ORLANDO — Any questions about what Pat Riley dug up with Bam Adebayo as the 14th pick in the Draft were answered quite succinctly on the very first day of the Orlando Summer League.
“He’s a beast,” said Okaro White, the only member of the Heat roster with NBA experience.
Over the ensuing days, Adebayo has roared, if not always shooting the ball with precision, by making his presence felt consistently with energy, confidence and a sense of where he’s going.
Through three games, the 6-foot-10 forward has averaged a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds along with 2.3 blocks per game, all while still feeling his way along. When Adebayo put it all together against the Pacers with a 29-point, 11-board game that was a couple rungs up the ladder. He rolled confidently to the hoop. His shots dropped. He took over down low. He got out in transition and demonstrated ball-handling ability by going the length of the court. He even did a Euro-step.
“He was what we like to say, one percent better,” said Chris Quinn, coach of Miami’s Summer League team. “I thought he did a great job, a much better job of rolling to the basket. We were able to get him some easier looks that way and also get him to the foul line. They had some big physical guys down there and he responded well to that.
“It can be a big asset if you have a big that can get a rebound, outlet and then bust up the court, get you in different situation.”
The Heat still have money to spend under the salary cap this summer. But with top free agent target Gordon Hayward going to Boston rather Miami, it’s likely that the need for Adebayo to produce as a rookie has increased.
The skeptics said that Miami reached in taking Adebayo in the top half of the first round. Yet his college coach, John Calipari, said the still 19-year-old big man would blossom and thrive once he got out of the Kentucky system.
While the pre-Draft workouts in Miami were behind closed doors, the Heat staff said Adebayo impressed them with his attitude and hunger to work as much as his many talents. So they sent him to the Summer League with the freedom to do all that he can.
“Pat and them said they were going to let me not be in a box,” Adebayo said. “In Summer League, I’m playing free. I’m having fun.
“If I keep doing that, I might get touches in the real game. If I can do good with the real touches, I might be one of those (regular rotation) guys.”
At most, the No. 3 option at Kentucky behind De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, Adebayo is being pushed to show what he’s got when the lineup is leaning on him.
“It’s something maybe he hasn’t been asked to do in the past,” said Quinn. “We’re giving him the freedom to get the ball down low, to make plays for us. At the end of the day, we want him rebounding, we want him defending. Those will be the things we focus on the most.”
While it’s Summer League and others before him have shined similarly when they’ve had the ball put in their hands as the lead dog, it’s not going to be his place to howl on the break and get up the most shots once the regular season begins. His time on the court then will depend on how well he does the less glamorous tasks such as setting screens and battling in the paint for defensive rebounds.
It helps that Adebayo has good foot speed and a high-revving motor. It could make him another valuable defensive option to make switches with James Johnson, Josh Richardson and a healthy Justise Winslow back on the court. In the 21st century NBA, covering up on the pick-and-roll and defending stretch-four shooters is a necessity at his position.
“Athletically and energetically, he’s a beast for a 19-year-old,” said Quinn. “We’re going to ask even more from him. Can he get one more rebound? Can he get one more block shot? How many extra efforts can you make that impact winning? That’s what we’re going to need this coming season.”
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