Through both the team’s inconsistency and his own stellar play, Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo has leaned on a valuable resource.
Adebayo often consults Heat forward Udonis Haslem, the valued 20-year NBA veteran and key member of the Heat’s three championship teams (2006, ’12, ’13) before taking a reduced role in recent seasons to mentor the team’s more prominent players.
“The only reason I got on the court is because of guys like UD honing in and giving us strict directions on how to defend,” Adebayo told NBA.com. “I’ve been somewhat of a little brother to him. He’s watching me grow. I can’t get mad about wins and losses because it’s my man’s last year. All I can do is put on a show for him.”
Adebayo’s mentor has enjoyed the show.
The Heat visited the Phoenix Suns on Friday with Adebayo averaging career-highs in points (21.8) and shot attempts (15.9) per game. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, guard Kyle Lowry and Haslem also have praised Adebayo for becoming a more vocal leader during his sixth NBA season.
“The more he talks, the less I have to do,” Haslem told NBA.com. “He takes over the huddles. He holds guys accountable. He’s engaged. He’s building that trust and relationship with guys. That’s what you want from your best player.”
Adebayo spoke to NBA.com about various topics, including his expanded scoring role, Haslem’s influence and missing out on last season’s Kia Defensive Player of the Year award.
Editor’s note: This 1-on-1 conversation has been edited and condensed.
What has accounted for your career-highs in scoring and shot attempts this season?
I was outworking myself into a flow. My teammates were working me into a flow. We’re doing a great job with emphasizing where my spots are and getting me in my spots.
What’s the key to execute that consistently?
Everybody loves the drop coverage. It’s one of those things where you develop touch shots and jumpers in the rectangle. I’m in tune with where I’m going and knowing how to maneuver. The sky is the game, in a sense. It’s all paint shots. But I’m doing that in a variety of different ways.
Spo (Heat coach Erik Spoelstra) said he’s impressed with how you balance your scoring and facilitating. How do you determine which approach to take?
It’s about reading the defense. That’s the biggest thing. You don’t want to have bad possessions where you just go one-on-one hard or make a shot harder than it’s supposed to be. You want to get an easy shot. I’m reading the game in that sense. We have a great point guard in Kyle Lowry. But in a sense, I also run point guard. So, I talk to Kyle about the flow of the game, how he’s reading things and looking at the clock. It’s those little things I’m paying attention to so I can manipulate the game.
How easy or difficult do you find it to manipulate the game?
It’s difficult because everybody has their own ambitions. You have to play to other people’s strengths. If I get Tyler Herro downhill, I’m more than likely going to get a shot or Tyler is going to get a shot. So, it’s about knowing plays, sequences and teammates.
How much does that approach differ or stay the same when Jimmy Butler is sidelined with his injuries?
It’s the same. It’s just that I know when Jimmy is in the game, he’s going to be our offensive package. We can all be aggressive. But when it gets to living in the moment, it becomes a possession game. We want Jimmy in the game and to get involved. It’s a growing process for us. But we’ve been together over the years, and we’ve been establishing a connection.
I’ve been somewhat of a little brother to him. He’s watching me grow. I can’t get mad about wins and losses because it’s my man’s last year. All I can do is put on a show for him.”
— Bam Adebayo, on Heat veteran Udonis Haslem
I’ve read that one of your goals is to meld the skills that Kevin Garnett showed as both a young and veteran player. What does that look like?
When he got older, he developed a jumper. In his younger years, it was about his passion, determination and dunking on folks. He was getting crazy stats and 30-point games. When he got older, it was more about playing pick-and-pop and being strategic. When he was younger? I wouldn’t call him a wildman. But when you let him go, he was gone. I try to implement both of them at the same time.
Spo and UD (Udonis Haslem) have said you’ve become more of a vocal leader this season. What have you done?
Everybody is starting to trust me. It’s not like they haven’t trusted me before. But it’s the fact that I can lead by example on the court. Then I add being a vocal leader into that. It makes it easier for everybody. You can’t be a vocal leader if you’re not doing the things that are necessary. Everybody listens to UD because of the history he’s gotten and the fact he’s still out here playing one-on-one with us at age 42 and running sprints. Everybody respects that because he’s leading by example on and off the court. His vocal leadership is what I’ve learned from with knowing what to say and when to say it. I’m growing with everybody. It’s a brotherhood. So, we trust everybody’s opinion.
What has UD taught you about how to manage things individually and with the team through the season’s ups and downs?
I enjoy being out there. That’s the most important thing for me. This game goes by so fast. It feels like yesterday when I first walked into L.A. at the Staples arena and thought, ‘This is where Kobe [Bryant] played; this is where the Shaq-and-Kobe dynamic formed.’ It’s really just about not getting too high off of wins or getting too low off of losses. I’m finding a sense of peace and just enjoying it. I’m still enjoying what I do.
Do you still have pinch-me moments?
There’s always pinch-me moments in this game. When you get those good blessings from the man above, whoever you believe in and whatever you believe in, you cherish those. You can’t take it for granted. He can give it to you. He can also take it away. I’ve gotten to a point where I’m focused on enjoying being out there. At any point in time, anybody can have an accident [knocks on his locker]. I go out there and always enjoy the game. This is UD’s last year. So, I’m trying to put on a show for him. It’s the least he could ask for from me.
He’s been with me since I started. The only reason I got on the court is because of guys like UD honing in and giving us strict directions on how to defend. That’s how we earned our keep. I’ve been somewhat of a little brother to him. He’s watching me grow. I can’t get mad about wins and losses because it’s my man’s last year. All I can do is put on a show for him.
I can guard one through five and I can guard anybody on the court. … Defense is how I got to where I am today. I’m always going to have the mindset of wanting to be in the top five on both units.”
— Bam Adebayo, on his defensive mentality
I read one of your other goals is to follow UD’s path by being a franchise pillar in Miami for your entire career …
(Interrupts) 100%. I need to get three rings. But it’s more about how he did it with having a guy through the ups and downs that is in the foxhole with you. He’s a guy I will truly miss. He’s been through those up-and-down days. Before, I didn’t think about having a sense of peace. I thought about wins and losses, and that kept me up all through the night. I would lose sleep over it and have an attitude problem. My life revolved around wins and losses to the point now that I meditate. He talks to me on what he sees and what he knows. What he says helps put it in place, so I can just go out and perform.
What’s your meditation routine?
I meditate before every game. I’m one of those people that have anxiety. There’s a lot going on in my mind, even though everyone thinks I look calm, cool and collected. So, I try to have a sense of peace. A settled mind helps me.
Even though you try to be at peace, to what extent did not getting DPOY last season contribute to any motivation this season? (Adebayo made NBA All-Defensive second team for a second consecutive season and ranked fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting).
I feel like I’ve been the best defender in the last two seasons. There’s no excuse. The media doesn’t like hearing about undrafted guys. The media wants to hear about the No. 1 picks and the top picks. They want to watch them on TV. We have a team that is made up of almost all undrafted guys. It sounds like it’s a great story to talk about, but they don’t want to see it. It discredits us with what we’ve accomplished with making it to the Eastern Conference finals [last season]. It’s those little things.
But I feel like I’m the best defender in the league. I can guard one through five and I can guard anybody on the court. In past seasons, that’s how I got on the court. Defense is how I got to where I am today. That’s never going to be away. I’m always going to have the mindset of wanting to be in the top five on both units.
What does it take to be able to defend all five positions?
It’s just me reading the scouting report, knowing the scouting report and knowing the personnel. That’s really it.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham touted your ‘fast twitch’ as a key part of your defense. Where does that come from?
[laughs] That’s all natural. You can’t teach that. That helps because a lot of bigs are slower than me.
What do you think were your top defensive performances?
I’m not sure. But I feel like the highlight is when teams put me in the strongside corner. That’s the biggest round of applause that you can get from NBA teams. They’re saying, ‘We’re not going to switch; go play him in the strongside corner so we can see where he’s at.’ That’s the biggest respect I’ve gotten when I’ve been in the league.
Why do you feel that is the ultimate sign of respect?
Guys’ pride gets in the way. Guys may try to go at me one-on-one and get a layup. But for the remainder of the game, coaches are saying, ‘Put him in the strongside corner so we can see where they’re at. We can’t let him do what he likes to do with roaming and being a free safety.’ Instead of targeting me, they want to avoid me.
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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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