Miami Heat: Bam Adebayo’s sophomore season struggles

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 24: Bam Adebayo #13 of the Miami Heat fights for position against the New York Knicks on October 24, 2018 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 24: Bam Adebayo #13 of the Miami Heat fights for position against the New York Knicks on October 24, 2018 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images) /
facebooktwitterreddit

Looking to build on last year’s praise, Bam Adebayo is struggling to find Miami Heat minutes in his sophomore season.

The Miami Heat are currently planted at the intersection of small sample sizes and overreactions.

Two weeks and seven games into the season has the team riding high in some areas, while waiting for switches to flip in others.

Josh Richardson, despite shooting five percentage points below last year’s averages, is Miami’s leading scorer.

After essentially blowing the Heat’s opening game, he rebounded exactly the way a fourth-year player should; he dropped 28 points in a close—like one-point victory, close—win over the Washington Wizards.

Similarly, Rodney McGruder has given pause to the idea that Richardson would be this team’s savior. He is third on the team in rebounds per game, and is shooting 50 percent from 3 on nearly five attempts per game.

But while some players, Dwyane Wade included, are finding a groove, the team’s second-year man, Bam Adebayo, is hitting some walls.

Last season, Adebayo had the league captivated as he flaunted his quick feet and ability to keep up with the league’s best scorers. His foot work was attuned to lane takeoffs and finishing alley-oops, but showcasing his lateral confidence was the cherry on top of a largely successful rookie season.

Now however, Adebayo appears to be falling into the team’s afterthoughts, as he is getting fewer and fewer chances to build his on-court resume.

Adebayo’s nightly minutes have already seen a dip this year, down to 17 per game, from 19 in his rookie outing.

And while he’s seen an uptick in rebounds each night, his relegation to Miami’s bench—Adebayo’s played 20-plus minutes in just two of Miami’s seven games—has hinted at the difficulty in fitting in Miami’s rotation.

At center, Miami can field two very different options.

Though head coach Erik Spoelstra has taken to playing Hassan Whiteside and Kelly Olynyk in the same lineups, going as far as starting the pair together in four games, both offer variable skillsets.

Whiteside makes use of the post, anchoring himself to the low block and bullying his way around opponents. His efforts are captured by his return to rebounding and shot blocking prominence, hallmarked by a 24-rebound game against the Sacramento Kings.

Olynyk, of course, compliments Whiteside with his 3-point shooting (which has admittedly be a hardship thus far) and ability to attack the rim. His 16 drives this season, while insignificant in comparison to the likes of Goran Dragic or Richardson, forces defenses to uncomfortably shift when an ill-fitting defender has to backpedal to guard the rim.

Ideally, Adebayo would be the sweet spot between the two.

He has the athletic ability to challenge every rebound, and has improved his handle to a serviceable level.

So, why isn’t he getting minutes?

Stretching the floor

The obvious answer would be that Miami has enough rotation players, that forcing Adebayo into the game disrupts the flow of others. When Whiteside has already absorbed 13 first quarter boards (he did as much versus Sacramento), why take him out?

More than rotation woes, it’s Adebayo’s difficulty in stretching the floor that removes him from the rotation.

The NBA is playing faster than ever.

Critics and analysts say that seemingly every year, but really, it’s true this time.

Along with the increase in pace, is an increase in triples. Miami is currently ninth in 3’s attempted at 33 per night, three more than last season. Richardson alone has already notched three games with at least 10 3’s, something he accomplished just once in his first three seasons in the league.

Spoelstra maintains that defense is the team’s priority, but the increase in 3’s has left those unwilling or incapable out of the already short rotation.

"“That has to be the identity of this team,” he told the Sun-Sentinel. “And even though we’ve been able to score some more points, we still have to lean on the foundation of this franchise being a defensive-oriented team, to commit to that, regardless of the game is played.”"

Adebayo and Whiteside are the only Heat players to average fewer than a single 3-point attempt per game. But in Adebayo’s case, he has only attempted two, one of which was an end of quarter heave in the season opener.

Obviously 3’s won’t be the end of Adebayo’s inclusion. Whiteside, despite flaunting his jumper all summer, has been successful without planting himself at the 3-point line.

But unless Whiteside totally drops off from his current production, Adebayo might be hard pressed for time.

Time, however, is still on Adebayo’s side.

Like Richardson and Justise Winslow before him, Miami has yet to see exactly how his career will take shape.

Miami Heat: Rotations are still being worked through and more. dark. Next

Cliched as it is, only time will tell.