The shall-we-dance card no longer is being played as often with Bam Adebayo either by the Miami Heat or the opposition.
Among unique aspects in Adebayo’s rise to elite defensive presence has been the opposition’s attempts to draw him into perceived mismatches on the perimeter, as well as Adebayo’s willingness to take on such challenges.
But now, with the Heat going from small to smaller with the balance of their power rotation this season, Adebayo more often can be seen defending where men of his size typically reside – in the paint.
“I mean, it’s such a different coverage for me now,” Adebayo said, with the Heat hosting the Phoenix Suns on Monday. “Since, what, my second year in the league I’ve been switching?”
Now Adebayo makes sure the pick-and-roll is properly defended, without necessarily switching off the opposition’s big man.
“For me,” he said, “it’s helping the guards get through, just tapping them on the call, making sure they know which way the screen’s coming, and then making sure the guard doesn’t get downhill. And if he does, make a play on the ball.”
Guard Max Strus said the approach is tangibly different than Adebayo stepping out, getting in a defensive stance, daring the opposition’s perimeter players to just try it.
“I think we’re mixing up the way we’re defending, too,” Strus said. “We’re trying new schemes with him, trying new things, keeping him on bigs. He’s done a great job with it.
“He likes to switch. We all like him to switch. But we’re trying to make him do different things and I think it’s helping our defense, just allowing our guards to be more physical on the ball and just allowing him to keep his matchup. And he’s been exceptional.”
With power forward P.J. Tucker, often a last line of defense last season when it came to taking charges, leaving in free agency for the Philadelphia 76ers, keeping Adebayo at home makes more sense this time around.
“This team is a little bit different,” coach Erik Spoelstra said, “so we have to do some different things. But you have to have a guy like Bam that can be an anchor and have that absolute versatility, where we can adjust as the season goes on based on what we need to go and what’s working for us, not necessarily what we planned on doing.
“He makes it look a lot easier than it is. But he’s just extremely versatile. and that’s helpful that he can play the man or the zone.”
Typically, perimeter stars who get big men on them salivate their way to 3-pointers or blow-by drives.
The lessons learned these past few years are such attempts are met with unexpected resistance. That, Spoelstra said, is another reason why Adebayo has not been seen as much isolation defense.
“That’s like those great defensive backs or, I don’t know, linebackers,” Spoelstra said. “You’re going somewhere else. But that’s been a hard-earned reputation. And because of that, we want to be able to maximize his strengths as teams now are trying to maximize going away from his strengths. So we’ll just have to keep on trying to figure that out.”
For now, it’s more Adebayo playing as a true center, be it anchoring the zone or staying with the opposing big man on pick-and-rolls.
Spoelstra said those who attempt to draw out Adebayo should know better.
“That’s irresponsible,” Spoelstra said, “if you’re not going through the scouting report.”
The one thing Adebayo said remains a constant is his ability and willingness to have an impact on the defensive end.
“They put me in the short corner, as far away as possible,” he said. “But I still get to be low man, so I’m still in the play. They can’t do anything where I can’t impact the game on that end.”