Bam Adebayo’s Passing Brings New Dimension to Miami Heat Offense

Bam Adebayo has emerged as a versatile All-Star for the Miami Heat in his third NBA campaign.

The former Kentucky forward has become an especially tenacious rebounder, elite multi-positional defender and explosive offensive weapon this season. His multifaceted skills and elite physical tools have been crucial to the club’s resurgence toward the top of the Eastern Conference.

The coaches rewarded his do-it-all impact with his trip to the NBA All-Star Game in Chicago.

Bam is posting 16.0 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game—all huge leaps from his second-year stats (8.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists)—but his development as a passer is particularly remarkable.

Adebayo has taken on an expanded role as a secondary facilitator this season, and it’s opened up Miami’s offense dramatically. He’s shown tremendous precision and, most importantly, a sharp awareness of plays as they unfold.

The Heat don’t lean on one high-volume playmaker like LeBron James, Luka Doncic or Trae Young. Instead, coach Erik Spoelstra relies on a more collaborative effort to move the ball and set up scoring opportunities.

Adebayo ranks second on the Heat in assists per game and assists per 100 possessions.  (Jimmy Butler is tops in both categories.) He’s also third in potential assists with 8.4. (That’s a more accurate category because it does more than just reward the passer based on made shots.)

Jan 3, 2020; Orlando, Florida, USA; Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (13) battles for position against Orlando Magic center Mo Bamba (5) during the second half at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The 22-year-old’s impact on the Heat offense is evident in the stat sheet and game footage: The Heat have a higher offensive rating (113.6), effective field-goal percentage (55.4) and assist percentage (64.4) when Adebayo’s on the floor compared to when he sits. And the Heat’s year-to-year improvement in categories like offensive rating and potential assists created should be at least partly attributed to his promotion this season.

Spoelstra has entrusted a large portion of the offense to Adebayo as a high-post facilitator. The Heat run cutters such as Butler and Derrick Jones Jr. off him toward the hoop, and they encircle him with shooters like Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro.

Much of Adebayo’s playmaking comes in the form of dribble hand-offs (DHO’s) that he sets up for shooters. He’s quickly mastered the art of an effective DHO, which involves optimal timing and spacing, as well as oftentimes a good screen afterward.

For example, here’s a DHO connection between Adebayo and Robinson on an inbound sequence. Adebayo knows Mitchell will try to go over the screen, so he steps out high to make it extra burdensome for the Jazz star:

Bam delivers hand-offs and drop-offs in transition as well. Nothing illustrates the modern, position-less NBA better than 6’9” Adebayo bringing the ball up and dropping it off for 7’0” Meyers Leonard, who launches from way downtown.

It’s a borderline moving screen, but Bam’s setup gives Leonard a great look at a rhythm three:

When he’s operating from the high-post or short corner, Adebayo has tremendous patience and awareness of potential scoring opportunities. He pairs those intangibles with an uncommon dexterity for his size, making him an exceptionally valuable quarterback.

Don’t confuse Adebayo’s patience for indecisiveness, however. When opportunities arise quickly, he capitalizes swiftly and smoothly. One Western Conference Scout noted how good Adebayo is at reading and reacting in Miami’s system (per CBS Sports’ Brad Botkin):

Size-wise, and with his skill set, he’s a perfect big for what [the Heat] do with all their movement and flowing in and out of different spots in the floor… He’s really decisive as a passer, too. That really stands out when you watch him, just how comfortable he is already as a playmaker. He sees someone cutting back door, boom, he’s making the pass on time and on target.

Adebayo has become a masterful bounce-passer, often fitting the rock through tight windows to cutters. When he makes the decision to pass, he quickly snaps the ball off the floor, giving opponents little time to react or disrupt the passing lane.

Watch him ricochet a variety of passes to his teammates off the hardwood:

Spoelstra often uses lineups that present sub-optimal floor spacing by today’s standards. Most of the time, the Heat have multiple non-shooters (or poor shooters) sharing the court: Usually, two or more of Butler, Adebayo and Jones Jr.

However, Miami still finds ways to balance attacking the rim and launching from deep.

Crisp, well-timed cuts help create rim gravity that opens up space for Miami’s shooters. When Spoelstra sends slashers like Butler and Jones Jr. cutting through the lane, it often pulls help defenders toward the middle. Adebayo then looks for open marksmen on the weak side, and his height comes in handy to see over the defense and zip cross-court passes.

Check out how Bam capitalizes on Butler’s dives toward the hoop by connecting with both Kendrick Nunn and Leonard:

Another valuable aspect of Adebayo’s playmaking is his awareness off the dribble.

Sometimes athletic slashers get tunnel-visioned when they’re heading to the bucket; They keep attacking the rim even if the defense clogs the lane. Bam is more discerning than the average driver, always looking for floor-spacers and cutters.

His penchant for seeking the best available shot is extremely encouraging:

Adebayo’s increased assertiveness and creativity have lifted the Heat’s offense to another level. He spoke with SB Nation’s Michael Pina about his new, more adventurous approach to playmaking:

“A lot of passes that I throw, some of them are kind of thread-the-needle type of passes, and I know Year 1 or Year 2 Bam wouldn’t have done that. But you’ve gotta take the leash off the dog…”

The aggressiveness is not without a few negative side effects, however: Adebayo is susceptible to sporadic rashes of turnovers. His ball-handling repertoire isn’t the tightest, and he sometimes tries to force difficult passes. He has the second-highest turnover rate in the Heat rotation (4.0 per 100 possessions).

Fortunately, the positive effects heavily outweigh Adebayo’s shortcomings.

Bam’s selection to the 2020 NBA All-Star team is a credit to Spoelstra’s developmental prowess, and it’s a testament to his individual growth. Adebayo is a serious Defensive Player of the Year contender, but his boost in playmaking is equally impressive. His skill level has unlocked new options in Miami’s offense, and that should make Heat fans ecstatic.

Because he’s still improving.