Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

There was a time when Pat Riley spoke of an “intervention” when it came to Erik Spoelstra’s handing of a Miami Heat big man. But because the big man at that time was Hassan Whiteside, Riley gave his coach the benefit of the doubt. Conciliation canceled.

This time, as Riley offered his thoughts on the Heat power rotation, one that was pummeled into submission in the first round of the playoffs by the Milwaukee Bucks, the perspective from the Heat’s president was a bit more nuanced, as Riley spoke of potential best practices with Bam Adebayo.

“I think when it comes down to really taking a look at his season, evaluating a lot of film, I think Spo has to evaluate a little bit how he uses Bam,” Riley said in his season-ending media session.

While Spoelstra has fully explored Adebayo’s possibilities over these past four seasons of incubation, from facilitator on offense to five-position deterrent on defense, a constant has been avoidance of pairing the 2017 first-round pick with a classic NBA big man.

In 2017-18, as the No. 14 selection out of Kentucky, Adebayo played 52 minutes alongside Whiteside, with an 82-game NBA season featuring 3,936 minutes before factoring in overtime games.

In 2018-19, the minutes alongside Whiteside were down to 14.

In 2019-20, after Whiteside was dealt to the Portland Trail Blazers, the move to a power play never stood as a debate, with Adebayo surrounded in the power rotation only by floor spacers, with Meyers Leonard, Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder.

Then, this season, after the Heat went big in the NBA draft at No. 20 with Precious Achiuwa, Adebayo and Achiuwa played just seven minutes together in the pandemic-shortened 72-game regular season, none in the playoffs. And after the Heat added even-bigger Dewayne Dedmon with six weeks to play, Adebayo and Dedmon did not record a minute together during the regular season, just eight in the playoffs.

“If Spo really likes to use Bam with a stretch five or a four, you might have to change it, you never know,” Riley said almost matter-of-factly, hardly creating a talking point. “He might have to think about: What’s going to be the next thing in the NBA that you will require, that will require you to get somebody to stay with that kind of play?

“Look it, the game is fast-paced, guys are jacking threes from halfcourt and guys are taking bad threes that five years ago, guys would probably be on the bench for taking those kinds of shots. And, so, that’s the game, because that skill level has been taught to such a high degree, and such a degree of efficiency, that you have to defend a team that likes to have a lot of room that allows players to go to the basket.”

Adebayo’s ability to defend on the perimeter helps mitigate such play by opponents. But with Adebayo lacking a 3-point shot, it makes it difficult to keep pace offensively if another paint-bound big man is added to the starting five.

“Now, to get a big that can shoot threes and rebound at the same time and defend and protect the rim, that’s a very unique player, and there’s not many of them around,” Riley said of a potential compromise. “So I think you get one or another. You can get a five-man that can make a three.

“I’ll leave that to Spo, and Spo and I’ll talk about it, but those are the things that we have to think about as to style of play and will the person be a good fit and will he fix two issues or three issues that you need fixed?”

Unlike with Whiteside, it is not a debate that can be pushed aside with a trade. Adebayo is a cornerstone. Making it work for him and with him stands as a priority.

“When you go back and look at the results of what you’ve accomplished since Bam has been here and who he has played with during that time, his game has evolved in a lot of ways,” Riley said. “But when it comes to what coach Spo is going to do when he pairs a frontline together, it will be situational. Situational could be every night as a starter and then throughout the course of a game, you change the rotation.

“But these are questions that I think can be answered later on by him as he evaluates this year and how Bam played and who he played with, and then what’s out there and what we might bring in. What I’m saying to you is: Yes, there’s a possibility that it could be big-big and there’s a possibility that it can still be similar to what you’ve seen in the past.”

Riley continued on about how to be careful not to overlook the team’s success the past two seasons, including 23 games over .500 during the regular season, with a trip to the 2020 NBA Finals.

“But that’s something you have to think about,” he said of Adebayo’s future power partner. “We’ll see what happens with him.”