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Bam Adebayo's game is expanding for the Heat in all but one way

Bam Adebayo's game is expanding for the Heat in all but one way

It's hard not to be impressed by the growth of Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo.

He's gotten better every year — somewhat of a rarity, despite the expectation for linear growth among young players. That really shines through on the offensive end of the ball, where Adebayo has transformed from screen-and-dive man, to handoff hub, to an increasingly comfortable bucket-getter.

Adebayo has never been more self-sufficient: 40.3% of his made field goals have been unassisted this year, marking the first time his assisted mark has fallen under 60%. Per Second Spectrum, the Heat are generating 1.08 points per possession (PPP) on trips featuring an Adebayo isolation, and roughly the same clip on post-ups (1.075 PPP).

Among high volume scorers — a minimum of 150 isolations and 150 post-ups — only Luka Doncic and DeMar DeRozan match Adebayo's efficiency in both situations. That's pretty good company to be in; honestly, that's company I'm not sure anyone outside of the Heat organization ever expected Adebayo to be in. At least not this early.

"The growth speaks for itself, the work speaks for itself," Adebayo told Basketball News after another 30-point performance of the season, his 11th, in Saturday's win over the Atlanta Hawks.

"Another year expects, you know, more growth from you, after every year. Nobody wants to get complacent in this league — I sure don't. The goal for me is to keep getting better, and I feel like I've done that."

As Adebayo has been given — no, earned — more hats to wear within the offense, there's one in particular that's been left on the rack with increasing frequency: Pick-and-roll reps. 

We know what Adebayo can do as a screener, laying the lumber before jetting down the lane for lobs or short-rolling into mid-range attempts — something he's doing more often than ever. You would think, with the Heat being more comfortable with the ball in his hands, they'd follow the trend of bigger creators running more ball-screens.

We've seen them sprinkled in at random moments. Adebayo's bringing the ball up the floor more than ever — roughly 11 possessions per game, per Second Spectrum — opening the door for some early screens to be set for him.

Then there's the random set piece, like this possession against the Hawks on Saturday.

The play ends with an incredible recovery and block from Clint Capela, but look at how tantalizing the setup is for Adebayo. 

He gets a touch in his comfort zone. The defense has to worry about him posting up or facing up. They have to worry about the Heat flowing into split action or, with the left side only being occupied by Adebayo, the possibility of this turning into a handoff with limited help available. 

Instead, it's Tyler Herro running his man (Jalen Johnson) into Capela, creating a path for Adebayo to get to the rim. With Adebayo taking a career-low 40% of his shots at the rim this season, finding ways to scheme that up would make sense.

One would think a potential solution would be those kind of ball-screen sets. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra notes that while Adebayo "has been initiating for us for years," he's careful not to put too many eggs into the pick-and-roll basket.

"That's part of bringing a little bit more diversity to our offense, but we also have some specific things that he has to do for us," Spoelstra told Basketball News.

"As a screener, as a big, putting pressure on the rim. That's vital for our offense. He has to do a lot of different things, and that's not easy to balance. If you do one of the things too often, that's not great for us."

To Spoelstra's point, the Adebayo-led ball screens haven't been efficient — though that comes with a small sample caveat. 

Adebayo has only received 63 on-ball picks this season, or 1.5 per 100 possessions, the lowest rate since becoming the undisputed starter in 2019-20. On those possessions, the Heat have only generated 0.83 PPP. That ranks 214th among 243 players to run at least 60 ball-screens this season.

The Heat may not have the ecosystem to give Adebayo a meaningful bump in frequency either. Going back to the Hawks example, it makes sense to empty a side and allow Herro — Miami's best (movement) shooter — to put extra strain on defenses. But even with it making sense on paper, this is how it looked in practice.

Bogdan Bogdanovic is peeled in early, with two feet in the paint. Saddiq Bey is sagging off Max Strus, a step away from the paint. Dejounte Murray doesn't affect the play in a meaningful way, but he's also sagging off of Victor Oladipo and can provide help at the nail if he wants. 

Spoelstra noted that Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry (currently out) have been screening partners for Adebayo in the past. They make more sense than Herro as partners right now. Lowry's one of the best (and willing) guard screeners in NBA history. Butler is rugged in his own right, and has the dual benefit of mitigating his own issues as a spacer by being directly involved in the action.

Ultimately, if Miami is going to run a ball-screen, Butler, Herro and healthy Lowry will remain higher on the pecking order. They should remain higher on the pecking order.

And until the context in Miami improves, you can expect it to remain that way. 

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