Who’s to blame for Bam Adebayo’s poor play-in performance?

Apr 11, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (13) protects the ball from Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela (15) during the third quarter at Kaseya Center. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 11, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (13) protects the ball from Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela (15) during the third quarter at Kaseya Center. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports /

MIAMI — Some inside baseball, sports-media edition: Among all of the Miami Heat players, Bam Adebayo might be the most delightful to talk to. He’s mostly cheerful, humble, and hardly ever points fingers. After games when things go badly, he takes blame. When things go well, he’s smiling and cracking jokes.

That’s what makes Adebayo’s comments following the Heat’s loss to the Hawks in Tuesday’s play-in game stand out even more. I don’t know that I’ve heard Adebayo this critical of the offense.

“We just gotta find out a way to get me the ball,” Adebayo said. “Other than that, some of the guys had it going, so we have to figure out how we can keep them going and also get me the ball.”

By the time the final buzzer sounded on Miami’s 116-105 loss to Atlanta, Adebayo had taken 12 shots in 41 minutes. He’s played more minutes only twice all season, and this is just the 19th time in 76 games he’s attempted 12 or fewer shots.

Here’s the thing: Eleven of those games have come since March. As defenses key in on Adebayo, he’s gotten fewer opportunities. And he’s grown frustrated.

So what’s changed for Adebayo and the Heat’s offense?

Through the first part of the season, it appeared Bam was taking an offensive leap. In 54 games before the All-Star break, he was averaging 21.6 points on 15.7 field goal attempts. Both were career-highs. Since the break, those numbers have dipped to 17.3 points on 12.7 attempts.

Adebayo’s scoring growth came mostly in the non-restricted paint area. He carved out a sweet spot near the free throw line and, for much of the season, Bam rolling to the basket and beating drop coverages with a 12-foot jumper was a staple of Miami’s offense.

Then defenses got wise. Opponents adjusted their scouting reports and started playing up when Adebayo was rolling to the basket. With the Heat’s shooters struggling, defenses started cheating off the perimeter and sent extra defenders Bam’s way. What was once a relatively uncontested shot started to look more like this:

So Heat coaches and Adebayo started developing some counters: More baseline cuts from teammates to take advantage of eager defenses and Bam’s playmaking,

alternative moves

to get Bam freed up,

pushing more in transition

. Erik Spoelstra made changes to the starting lineup, sliding Max Strus in for added spacing.

The results have been mixed. Although Bam has six games with 20 or more points since the All-Star break, the dominant, All-Star level games just aren’t as frequent. Before the break, Adebayo averaged a 30-point performance every 5.4 games. In 21 games since the break, he has just one.

Fatigue and Bam’s lack of scoring variety are certainly factors. But this is also someone who has had to push himself to become more of a scorer over the years, and that he’s at the point of demanding the ball is a testament to his more aggressive attitude.

The opinion here is that most of the blame falls to the surrounding cast. After leading the league in 3-point shooting percentage last season, the Heat rank 27th at 34.4% from distance this season.

(That mark improved from 33.4% before the break to 34.7% after, but that’s still only a middling rate and the damage to the offense’s reputation had already been done.)

Regression from role players like Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin have dragged on the offense. Opponents don’t respect them from beyond the arc and packed the paint to crowd Adebayo and Jimmy Butler.

Against the Hawks, Bam missed some bunnies he normally makes, but the Hawks also swarmed him and dared Miami’s shooters to win the game. Adebayo never looked comfortable.

No doubt Adebayo needs to develop more offensive moves and continue to work on his touch near the basket. But keep in mind that, for someone to whom scoring doesn’t come naturally, the progress he’s made through six seasons is astounding. If Bam was playing with a score-first guard like Damian Lillard, for instance, fans wouldn’t be clamoring for Adebayo to become a top-25 scorer, nor would the Heat need him to be.

This has more to do with Miami’s roster construction than anything else. The Heat lack shooting to space the court around its two best players and scorers to take some responsibility off Bam’s plate. (Remember that Adebayo is the fulcrum of Miami’s defense, too. He’s asked to do a lot.)

Against the Raptors or Bulls on Friday, Adebayo will need to be better in order for the Heat to advance and his teammates — to his point — will need to figure out how to get him the ball in better positions.

But even that would be a bandage over the real problem: Adebayo needs help.

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