jimmy Butler continued his Clutch Tour on the other end of the
I mean the ugly one. The rematch in 2021. It was a nasty 4-0
sweep in favor of the Bucks, a result achieved behind a stout defense that made
the Heat uncomfortable in the half-court.
Butler (rightfully) got most of the attention. After leading the
team to the NBA Finals the year before, he averaged 14.5 points
while converting 30.6% of his twos and 26.7% of his threes. The
Bucks famously placed Giannis on Butler to neutralize his drives,
and Butler infamously averaged fewer points than Bryn Forbes in the
But Adebayo wasn't much better, averaging 15.5 points while only
making 45.6% of his twos. Two things stand out to me from that
series. At the top of the list was how uncomfortable Adebayo was
against Brook Lopez. Lopez hung back in a drop, and essentially
dared Adebayo to beat him in the intermediate area.
Only 28% of Adebayo's shots came at the rim in the series, a
wild departure from where he was in the regular season (35.3%). And
while Butler struggled to generate clean looks, Adebayo looked
tentative with the looks he was given. Heat fans can probably still
recount specific possessions where Adebayo either pump-faked ghosts
or passed out of scoring windows altogether.
The quiet part — he hit the shots at a solid clip when he
did take them. Per Second Spectrum, Adebayo drained
nearly 46% of his shots between 6-12 feet. Push shots, floaters,
short pull-ups and leaning fades were all part of the Adebayo
package, even if it felt like he could've doubled his volume in the
It was instructive, though, because it once again highlighted
how Adebayo would have to win to take the next step as a
Adebayo is an active driver with a high free-throw rate to boot,
a lurking threat as an offensive rebounder and a high-flying lob
threat when those pathways are available. As a full-time 5, he's
also at a size disadvantage most of the time. Against top-tier
matchups — Boston (Al Horford, Robert Williams III), Milwaukee
(Giannis, Lopez), healthy Philly (Joel Embiid) — he's going to have
to win against size.
Adebayo's counter of choice has been to live in that
aforementioned 6-12 feet area, becoming more comfortable, more
deadly. It's the meat and potatoes behind a career-year scoring
season (21.2 points), and it's certainly the main course behind his
most recent run of play.
Since Thanksgiving (seven games), Adebayo is averaging 27-and-9
while converting an absurd 59% of his twos. Of his 125 two-point
attempts, 66 of them (52.8%) have been shots between 6-12 feet —
easily the highest mark in the NBA. In fact, I'll pause so you can
laugh at the leaderboard.
- Bam Adebayo: 66 attempts (50.0% FG)
- Jalen Brunson: 41 attempts (34.2% FG)
- Luka Doncic: 33 attempts (51.5% FG)
- Keldon Johnson: 32 attempts (31.5% FG)
- Devin Booker: 30 attempts (56.7% FG)
- Kevin Durant: 29 attempts (58.6% FG)
- Nikola Jokic: 26 attempts (69.2% FG)
Nobody has come close to the volume Adebayo has showcased. A 50%
clip is wild considering the volume, and the fact that the league
average on shots in that range is roughly 42% this season, per
From there, it's worth parsing out how real this is. Here are
his numbers on shots between 6-12 feet since becoming a full-time
- 2019-20: 32.2% FG on 274 attempts (101 games,
2.7 per game)
- 2020-21: 42.8% FG on 243 attempts (68 games,
3.6 per game)
- 2021-22: 41.2% FG on 294 attempts (74 games,
4.0 per game)
- 2022-23: 43.9% FG on 139 attempts (24 games,
5.8 per game)
- Before Thanksgiving: 38.4% FG on 73 attempts
(17 games, 4.3 per game)
- Since Thanksgiving: 50% FG on 66 attempts (7
games, 9.4 per game)
The pre-Thanksgiving number is low, but you may be able to shoot
some bail based on Adebayo's offensive context and some poor luck.
Per Second Spectrum, Adebayo
underperformed his expected efficiency in
that range by nearly six percentage points (expected 44.1%) before
the holiday. He may not be a 50% guy either, but it looks like
we're witnessing some positive regression right now.
More important than the numbers is how Adebayo is being treated.
He's still largely getting single coverage right now. The degree of
difficulty with some of his shots are firmly in tip-your-cap
territory for defenses.
It is worth noting that defenses have started sending a
little more help towards him when he works toward that
area of the floor. Subtle digs, some late contests, more
pre-rotating when he gets an elbow catch. Here are some Adebayo
possessions (makes and misses) during this
That added attention matters, as subtle as it may appear right
now. It's also worth noting he's seen seven full-blown double teams
on post-ups or isolations since Thanksgiving after only having
three beforehand, per Second Spectrum. Heat head coach Erik
Spoelstra was recently asked about it by
wunderkind Brady Hawk of Five Reasons Sports.
"When he's operated in the middle of the paint for so many
games, and has been so efficient — with his shooting, attacking,
getting to the free-throw line in his sweet spots — of
course teams are going to bring a second defender,"
"That'll be part of his evolution now. He's already a great
passer, so that should help us once he starts to get comfortable.
Right now, what we're seeing is [help coming] after he makes the
move. That's when the second defender is coming. It's not initially
on the catch; it's when he goes into his move. That's when he can
expect another defender, and now he can go back to his playmaking
mode without taking a step back in terms of his assertiveness and
Spoelstra considers it a compliment that Adebayo is getting this
sort of attention. It should also serve as a much-needed complement
to the star power of Butler, provided they get an extended run of
games together now.
Zooming out, this is what a lot of people were clamoring for
with Adebayo — being more aggressive, putting his imprint on the
game. It isn't a three-ball, nor are they analytically-fruitful
shots at the rim. There's still room for him to generate more
efficient offense for himself and others.
Slowly but surely, though, he's looking for his own more often.
And that volume is starting to make defenses think more. That's the
first step to opening up a new world for him.