MIAMI – Every night Bam Adebayo is processing information and storing onto a database that’s as valuable as any play book or scouting report.
“He’s a computer,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said about his rookie center. “So every single game he’s putting it – every experience – into that computer and he’s learning at such a rapid pace.”
Adebayo’s server is filling up. Whether it’s facing Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Charlotte’s Dwight Howard or New Orleans’ two-headed monster of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis as he did during the Pelicans’ 109-94 victory over the Heat on Saturday, the 20-year-old is learning on the job.
The toughest test came Saturday. Cousins and Davis are two of the league’s best big men. Both just under 7-feet and both with the ability to handle the ball and do damage on the perimeter or in the post. The 6-foot-10 Adebayo, forced into the starting lineup as center Hassan Whiteside continues to nurse his bruised left knee, started the game covering Davis but, along with Kelly Olynyk, had to deal with both players throughout the game.
Two lessons in one.
“You take moves from them that you never did before and you just put it in your pocket,” Adebayo said. “That’s what this league is about – learning, growing and getting better.”
For the most part, Adebayo held his own against the two players who have combined for nine all-star appearances and both of whom are in the top 10 in the league in scoring and rebounding. Cousins and Davis combined for 33 points on 10-of-18 shooting, 13 rebounds, 11 assists and seven blocks. But neither player was dominant or took over the game.
“That’s the toughest matchup you’ll face, against those two guys, because of the skill set, because of their ability to also draw fouls,” Spoelstra said. “He had a couple of really good possessions where he was able to defend, keep them in front of him without fouling. And he did some good things on the other end, as well. But how can we not be encouraged by what we’re seeing with Bam.”
Adebayo had nine points, seven rebounds and four assists. He has nine assists in the last two games. Whiteside has six in 15 games this season.
We’ve seen Adebayo’s defensive versatility this season guarding the big men in the post and stepping out against players like Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler and Cleveland’s LeBron James.
Against the Pelicans he had to channel that versatility on two players who have the ability to take the defender off the dribble and back him down.
“I feel like I did (a good job),” Adebayo said. “I feel like I could have done better on certain stuff, but you take away from it. … Information is in the head and you just move on.
“You just got to go out there and lay it on the line no matter who it is. Just being a competitor, it wasn’t which one was harder. It was more like, I just got to get a stop. In this locker room, we take every one-on-one personal. So just going out there and competing is all you can do.”
The silver lining to Whiteside’s injuries – he now has missed 18 games because of separate bone bruises in the same knee – is Adebayo’s development has been fast-forwarded.
Adebayo is averaging 9.3 points and 5.5 rebounds while playing 24.8 minutes in the last 14 games. His shooting percentage is .636.
In the first 19 games of the season he played in just 10, averaging 3.5 points and 3.6 rebounds in 12.3 minutes.
Heat captain Goran Dragic was home in Slovenia in June when the Heat drafted Adebayo with the 14th overall pick. He didn’t know much about Adebayo, who came out after playing one season at Kentucky, but was told by coaches the team drafted an athletic big man with skills comparable to a young Dwight Howard.
Now, Dragic sees that player they were excited to get into a Heat uniform.
“He’s like a sponge. He wants to learn. He’s here early. He’s putting a lot of hard work in,” Dragic said. “He’s a really smart player. He can jump, he can move his feet, he’s quick. He puts a lot of guys in trouble. It’s really hard to play against this kind of guy.”