MIAMI — Bam Adebayo scored just one point in Friday’s win over the Hornets.
But it’s everything else he did besides scoring that defined his performance. Matched up against eight-time All-Star center Dwight Howard, Adebayo held his own with five rebounds, four steals and two blocks in 18 minutes as he started in place of injured Heat center Hassan Whiteside.
The Heat’s 20-year-old rookie also contributed in areas that don’t show up on the box score. He recorded three screen assists and drew three offensive fouls on Howard.
“This is the prototypical old school box score that doesn’t at all indicate his impact tonight,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Adebayo. “He made so many winning plays, both ends of the court.
“Just very steady, very disciplined to the game plan. He was able to defend with technique. It’s not an easy player, obviously you’re talking about a Hall of Fame level player. To be able to do it without fouling. A lot of energy and he’s always in the right spot defensively, which really helps. And offensively, he did a lot of things to get our guards open.”
As an NBA draft prospect, Adebayo (6-10, 255) was often compared to Howard (6-11, 265). Both are athletic big men with muscular body types.
After Friday’s game, Howard walked over and gave Adebayo a hug. Howard, 31, told Adebayo that they look alike, something Adebayo has heard for years.
“He thinks I’m like his little brother,” Adebayo said. “I guess people think we look alike, I don’t see it. But we got the utmost respect for each other, so you know it’s competitors competing.”
Whether Adebayo looks like him or not, his defensive presence during Friday’s game will remind some of a young Howard. Howard has won three Defensive Player of the Year Awards during his NBA career.
“I feel like even though I didn’t score, I was doing it all on the defensive side,” Adebayo said. “My teammates were encouraging me to do that. So I told my teammates, ‘Look, you all do all the scoring. I’m going to just focus on defense this game.’”
Adebayo, who was selected with the 14th overall pick in this year’s draft, is in the middle of the best stretch of his rookie season. He’s averaging 9.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.0 blocks over the past three games, as he now plays a more prominent role with Whiteside out.
“It’s hard not to see the progress that Bam is making,” Spoelstra said. “But look, he makes some mistakes too. He’s not doing everything perfectly. But he’s really trying to apply everything that he’s learning. While he’s going through that process of learning our system, learning our culture and learning the NBA game, it doesn’t cloud or clutter his mind from bringing the thing that he’s best at. And that’s his energy, his athleticism, his multiple efforts. So those things are his foundation and he’s growing in all the other areas.”