Look at the rim, Bam — you’ve done it plenty of times before

Bam Adebayo

Bam Adebayo
Photo: Getty Images

We’ve had two opposite responses this month to the phrase, “If you don’t learn from history, you’re doomed to repeat it.”

On one hand, Joe Budden sabotaged his entire world-renowned podcast, which we should’ve seen coming, given his history, even though it looked like he had finally turned the corner before the fallout with Rory and Mal. (And then Olivia Dope.)

And on the other hand of the spectrum, we have the Milwaukee Bucks, who got destroyed by the Miami Heat last season and have, at least so far, learned from their mistakes. The Bucks won Game 1 against the Heat on Saturday, 109-107 in overtime, then blew out Miami in Game 2, 132-98, thanks to a video game-ish performance from three.

But wait, there’s a third: Does Bam Adebayo not want to repeat his own history?

A significant point of intrigue for this series is the adjustment to guarding the 23-year-old uber-talented point-center… specifically, no longer standing in front of him. If you’re actually watching the games, you’ll notice that Adebayo is being sagged off like an elderly titty. Brook Lopez has regularly been about five or seven feet away from him while remaining deep in the paint, which has been one of the more befuddling storylines to play out over the first two games of this series.

In Game 1, Adebayo was seemingly disinterested in even facing the rim, eagerly awaiting Jimmy Butler, Duncan Robinson, or Kendrick Nunn to wrap around for him to deliver a dribble hand-off into a cut toward the rim — though it would typically end with a three-point shot attempt, especially with Robinson. In Game 2, Adebayo took three early shots, with Miami immediately putting him in a position where he had to attack offensively. He missed all three, and although he finished the game 6-for-11 from the field, he still wasn’t aggressive enough.

But the real mental gymnastics lie in the fact that not only is Adebayo capable of aggressive play, he’s demonstrated it before. As soon as the season began, we saw him pulling for mid-range jumpers, sometimes contested, and making them fairly regularly. He’d also attack and finish around the rim, or just earn a trip to the free throw line, where he hoisted 5.5 attempts per game during the regular season. Think of the handoffs like run-pass options in football. Adebayo is offering the ball to an oncoming shooter, the shooter will receive it and either shoot, pass to a now open Adebayo if he’s cutting with little defensive resistance, or simply reverse the ball to the opposite wing or top of the key for the Heat to activate an action on that side of the court. Or, an option we haven’t seen enough of: Adebayo could keep the ball, Lamar Jackson-style and take his nearest defender one-on-one however he’d like: face-up, post-up, drive with or without the kick. The list of options goes on.

If you’ve followed the Heat all season, despite actually improving from 15.9 to 18.7 points per game, Adebayo’s assertiveness — or lack thereof, in spots — has been a constant talking point. It speaks to the Heat’s general lack of offensive playmakers, which is where the injured Victor Oladipo would’ve assisted, and the onus on Adebayo to create plays for others, himself, and to guard just about everyone on defense. But even so, he has opportunities to take over games and hasn’t quite lifted the team enough, even on the rare nights where Butler is off. (It’s been in both playoff games, but those who paid attention know Butler was exceptional when active this season, which was arguably his best ever.)

The midrange jumper essentially disappearing, seemingly due to his own negligence, is the most puzzling thing to have played out here. He’s prioritizing running the offense and creating for others instead of getting his own, which is an admirable quality, as Butler notes above, but for the betterment of the team’s chances in this series — and, shit, going forward as a franchise — that has to shift. Let’s look through some of Adebayo’s games from this season.

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