NEW YORK – Bam Adebayo admits sitting on the bench isn’t something he was accustomed to as a basketball prodigy.
This is a 6-foot-10, 260-pound man-child started all 38 games during his one season at Kentucky, averaging 30 minutes. And as a prep star in North Carolina he was ranked among the top 10 players in the country.
Not much down time there.
So after being drafted 14th overall by the Heat, the 20-year-old Adebayo is transitioning into the NBA. … and it hasn’t always been smooth.
Before being inserted into the Heat’s 108-97 loss in Cleveland on Tuesday – a game that was far more lopsided than the final score indicates – Adebayo played fewer than 12 minutes in the previous nine games, never leaving the bench in seven of them.
“I wasn’t really accustomed to it at first,” Adebayo said Tuesday. “(After) the first three games I was like ‘I got to be patient and wait my turn.’ My teammates helped me with that.
“Everybody on this team waits their turn to get a chance so I was just next up.”
Adebayo scored a season high 19 points in 18 minutes against the Cavs, making all seven of his shots. He pulled down six rebounds. He is shooting 60.6 percent (20 of 33) on the season while averaging 4.9 points and 3.8 rebounds in 11 games.
The loss dropped the Heat (10-10) to 2-1 in this road trip that concludes Wednesday at the Knicks (10-10).
Coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t have much positive to say about the game, not when the Heat trailed by 27 in the second quarter, 34 in the third quarter and allowed Kevin Love to score 22 points in the first nine minutes.
But he did find that silver lining in Adebayo.
And Spoelstra was not the only one to recognize the effort. Adebayo’s teammates were vocal and upbeat about his performance in the locker room. At one point, Justise Winslow had his arm around Adebayo’s shoulder as they stood side-by-side answering questions about the rookie’s game.
“He’s been putting in a lot of work to prepare himself,” Spoelstra said. “He never knows exactly when he’s going to play. It’s not easy to come into a game like this. But that’s a great compliment when your peers are mentioning it after the game and the way you played and the way you competed leaves an imprint on their minds. So that’s something he’ll definitely be able to build on.”
One of those who noticed: Adebayo’s mentor, Udonis Haslem.
“No surprise to me that Bam was ready to come in and perform,” Haslem said. “I’ve been working with him every day, seeing the work he’s been putting in.”
Spoelstra has been having a tough time finding minutes for Adebayo since he settled into his current rotation with Kelly Olynyk and Hassan Whiteside sharing all the minutes at center.
But on Tuesday, Spoelstra yanked Whiteside early after he was being abused by Love and Olynyk then picked up three fouls in 4½ minutes, also while trying to slow down Love.
In came Adebayo with 3:13 to play in the first quarter. A few minutes later he added to his ally-oop highlight on a pass from Dion Waiters, the start of what would be a perfect shooting night (he also made all five of his free throws).
Adebayo also had a sold all-round game. At one point holding his ground against LeBron James, forcing him into a difficult shot.
“It just shows I’m in the gym with my teammates,” Adebayo said. “We’re in there every day. We just came up short tonight. I’m glad I had a big impact game but we came up the ‘L.’ But we just have to keep pushing forward.”