If I told you before the start of the 2019-20 NBA season that Bam Adebayo would be the most valuable player to the Miami Heats success you would probably scoff. Jimmy Butler would be the unanimous decision at that time and rightfully so. I mean after all, how valuable can a 6’9” big man who can’t shoot actually be? This piece is not meant to downgrade Butler, but rather prop up and key in on the valuable and irreplaceable parts of Bam Adebayo’s game.
Before we get into his unique skill set, let’s set the table on where he is currently at from a generic perspective. After playing a mainly back-up role for the first two seasons of his career, Hassan Whiteside was shipped out of Miami in the off season. This has led to Bam exploding onto the scene this season. Posting career highs across the board with a slash line of 16/10.5/5. All while being well above league average in efficiency. This earned him an All-Star nod, a bidding for Most Improved Player of the Year, and some potential All-NBA votes.
So, again, I ask the question. How can an undersized big man, who can’t stretch the floor be this good, and be this valuable to a playoff team? Let’s start off with his greatest attribute in most people’s eyes, his defense.
All Around Defender
On all accounts Bam is an All-Defensive level player. Advanced metrics like PIPM put him in the 95% percentile on this end, ESPN’s RPM put him in the 98% percentile, 90% for RAPTOR, and 95% for BPM 2.0 (via Data-Index). He does this by being one of the most versatile big men in the game today, and having basically no weaknesses on defense.
Bams defense really started to get national attention when he essentially clamped the soon to be, two time MVP Award winner, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Antetokounmpo is arguably the greatest athlete in today’s game and one of the greatest penetrators in league history yet he struggled to get downhill against Bam. Numerous times in this game Bam made Giannis kick out on drives when he had no angle to get to the rim or was just flat out stonewalled. He was the main reason Antetokounmpo was held to just 13 points on 6-18 shooting. If you could pick any defender to match up with Giannis, Bam is likely right at the top next to Joel Embiid.
This is just the beginning with Bam. He switches onto guards regularly, and can slow down some of the quickest and shiftiest players in the league today. On November 27th in Houston he was tasked with guarding Russell Westbrook and did a great job.
Bam can also, of course, be a massive rim deterrent for opponents. According to BBall Index’s metric, Bam ranks in the 94% percentile here. They also give Bam a -6.3% rim dFG% vs expected. This is classified as (The FG% on shots at the rim above/below what Second Spectrum would expect based on shot location with low samples regressed.)
Bam doesn’t always sit back in a classic rim protection role, doing so would be a disservice to his unique skill set. His switch ability and versatility is what allows Miami to start Meyers Leonard at Center and Bam at Power Forward. It gives the offense much needed spacing with Bam and Butler (2 non-shooters) sharing the court. Defensive Versatility is an extremely important aspect of today’s NBA, and having a center who can rim protect and hang with almost any player in the NBA is invaluable.
On the offensive side of the ball, Bam provides incredible value in a couple of ways. The first of which being, his elite level passing and play making for a big man. Bam loves to pass out of the elbow/high post range, he ranks 3rd in the NBA in elbow touches per game at 7.9 (trailing Domantas Sabonis and Nikola Jokic). Miami runs tons of sets for Bam to make reads from this area of the floor. Therefore, DHO’s are an incredibly common part of Miami’s system. Which goes to show just how much they trust him.
Bam also displays great vision while on the move, both in the half court and in transition. He is an excellent short roll passer and has extreme confidence here.
At times Bam definitely makes mistakes from here and tries to thread a pass that isn’t there.
His turnovers are a bit high at 2.8 per game, but even the passing wizard Jokic is prone to mistakes like these with his 3.1 turnovers per game. Bam is just 22 years old and will continue to improve with his floor vision and reads, and will likely add more high level passing out of the post in years to come.
Unique Scoring Skill Set
Bams scoring ability is another valuable asset to his game. Most of the time he does not need the ball to make his presence known offensively. He is one of the best lob threats in the game, and demands plenty of attention on his rolls to the basket.
For a big man, Bam has a great, tight handle. Most of his self created buckets come from the elbow area again. Where the combination of his handle, size, and speed is often too much for defenders.
He has great touch in the short mid area where 32% of his shots come from. Pulling out a smooth looking floater most of the time. This gives him a decent in between game when he can’t get all the way to the rim.
His obvious and most glaring issue offensively is his lack of willingness to shoot, and lack of ability. He took just 11 shots from distance this season using Cleaning The Glass’s filter. This undoubtedly hurts his off ball value and scalability in general, however he makes up for it with his elite screening and roll game.
Free throws are one of the most important things to look at when evaluating a young player, this is another area where Bam excels. He attempted 5.6 free throws per 75 possessions this season, with a free throw rate of .476.
Bam Adebayo has found a home in Miami where the coaching staff lets him do what he does best. They have tinkered their starting lineup in two separate areas to let him be himself. Both at the center position to provide more spacing. As well as sending Goran Dragic to the bench, knowing Bam can be their secondary play maker through the elbow. His defense is at an All-World level and his passing is top tier for a big man, a combination that can not be matched throughout the entire NBA.
Overall, he scales extremely well on defense and can fit in any system. Many would point to Miami’s 14th ranked defense to discredit his overall impact on this end. However, I would argue that is due to poor defensive talent around him. On the offensive side of the ball he brings a unique skill set that can fit in most offenses. You can use him as a screen setter both on ball and off and he provides you with good rim rolling gravity. He is always a threat to go coast to coast and can facilitate in the open floor. You can run your offense through him in the high post/elbow area as well. Where he is an extremely high IQ player and can read defenses.
The sky is the limit for this 22 year old Kentucky product. In just his third year in the league he is turning heads and has already cemented himself as one of the leagues best big men. His floor vision will only continue to improve from here. As well as his ability to read defenses. I have the utmost confidence that his 3 point shot will come along as well. Miami has gone all in on Bam, you should too.