Miami Heat: Can Bam Adebayo and Hassan Whiteside co-exist?

From left, Miami Heat players Hassan Whiteside, Dwyane Wade, Wayne Ellington and Bam Adebayo look from the bench during overtime against the Brooklyn Nets at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Saturday, March 31, 2018. The Nets won, 110-109, in OT. (David Santiago/El Nuevo Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
From left, Miami Heat players Hassan Whiteside, Dwyane Wade, Wayne Ellington and Bam Adebayo look from the bench during overtime against the Brooklyn Nets at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Saturday, March 31, 2018. The Nets won, 110-109, in OT. (David Santiago/El Nuevo Herald/TNS via Getty Images) /

Should the Miami Heat dual-wield Bam Adebayo and Hassan Whiteside this upcoming season?

One of the most endearing moments of Miami Heat Basketball last season came just before a frigid February visit to the Toronto Raptors.

Fittingly, it was in the lead up to Valentine’s Day that a pair of Heat players shared their affection for one another. For a grand total of 10 minutes on February 9, head coach Erik Spoelstra played Hassan Whiteside with Bam Adebayo.

And the pair loved every second of it.

"“It was great man,” Whiteside said on the chance to play with then-rookie Adebayo. “It was a couple of times we were just playing volleyball with each other on the rebounds. It’s a lot different when he’s out there. It’s really athletic.”"

Adebayo followed up in a similarly sappy fashion, expressing the competitive edge that he and Whiteside share and use for improvement.

"“I feel like we try to wrestle each other for rebounds,” Adebayo recalled. “I know we were at the free-throw line and I took one from him because it was my 10th. But we ran on the court smiling about it.”"

The excitement wouldn’t last long.

Jointly combining for 27 points, 26 rebounds and three blocks against the Milwaukee Bucks that night, the Whiteside-Adebayo tandem was one of Miami’s least explored strategies last season.

Despite claiming he’d workshop lineups that featured both big men, Spoelstra settled for running the pair a paltry 52 minutes.

An 82-game season is, barring overtimes, 3,936 minutes long. If Whiteside and Adebayo were healthy all season, the time spent on-court together would represent a shade over one percent all possible game time.

Granted, Adebayo was a rookie and Whiteside injured last season, but that the lineup didn’t get more play was an unfortunate side effect of the NBA’s newfound fear of height.

Too Tall

Once seen as a bastion of power, elegance and the genetic lottery, height in the NBA has fallen out of favor. According to data analyzed and visualized by Dimitrije Curcic, the height difference between positions in the NBA has been continually decreasing.

Whereas the 90’s were dominated by teams that prided themselves on running lineups with huge height disparities – Patrick Ewing and Mark Jackson/Charlie Ward on the New York Knicks, Hakeem Olajuwon and Kenny Smith on the Houston Rockets or Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway on the Heat – the last three years in the NBA have seen a shrinking height differential between point guards and centers.

Teams are consistently looking for new angles, new ways to create success. In recent history that has meant a shift to lineups focused on do-everything, hot-swappable players that can moonlight at a multitude of positions.

In the Heat’s formula, which has seen an increased reliance on positionless basketball, Justise Winslow is the prototype.

He’s 6-foot-7, which is the NBA’s average height, and has spent time playing everything from point guard, as he did last season, to center, as he has done in the playoffs.

So, with multi-purpose players becoming the new norm, it makes sense that Whiteside and Adebayo wouldn’t play together.

At a very basic level, their skill sets are far too similar.

On the court, both are indicative of Miami’s rim defending, lob-finishing dreams. Adebayo is shaping up to be more versatile of the two – hopefully adding a mid-range jumper and continuing to be capable of defending multiple positions – but the lack of a 3-point threat between them is a disservice to Miami.

Instead, Kelly Olynyk, with his reliable jumper and willingness to attack off the dribble, is a more appropriate partner for either center (though he played more frequently and more effectively sharing the court with Adebayo).

Still, that doesn’t completely dismiss the possibilities for a Whiteside and Adebayo cohabitating.

Diversifying assets

In 2016-17, the Los Angeles Clippers fielded the final full season shared between Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. The connection between Paul and Jordan was the gold standard in point guard-center relations, rife with lobs, transition play and a generally amicable on-court rapport.

That duo played 60 games together, posting a net rating of 16.7. The mark was second-highest for a duo on the Clippers that season, among groups that played at least 50 games together.

Not far behind however, was the pairing of Jordan and Griffin. Their net rating of 13.8 was just four spots behind, in sixth place.

In 2013-14, which was arguably Griffin’s breakout season in terms of production and sustained good health, his tandem with Jordan posted a net rating of 9.7. Compared to their play in 2016-17, the pair stayed consistent on defense, with just a half a point separating their defensive ratings between those two seasons.

Offensively however, Jordan and Griffin’s rating jumps from 111.3 points per 100 possessions in 2013-14, to 116.7 in 2016-17.

Why the increase?

The Clippers started diversifying their assets.

For the first time in his career in 2016-17, Griffin shot more than 100 3’s. His improved range translated to him spending less time clogging the lane, and more time boosting the Clippers with catch-and-shoot finishes.

Thus, Griffin’s willingness to shoot made everything Jordan do more effective. When Jordan set a high screen and rolled, Griffin was left unattended in the corner, opening another offensive option for Los Angeles.

Taking a page out of Doc Rivers’ playbook, Miami could expect similar success from the Whiteside-Adebayo union, with Adebayo’s continued growth.

At 29 and 7-feet tall, expecting Whiteside to become more efficient from more places on the court is counter-intuitive. The Heat found his strengths in his ability to demoralize opponents with shot-blocking and terrify defenders in the post.

Adebayo however, is still gelatinous enough – career-wise – that he can be molded into an effective complement for Whiteside without sacrificing his own talents.

Adebayo is fleet-footed in his step and capable of finishing over defenders.

During Summer League, he showed his newfound knack for pushing the game in transition, which, if coupled with Whiteside’s improved outlet passes, could make for a terrifying twosome on the break.

In fact, playing the two together could accelerate Adebayo’s growth, as he and Whiteside would quickly realize two men of their stature can’t play on top of each other.

In a way, the Miami Heat have a roster that has stagnated.

The team returns to training camp with only a handful of new faces, having missed out on any major free agency deals or signings.

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