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What else is popping on Air-Ball?

Bam Adebayo is on of the most meteoric rises I’ve ever seen. It seems every game he shows a new skill that seemed legitimately impossible when he was at Kentucky. 

Back then he seemed like the prototype rim runner in the mould of a slightly shorter Clint Capela. Nothing more, nothing less.

What’s promptly happened since the Miami Heat selected him 14th overall in the 2017 NBA Draft is nothing short of unbelievable. Each season, Bam has added a skill or two that seems to redefine who he is and what he can be in the NBA.

First, between his first and second season, Bam went from an average defender for a rookie to a downright good one. His Defensive Box Plus-Minus jumped from 0.7 to 2.2 and his Defensive Win Shares went from 0.7 to 2.2. This growth on that end allowed Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra to trust him more, as the young centre went from 19.8 minutes a night to 23.3.

At this point, you’re thinking cool, he’s right on track to be maybe a better version of Capela which made sense why they got rid of Hassan Whiteside after the season. Bam had clearly earned a bigger role. Little did we know, this role was much bigger than any of us anticipated. 

This was effectively Bam’s range at Kentucky LOL

In year three Bam jumped up to almost 16 points a night from the almost nine he averaged a year earlier. An impressive jump certainly but not unexpected in a bigger role post-Whiteside. Where the real growth came is playmaking wise.

All of a sudden, this centre who you didn’t really want the ball in his hands other than if he was dunking it at Kentucky was quite literally running the Heat’s offence. He averaged over five assists a game and terrorized teams with the dribble hand off-screen assists the Heat stole from the Nikola Jokic playbook in Denver.

It wasn’t just those manufactured assists from his size though, Adebayo was running the break off teams misses and finding cutters and shooters while he set up on the elbow. He was a legitimate offensive engine seemingly overnight, helping to lead the Heat to an NBA Finals birth.

The only real flaw in his game last season was he didn’t really have a jump shot so of course, being the player he is, he promptly in the month and a half between the finals and season went out and got one. 

This year he is shooting career highs from 10 to 16 feet and even from 16 feet to the three-point line. From 10 to 16, he’s elite at 58.5 per cent and then in the long two, he’s at a very respectable 44.8 per cent. 

Where you see the signs of improvement though are in the picture above. Look at the growth in percentage of his shots that he’s taking in these midrange areas. It’s not like those percentages are random flukes on like six shots but actually real parts of his game now. 

The further evidence of his shot mechanic improvements is the fact in this young season he’s over 85 per cent from the free-throw line after being just under 70 per cent last year. 

The idea this dude has gone from seemingly only a lob threat to a real scorer/offensive engine is something I don’t think anyone saw coming. It’s funny because Nekias Duncan sent out a tweet on Saturday saying he thinks Bam is well on the way to being a top ten player.

The reason this is funny isn’t that it’s wrong. It’s that people actually thought this was a controversial take. I mean the growth in this guy’s game is something to behold and that’s why the final half of this article will be a breakdown of that game on Saturday. 

I want you all to see how special this guy has become so quickly. 

The Breakdown

What we saw at Kentucky

The guy at Kentucky had two things really going for him.

Firstly, he was an outstanding screener and second, he was an elite athlete. Those two things together were obviously first round pick valuable and remain key parts of his game today.

Watch here as Goran Dragic uses the Bam screen to easily get to the rim. Obviously not the greatest pick in the world but it shows the space he can generate just from his size for ball handlers like Dragic to prosper from.

Year Two Growth

In year two, all of a sudden Bam went from a solid defender to a flat out good one.

Watch in this play as he anchors a zone by first dissuading a Kyrie Irving drive. Then, he sniffs out a Joe Harris cut. Finally, he replaces on the wing and works as an active helper against a James Harden drive and does a good job denying Irving the ball.

Harden ends up burping up a shot as the shot clock expires after Bam effectively guards three different players in one possession.

In this next play though we see the real step that showed he could be a special defensive player instead of just a good, instinctive big man.

Here he locks down a Harden drive with a beautiful rim contest, avoiding a foul call. Then he grabs the rebound and helps spark a fast break that eventually leads to an easy Dragic bucket against a discombobulated Brooklyn defence.

Though it wasn’t clear what it meant fully when he started doing stuff like this in year two, it was obvious it would at the very least be an elite defensive player some day soon (if he already wasn’t).

Year Three Offensive Engine

Next on the agenda of growth, Bam went out and just out of nowhere became a big you could run your offence through. Seriously, there were very little signs of this early in his career and then all of a sudden last year, he’s leading the Heat offence.

Now a year later, look how comfortable he is against three future hall of famers in a tight fourth quarter.

Watch how Bam brings the ball up then, creates space for Duncan Robinson with a perfectly executed dribble hand off. Of course once Robinson gets this open, you know what’s coming next.

Then here he is out of a completely different set making space for Kendrick Nunn in clutch time no less. You’d think this is the most attentive the Nets defence would’ve been all night and still, look what he creates for his teammate.

Year Four: Offensive Superstar?

Coming into year four it wasn’t really known what to expect from him after such a short offseason. Still though Bam went out and added this stuff to his game.

Bam catches the Ball against Jeff Green on the elbow, takes one dribble and rises for a jumper Durant must’ve even appreciated.

Next, here he is just rising over Green and getting the friendly bounce. If this becomes a consistent part of his game as it has been all season, I don’t know how you stop him or the Heat.

Finally, let’s watch Bam just be flat out mean to Green.

What’s next?

Your guess is as good as mine. At this point I can’t put a ceiling on this guy. Every year he just adds so much to his game I don’t know what to do other than tip my cap.

He’s a special player and well on his way to fulfilling Nekias’ tweet, even if you aren’t ready for it yet. Someday soon, don’t be surprised if Bam is in the MVP conversation.

At this point, it’s hard to say anything other than the sky is the limit for him and his career.


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