Lost in the shuffle of the stellar seasons of Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Karl Anthony-Towns, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is the quiet, yet efficient play of Bam Adebayo.
A slight dropoff in numbers and 22 games missed due to right thumb surgery this season can certainly make one forget that Adebayo was an All-Star in 2021 who was also coming off an offseason where he won the gold medal with Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics.
Since his return from a torn UCL in his right thumb, Adebayo has been averaging 17.7 points (while shooting 51.6% from the field), 9.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.3 steals, and 1.1 blocks – numbers that show that not only is the thumb injury clearly past him, but that he also continued to do a little bit of everything on both ends of the floor.
Adebayo’s impact on multiple facets of the game was evident in the Miami Heat’s 121-100 win over the Washington Wizards, a victory that further solidified their grip on first place in the Eastern Conference.
His 21 points and seven rebounds were both game-highs, but it was his energy on both ends of the floor that helped the Heat keep the lead for the entire game. In fact, Adebayo had 14 points in the third quarter, nearly outscoring the Wizards (17 points) on his own. The former Kentucky Wildcat’s activity inside also opened up shots from behind the three-point line as Miami made 56.3 percent of their 3-pointers, with Duncan Robinson and Gabe Vincent knocking down four 3-pointers each.
The numbers have come in bunches and in various ways for Adebayo, but his intangible contributions can at times outweigh those on the stat sheet. The Heat can run their offense through Adebayo in more ways than one, as Adebayo is athletic enough to operate from different spots on the court despite not qualifying as a “shooter” in today’s NBA.
Defensively, Adebayo never backs down from a challenge regardless of who he is facing. The two-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection has been wreaking havoc on big men and guards alike, rendering switching a tougher call than when done against other centers. This kind of versatility makes it harder for teams to game plan against Miami, as the one-dimensional nature that befalls teams in the postseason may not be applicable in their case.
Measuring Adebayo’s value on defense may be easier said than done but there are indications that he has been crucial to the Heat’s success. His 0.149 defensive win shares are higher than that of Antetokounmpo and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, even if the aforementioned players have better stats than him.
The missed time this season certainly points to how the wear and tear caught up to Adebayo, who in 2019-2020 played in all but one game for Miami, which also competed in the NBA Finals in the Orlando bubble. During his All-Star campaign in 2020-2021, he missed some games due to a few injuries and the COVID-19 health and safety protocols. All things considered, the 14th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft has technically been playing non-stop as the offseason was largely devoted to the Tokyo Olympics and the preparations leading up to the competition.
To some extent, Adebayo’s thumb injury also allowed him to have more rest and with around 20 games less than some of his counterparts on other teams, one has to think that he will have fresher legs for the second half of the season. Nevertheless, rest will likely be on the table for the 24-year old, especially if the Heat can pad on to their lead in the East.
Bam Adebayo isn’t one to crave attention nor will his numbers jump out of the box score like some of his fellow big men in the NBA. He does, however, let his game do the talking and with the way he and the Miami Heat have performed thus far, it’s been quite a statement.