Bam Adebayo’s improved offensive game on display for Heat: ‘His confidence is growing’

Hakim Wright Sr./AP

Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo offered a simple explanation when asked to explain his recent scoring surge.

“I’m in the flow,” Adebayo said. “Coach is playing through me, he’s letting me get to my spots. That’s what I’ve been working on this whole summer. Just getting to my spots and just being efficient.”

But to understand the significance of Adebayo’s recent scoring binge is to consider the fact that he had never recorded 30 or more points in consecutive NBA games before the Heat’s past two games. He scored 38 points on 15-of-22 shooting from the field in Friday’s home win over the Washington Wizards and then totaled 32 points on 13-of-20 shooting from the field in Sunday’s road win over the Atlanta Hawks.

This two-game stretch also marks the first time Adebayo, 25, has taken at least 20 field-goal attempts in back-to-back NBA games.

“His confidence is growing,” coach Erik Spoelstra said, with the Heat (10-11) taking its three-game winning streak to Boston for a two-game set against the Celtics that begins Wednesday in a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference finals. “The skill set is something that he’s worked extremely diligently on for a long time.”

With Heat star and leading scorer Jimmy Butler missing the past six games because of right knee soreness, Adebayo has taken on a bigger scoring role and thrived.

Adebayo, who averaged career highs in points (19.1 per game) and field-goal attempts (13 per game) last season, has scored 30 or more points in three of his past six games. He’s also already on pace to set new career highs in his sixth NBA season, averaging 20.5 points on 15 field-goal attempts through the Heat’s first 21 games.

“He’s patient right now,” Heat veteran guard Kyle Lowry said of Adebayo. “I think that’s the biggest thing, I think he’s been patient. He’s getting to his spots and then he’s making his move. He’s not just rushing into it. ... I think when he gets to that point where his timing is at his own pace, he’s unstoppable.”

The scoring output is impressive enough, but Adebayo’s shot chart during the past two games is telling. During this two-game stretch, each of his 28 makes have come from inside the paint and only three of his 42 shot attempts have come from outside of the paint.

“There’s just an assertiveness that we’ve been working on and he’s been working on,” Spoelstra said. “It just takes a lot of game reps.

“Where he was at his best, it’s pick-and-rolls, it’s some post-ups at times, it’s some random drives, it’s some bringing the ball up the court and driving by a defender when the defense isn’t set, it’s an offensive rebound here, it’s a dish there. He’s just getting it in a lot of different aspects where you can’t necessarily scout it.”

Non-paint twos were a big part of Adebayo’s shot diet last season, when 16.3 percent of his shot attempts fell under that category. And to start this season, 23.3 percent of Adebayo’s shots were non-paint twos through the Heat’s first seven games.

But Adebayo has made a noticeable adjustment recently to bring his offensive game closer to the basket. Only about 10.6 percent of his shot attempts have been non-paint twos since the start of November, as Adebayo works for more efficient looks inside the paint.

“Just getting to his spots,” Lowry said when asked about Adebayo’s recent offensive process. “I think he’s comfortable and I think coaches talk to him about getting to his spots, getting to his go-to moves. His go-to moves are in the paint, that dotted area and getting there. He’s big enough, strong enough to get to those spots. Sometimes he shoots the fade a little bit too much. But now he’s just getting to his spots. Right-hand jump hook, left-hand jump hook, being athletic and shooting it at the rim.”

To get downhill and create more paint opportunities for himself, Adebayo is operating as a roller more often this season whether it’s off a screen or dribble handoff. He has played as a roller in about 20.6 percent of the offensive possessions he has been used on this season, compared to 16.2 percent last season.

“I enjoy it just because I feel like it’s beautiful basketball that’s happening,” Adebayo said. “I feel like it’s basketball that’s happening the right way. It’s not forced shots, it’s not me looking to hunt for 20 shots. It’s all through the flow, all through the dynamic of the team. My teammates want me to be this aggressive. Just be myself and I feel like I’m doing that for the past two weeks.”

But just because Adebayo is getting nearly all of his shots in the paint doesn’t mean he’s getting to the rim every time. He entered Monday with the fourth-most non-rim paint shots taken in the NBA this season at 119 behind only Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Atlanta’s Trae Young and New York’s Jalen Brunson.

Adebayo is shooting 43.7 percent on non-rim paint shots, a shot that requires great touch from a sometimes awkward distance that’s not close enough for a dunk or layup but not far enough to be considered a true midrange shot. That means plenty of floaters and push shots, but also elevating for a short paint jumper that he has worked to master.

“I think it’s so amazing when he does it and really elevates,” Spoelstra said. “When he gets off the floor and then his release point is now over 7-foot. I think that’s his best version of that pull-up. There’s an area of the floor where he’s just extremely efficient.”

Adebayo still has plenty of room to become more efficient from this area of the court, as the league average shooting percentage for non-rim paint shots is about 43 percent, which is just about where Adebayo is for the season. But he shot an excellent 13 of 21 (61.9 percent) on non-rim paint shots to total 70 points in the last two games.

“He’s really developing a go-to shot,” Spoelstra continued. “... He’s developing that go-to shot where you just have this feeling now when he’s getting in the paint, in the circle when he’s going right or left against length, you feel like that shot is going in every single time. Now it’s not every time, but you just get a sense when players get to that level where you feel that’s going in. All the great players get to that point and that’s a great look for him. That’s right in that in-between game. So it’s not like a 17-foot shot, it’s an aggressive, assertive elevation and he can get it off against bigger guys.”

Adebayo has received outside criticism for most of his NBA career regarding his offensive game. Some have urged Adebayo to be more assertive, take more shots and become a more consistent scorer.

“Everybody knows I have that ability to tap into a different level,” Adebayo said. “They call me Mr. Reliable for a reason because I’ve been in those moments where they needed a win, we needed a stop, we needed just somebody to be that X-factor and everybody has seen me do that. Everybody remembers my Game 6 [in the 2020 East finals]. It’s those moments that it’s a swing play and that’s when my teammates depend on my most. So the outside noise, I don’t pay it any mind.”

But does Adebayo hear the outside noise?

“Of course I hear it,” he said. “What do they say? I’m top five most hated players on Twitter. But you understand what type of situation it is. I do what’s needed for my team. My team needs me to put the ball in the basket right now and I’ve been day in and day out just working my craft to make sure that happens.”

With Butler out, Adebayo has delivered with his growing offensive game.

“He had a lot on his shoulders, really the last several games with a lot of different lineups and everything,” Spoelstra said. “You need that stability from your leaders and I think at some point, I’ll print up these shirts with Mr. Reliable. I’ll wear them proudly.”