Miami’s Bam Adebayo wants to be on the NBA’s elite big men list

AS BAM ADEBAYO As he walked into the lobby of the Chicago hotel from the team bus, he had a conversation with himself about mind over matter. It was just after noon on game day and a frigid opponent was waiting upstairs.

“I’m trying to get my heart rate up,” the Miami Heat All-Star center told ESPN, looking nervously at the elevator. “So when I get there, it won’t be a big surprise.”

In June 2023, Adebayo walked off the court at the end of Game 5 of the NBA Finals in Denver as blue, yellow, white and red confetti rained down on him and his defeated teammates. When the party began for the Nuggets, new NBA champions, he was struck by a little clarity.

He had battled a sore hamstring during the playoffs, then a right shoulder injury during the Finals amid a grueling fight against tough Nuggets star Nikola Jokic. Numerous teammates were with him in the training room. Gabe Vincent had a bad ankle. Cody Zeller had a broken nose. Tyler Herro missed most of the postseason with a broken hand. Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler were banged up.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets’ injury report was empty. While he felt frustration, exhaustion and acceptance, this detail resonated in his head.

“That’s what really stood out when the buzzer rang,” said Adebayo, whose Heat face the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday (ESPN, 10 p.m. ET). “When you get to the finals, those are the two things that matter: who will make the fewest mistakes and who will be the least injured team. I thought, ‘Damn, a lot of things go into why we lost.'”

In a reality where a return to the Finals could mean a long series against Eastern Conference giants like Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kristaps Porzingis (and perhaps all three) before a possible rematch with Jokic, Adebayo has found himself taking an approach refined as he works in his seventh NBA season, one that looks like it could be the best of his career.

With that in mind, Adebayo took a midday ice bath at the hotel after the morning shooting. He could have been eating lunch, taking a nap or doing anything else, but he has committed to doing more body maintenance this season because he believes that everything can matter.

IF IT IS UNPLEASANT A 15- or 20-minute immersion in ice water in November progressively improves your chances of being healthier in April, May and June; Adebayo is invested in it. If you can do two Pilates sessions a week instead of one, you’ll try it.

“One of the things I’ve learned: you have to take care of your little muscles,” Adebayo said. “It’s the little things that can matter.”

Big things do it too. In late November, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra came to Adebayo to talk about the left hip injury that had been bothering him for more than a month. In the second week of the season, he suffered a hard fall during a game in Minnesota. His instinct after him was to do what he had always done: fight through it.

Adebayo had missed three games at different times when the hip problem flared up. On Nov. 30, he hit his hip in the first half of a game against the Indiana Pacers and felt shooting pain that forced him to the sideline. He was determined to get through it with more ice and more treatment. He was putting up huge offensive numbers: Adebayo is having the most prolific scoring season of his career at 22 points per game, a much-needed influence as the Heat have dealt with long stretches without leading scorers Herro and Butler to start the season.

“Coach took it out of my hands. He told me, ‘You have to sit down,'” Adebayo said. “Throughout my entire career, I’ve tried to play with things, stop thinking about them, and once you get into competition it seems like you forget about them.”

But that was Adebayo’s old thinking. The new Adebayo, now 26 years old and trying to live each day with an eye toward the postseason, reluctantly locked himself away for seven games.

Spoelstra pulled the Heat together while dealing with injuries to several starters (Miami used 14 different starting lineups in its first 22 games) and the team went 5-5 in games without Adebayo.

When Adebayo plays, the Heat are 14-9, including a Christmas Day win over the Philadelphia 76ers, where Adebayo had 26 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks (Embiid was out with an ankle injury ).

In addition to his career-best scoring, Adebayo’s rebounds, assists and blocks are all up from last season. Over the last five games, during one of the toughest stretches of the Heat’s season, Adebayo is averaging 22 points and 14 rebounds while Butler has missed time with two different leg injuries.



Bam Adebayo makes a sweet pass

Bam Adebayo makes a sweet pass

Scoring has been key not only because his current teammates missed stretches due to injuries, but also because Vincent (Los Angeles Lakers) and shooting specialist Max Strus (Cleveland Cavaliers) left in free agency. Adebayo has increased his mid-range score as he displays an increasingly better jump shot while drawing more fouls. (He has increased his trips to the line by two per game.)

A two-time All-Star and four-time All-Defensive, Adebayo is already known for his defensive versatility and skillful ball-handling for a big man. The ability to force a stop, grab the rebound and then initiate the offense is highly prized in modern football and he is one of the few who can do it at an elite level.

But, remembering his epiphany during the finals, Adebayo is pushing for more.

“I’m looking at my stat line and thinking ‘How can I be better?'” Adebayo said. “Instead of averaging 20 [points per game], how to average 23? Instead of averaging nine rebounds, how can I average 11? Instead of averaging three assists, how to average five? Instead of averaging 0.8 blocks, how to average 1.4?

“And you start to calculate that. You start to really focus on preparation… how many times you go to the gym, how many times you work on consistency. And then you move on to taking care of your body while improving yourself. “In the summer, obviously I try gain more weight and get stronger.

LATE AT NIGHTparticularly after losses, Adebayo found himself watching film and taking notes on his phone to discuss with the coaching staff the next day.

“My coach has insomnia,” Adebayo said. “I know he’s awake watching [film] also. But I’ll save the messages for the morning.”

“That’s the life of great players in this league. You take on a lot of responsibilities,” Spoelstra, the known insomniac, told ESPN of Adebayo. “People haven’t really noticed how he’s gotten better every year and it really started in the playoffs four years ago when he was being guarded and he put in the work in the offseason to really develop a shot right in the middle of the paint.” .

That dotted-line jumper (the pull-up in the middle of the paint) has become an Adebayo staple, but it’s taxing his range more. This season, Adebayo is taking more shots from 10 to 16 feet than at any time in his career and making them at a rate of nearly 50%. It’s a mid-career turn that has expanded a tool in his game.

“Our scouting report on Bam was: If he gets the ball on his elbow, you want to keep him there. Don’t let him drive to that dotted line, get fouled, or draw the defense in so he can kick it into a shooter.” an Eastern Conference scout whose team played the Heat in the playoffs last season told ESPN. “But now that might be evolving after seeing it this year.”

This gets to the core of what Adebayo wants. Last season, the Heat’s scouting report on Jokic was painfully basic: Pick your poison, do your best to make him uncomfortable, and hope for the best. For elite big men like Jokic and Embiid, there are no guarantees of stopping them.

Adebayo wants on this list.

“That’s what I want everyone in the league to respect about my game right now,” Adebayo said. “Where they say, ‘We just have to wait for it to fail,’ and that’s what you work for.”

There’s another list Adebayo has his eye on: All-NBA. He thought he was on his way there last year, but he lost some rhythm after the All-Star break. His scoring average dropped about four points, with three fewer rebounds per game, and the Heat were playing .500 basketball.

Then came their monster postseason run. The triple-double of 20 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in the closing game against the Milwaukee Bucks to finish a surprising surprise against the top seed. The statement of 22 points and 17 rebounds against the Boston Celtics in the conference finals. The second game of the Finals in Denver with 21 points and 9 rebounds. Just to name a few, but not forgotten by Adebayo.

His good start is notable, but this season Adebayo wants a strong finish to be in position to receive that high honor. Yes, if Adebayo makes All-NBA (and plays in 65 games), he may qualify for a supermax contract extension of up to $245 million next summer, a factor he is absolutely thinking about.

“You can’t run away from those kinds of numbers,” Adebayo said. “The money we make now is ridiculous. Coming from the background where I come from, where my mom and I rolled out of a single-wide trailer in a rural area. “You think about how many lives you can change. “So it plays a role, it does matter, but that’s not the only reason I’m pursuing it.”

But for a player who reaches his best years with ever-increasing aspirations and demands, there is also something else.

“Am [also] I’m pursuing him because I feel like I’m going to get to that point where people will say, ‘He’s guaranteed to be All-NBA.’ [I’m] one of them.’ It’s not mainly because of the money, it’s mainly because [of] the respect of your teammates and obviously the respect of everyone else.”

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