Analysis: Why the Heat are playing through Bam Adebayo in the post more than ever

The Miami Heat are playing through Bam Adebayo in the post more than ever, but to mixed results. Here's a look at why, and what it means going forward.

Miami Heat v Atlanta Hawks
Miami Heat v Atlanta Hawks / Alex Slitz/GettyImages
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The Miami Heat are playing through Bam Adebayo in the post more than ever but with mixed results. Still, it's a trend in the right direction.

Before leaving Thursday night’s game with a hip injury, Adebayo was averaging 5.2 post-ups per game, according to NBA.com’s tracking data. That would surpass his previous career high of 3 post-ups per game.

There are a few reasons behind the increase in post-ups.

  1. Jimmy Butler got off to a slow start
  2. Adebayo got off to a hot start
  3. Coach Erik Spoelstra is staggering Butler and Adebayo more than last season

The first two reasons are self-explanatory. Butler, after not participating in a single preseason game, averaged 16.5 points on 35.7% shooting through his first four games. Meanwhile, Adebayo is putting together a career year on offense, averaging a career-high in points (22.3) and free throw attempts (7.0) while shooting 52.2% overall. It's only natural that the Heat would have played more through Adebayo.

But let's drill down into that third reason.

Last season, more than 55% of Adebayo’s minutes came alongside Butler. Spoelstra preferred to staple his two stars together because it was his only lineup that consistently outscored opponents (plus 5.2 points per 100 possessions).

The Heat last season were short on depth, so even lineups anchored by one star mostly lost their minutes. Lineups with Adebayo and without Butler were outscored by 1.5 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass. With Butler on the court without Adebayo, the Heat were outscored by 5.4 points per 100 possessions, according to CtG. The problem with this approach is that the Heat often gave up leads whenever Butler and Adebayo sat.

This season is different. Because the Heat’s supporting cast has improved, Spoelstra can build rotations with one of his stars on the court for most of the game.

Lineups with Butler and no Adebayo this season: Plus-10.7 points per 100 possessions.

Adebayo without Butler, but with Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Duncan Robinson: Plus-4.7 per 100 possessions.

Those one-star-based lineups have been as good or better than last season’s two-star-based lineups.

Since Nov. 9, when Tyler Herro’s right ankle sprain forced Spoelstra to revamp his rotation, Adebayo is playing 43.8% of his minutes alongside Butler. 

The Heat are a post-up team. Most of their actions are triggered from the block, whether it’s split cuts, shooters coming around screens or passes to the opposite corner. Butler and Adebayo are the hubs.

As well as they play together, Butler and Adebayo are not floor-spacers. When they share the court, the paint can get crowded when either one sets up shop in the post.

Take one off the court and replace him with a shooter like Caleb Martin or Josh Richardson, and Miami’s stars have more room to work.

Most of Adebayo’s minutes now are tied to Robinson. Big man and shooter have had two-man game chemistry since 2019, and it’s only gotten better as Robinson has developed his own off-the-bounce and passing skills.

Butler’s minutes are mostly tied to Lowry. They have developed a small-small pick-and-roll that has been a staple of Miami’s offense this season.

This is a positive development for the Heat. Adebayo and Butler play well together already, so finding other workable lineup combinations only gives Spoelstra more options.

The next step is Adebayo becoming more efficient with more opportunities. Though Adebayo is averaging the third-most post-ups in the league, the Heat are scoring only 0.93 points per 100 of such possessions.

(The league leaders, Denver's Nikola Jokic and Philadelphia's Joel Embiid, are creating 1.12 and 1.06 points per 100 possessions for their teams, respectively. Butler hasn’t been much better, creating 0.85 points per 100 post-up possessions.)

While Adebayo posting up isn’t new, it is new to this degree and with these teammates. Getting Herro back should help Miami’s efficiency. He’s a knock-down shooter who thrives as a second-side option in these sets.

But it will also take Adebayo becoming a better decision-maker and a more willing passer when crowded. That will come with more time and practice, which is what the regular season is for.

Next. next. 3 Things we learned about the Heat in their win over the Pacers. dark