Adebayo’s Aggression Unlocks Heat’s Offense


All season long, Heat fans desired an aggressive Bam Adebayo. Bam succeeds best when he’s assertive. 

Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals exemplified two different versions of Adebayo on offense. The one who made the crowd groan, wishing Adebayo would face up and seek points, and the one who was aggressive and going at the defense.

The problem: the consistently aggressive Adebayo played for about three minutes in a 20-point deficit in the crucial loss.

New Challenge

Today presents a new challenge: Game Seven. The aggressive Adebayo was absent for all of Game Six (though he still dominated defensively), where a Jimmy Butler masterclass led the Heat to a win in Boston to force it to seven. Adebayo had six shots in 41 minutes of play, often shying away from the rim.

It’s hard to expect another Butler explosion of the same caliber as Game Six (though it certainly is possible). However, having an aggressive Adebayo for Game Seven could open so much up for the Miami offense and may be vital in bringing the NBA Finals back to the 305.

In theory, a guy like Adebayo should be a walking mismatch. His athleticism, handle and size is matched by only a few others in the Association. The large majority of the league should be either too small and weak for Adebayo or too slow and unathletic to contain him.

Consistent Skill

It’s understandable that Adebayo isn’t always going straight to the basket and the defender; dribble handoffs are a significant part of the Heat offense and Adebayo’s game. However, not looking at the basket is inexcusable for somebody of Adebayo’s talent.

It’s not like Adebayo’s a bad shooter either who needs to shy away from shooting in the mid-range. Over the past two regular seasons, he has shot 43.4% on mid-range shots. This isn’t an elite number, but it certainly isn’t bad and should be a shot that defenses are forced to respect.

And similarly, it’s not like Adebayo is a bad isolation player. He’s outstanding statistically. In his one isolation per game in the regular season, he scored 1.04 points per possession. In the postseason, this number jumped to 1.33 on about the same volume per game.

Fans understand that Adebayo can be a legitimate 22 or 23 point-per-game player. When he chases points, he can score; that’s simply not in question. The skill is there. It just needs to be tapped into consistently.

When that comes, that’s a scary Adebayo.

Ultimately, none of these criticisms mean that Adebayo needs to be more aggressive to be an impactful player. On the other side of the ball, Adebayo is arguably the best in the league with his versatility. He is worth the max contract and has the skills offensively to become a borderline elite player, yet he often seemingly shies away from this tactic. 


Now, how does Game Five explain Adebayo’s inconsistent aggressiveness? How did it stand as a microcosm of what occurred for practically the entire season?

It was passiveness with a mixture of aggression. Within that aggression was a player who clearly has the potential to dominate. But, unfortunately, that aggression wasn’t a mainstay.

The spots where Adebayo seems to catch the ball the most are the mid-post and the top of the key/elbow area. It only makes sense to examine how Adebayo can be aggressive from these spots.

Frequently, when Adebayo catches in the mid-post, he does something of a half-turn. He partially faces the rim and anticipates a pass, but after the avenue isn’t there, he doesn’t always turn and go. Instead, he keeps looking or finds a handoff. 

On that last clip specifically, it appears that it should be an easy face-up and shot given the space that Grant Williams concedes.

It’s understandable that the spacing on some of these plays may prevent an Adebayo drive. However, it’s also true that Adebayo needs to face up all the way and become a threat. Both can and seem to be true.

That first clip stands out as quite frustrating. It seems like that should be a one-dribble pull-up for Adebayo, but he doesn’t even look at the basket, leading into a loose dribble handoff with Caleb Martin. Even if Adebayo didn’t want the shot and didn’t feel comfortable in that spot, he should get downhill and force help or obtain a closer look. A drive could have opened up a layup or a Gabe Vincent corner three considering Jaylen Brown’s poor positioning.

On the following clip, Adebayo gets to the free-throw line with Al Horford in front of him and then doesn’t even try a move, instead going all the way across the court for a dribble handoff.

Adebayo is quite an effective roller, so dribble handoffs do make sense. The problem is that the Celtics have locked up the roll all series. Their drops have been quite effective, and when Robert Williams is out there, his roaming on the weak side is terrifying for Heat ballhandlers. It just doesn’t seem like the series to have this many dribble handoffs for Adebayo; he should be attacking just a little more.

Taking Over

And then he took over.

  • First clip: Adebayo uses his handle combined with his strength to get to the free-throw line. No hesitation.
  • Second clip: Adebayo uses his handle combined with his strength (again) to get a bucket. No hesitation. 
  • Third clip: Adebayo takes the ball the length of the court, shows off a nice handle and footwork, and turns around for a tough jumper. No hesitation.
  • Fourth clip: Adebayo uses his handle and footwork to hit another tough jumper. No hesitation. 

This was four straight possessions.

Those were simply four beautiful possessions.

Can Do, Will Do

Adebayo has the capability. Should he come down the court and shoot every time? No, certainly not. However, the ability is there, and he should employ it more because it can be reliable offense.

Ultimately, regardless of what Adebayo can do offensively, it’s his defense that brings so much value to the Heat, and even if the Heat don’t get an ultra-aggressive Adebayo tonight, his impact will be enough to walk away victors.

In Game Seven of the NBA Finals in 2013, Chris Bosh had zero points but played incredibly defensively; the Heat couldn’t have won without him. Adebayo can undoubtedly have this defensive impact and, in addition, contribute offensively.

At the end of the day, this couldn’t be more accurate. Go Heat.

About Charlie Spungin

Twitter: @CharlieS3_

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