Examining Bam Adebayo’s Role as a Creator

Insight3 months ago12 min readJohn Jablonka

Welcome to first part of a mini-series to figure out why the Miami Heat have struggled to generate any kind of efficient offense this season. This will be a series of separate in-depth breakdowns looking at the specific aspects of the offense, which will lead to the final piece linking it all together. For the first part, we’re going to examine Bam Adebayo as a creator and his limitations.

Bam Adebayo is, without a question, a max-caliber player. The overall impact he has on the game is on par for top-25 to top-20 talent and anyone that tries to argue otherwise hasn’t watched him enough.

He’s been a consistent Defensive Player of the Year candidate for the past three seasons and you can certainly make a case he’s been arguably the best defender for the past two. His value on defense is that good.

On the other hand, his offense, as good as it has been for the position and the role he plays in, keeps him from that next tier of stars. There is a ceiling on the type of impact a player could have on offense in a play-finishing role.

Now, that’s not to say Adebayo is a limited offensive player or is a liability on that end. Everything depends on the role and the expectations. With his current skill set, I’ve always viewed him as a ceiling-raiser and one that would fit great alongside most stars on offense(Draymond Green is a perfect example). So far, he’s excelled in that role.

And in each year, he’s also shown consistent improvement and flashes where he can easily be more than that — as Greg Sylvander always says about Adebayo, he has no ceiling.

But with that will come growing pains and there’s been plenty so far that show his limitations and what he needs to work on next to reach that next level.

As of right now, the majority of his shots(especially ones at the rim) aren’t self-created and they come from as a roller off a pick-and-roll, cuts, putbacks, and transition. Being a play finisher is where he has the most impact on offense.

The primary play type that gets him shots at the rim comes as a roller:

That’s where he’s most dangerous — converting 38-for-55 within the restricted area. Without the ball, he has no issues generating easy shots at the rim and converting a high percentage. And this year, he’s also not just operating near the rim:

This has been a solid counter of a PnR — scoring 1.02 points per possession on either jumpers or floaters. This improved range forces the defense to respect him even if the rim is walled off.

But it’s these plays that have a ceiling when it comes to generating efficient offense.

To raise that ceiling, this year, there’s been a significant increase in his self-created shots via isolations and post-ups. Per InStat, last year 27.9% of his total possessions were either in isolation or post-ups. This year, it jumped to 35.7%. And it’s mostly the isolation frequency that exploded this year — going from 7.5% to 19.9%.

We’ve seen a lot more aggressive Adebayo that’s more involved in the offense and is actively looking for his shot. Last year, he had 13 games with a usage higher than 30% — he’s already at eight this year with 27 games played.

As a result of this increased offensive load, defenses have adjusted how they guard him. He’s seeing more defensive attention than at any point in his career. He’s getting doubles sent, unpredictable help, constant digs, getting fronted… HAVING A WALL BUILT FOR HIM!?

And with that, his limitations as a creator have shown up when it comes to his scoring, creating for others, and having that translate to an efficient offense.

Scoring – Isolation, Mid-Range, Rim Pressure

As mentioned above, he gets the majority of his attempts at the rim as the roll man, which is what you should aim for in general. The shots at the rim will always be the most efficient shots that draw the most attention.

There are exceptions to that but unless you’re one of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, or Devin Booker, you can’t live on worse-quality shots and pressure the defense effectively.

The problem arises when it comes to his self-created shots. He’s one of the very few bigs that attempts more shots in the short mid-range than at the rim, per PBP Stats.

  • 8.5 rim FGA per 100 possessions
  • 38.9% rim frequency
  • 10.7 short mid-range FGA
  • 49.0% short mid-range frequency

In fact, he takes the most short mid-range shots than anyone in the league. Again, that’s not a good shot diet unless you’re one of the very few players that are extremely talented elsewhere.

For everyone else, rim pressure is the most important and that’s something Adebayo lacks outside of a roll man. Per BBall-Index, he ranks in the 22nd percentile in rim shot creation and 20th in the percentage of rim attempts being unassisted. And if you compare that to the role of a shot creator, those percentiles drop to eighth and fifth, respectively.

In both his isolations and post-ups, he takes significantly more jumpers than shots at the rim:

When compared to guys in somewhat similar roles, positions, or physical attributes, there’s a huge difference in how he gets his shots via self-creation. This type of shot profile limits the impact you have on offense.

Statistically, Adebayo has been an elite isolation scorer:

However, that elite isolation scoring hasn’t translated to great offense because of where he gets the points. Sure, he may hit enough of those tough jumpers to the point where he does qualify as an elite isolation guy, but those shots aren’t bending the defense and forcing them to stop him to the same degree as they do with others.

Also when you compare him to everyone, it’s great, but when it comes to a shot creator role, he’s average. The reason for that is again because of that shot diet.

Too many times you see these types of possessions:

He’s going against opponents whom he has a physical advantage over — whether that’s size, strength, or quickness, but he’s unable to get to the rim. That does seem to be because of a lack of handle. He simply can’t get around the defender. So, his last option is to settle for a leaning or fading jumper.

Though he has gradually taken these shots less, it’s still better than plays like these:

It’s shots like these that are a big win on the defense. These tough shots don’t pressure the defense as much as a player like Zion Williamson who lives at the rim.

That’s also not to say that these shots are bad either. They are just bad when they are your go-to shot and makeup over half of your self-created attempts. These floaters and jumpers from that range are great counters.

Take his PnR game. That’s where those shots are extremely useful because they come in addition to his shots at the rim.

This is where he needs to develop the most, rather than expanding his range to the perimeter. He needs to have that thing that gets him easy looks because, at this moment, I don’t think he has that.

Now, he’s still drawing significant defensive attention because, at the end of the day, you don’t want anyone having clean looks and getting into a rhythm.

Getting the defense to respect you like that is the first step to becoming a primary creator, but now, you have to exploit that effectively and consistently. This brings us to his next development — his passing and leveraging that scoring gravity to create for others.

Creation – Passing, Leveraging Scoring to Create

Adebayo is a good passer, especially when compared to other big men. Per BBI, here are his passing stats compared to both on and off-ball wings:

  • 85th percentile in passing efficiency
  • 90th in passing versatility
  • 85th in passing creation volume
  • 87th in passing creation quality
  • 76th in box creation

Only Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic have the same or better stats across the board. But even with these stats, I’ve always seen him as a good passer for his role, but not a good creator.

After going through all of his 86 assists (stats prior to the Oklahoma City Thunder game), there weren’t many that showed where he created an advantage and made that read.

  • 31 of the 86 assists were handoffs
  • 10 were out of a post/elbow to cutters
  • 11 were out of a short roll to cutters or kickouts
  • 25 were what I deemed normal, no advantage passes
  • 9 were to cutters

It’s these reads that he excels at:

He can make those because he’s a damn good passer. He can thread the needle through tight windows but only when he’s fully committed to it. There must be some switch in his mind that it’s either be a passer or a scorer — he can’t do both yet.

This becomes apparent when he goes to work in isolation or in the post. You can see his mentality is to score and that’s what he’s going to do. It won’t matter that there can be an open guy cutting or an open shot in the corner. That’s not him being selfish either, it just seems like he can’t process those two things at once.

In every clip, he’s looking to score and doesn’t even look to map the court elsewhere. The first thing he needs to work on is being more in control and being more patient when looking to score. It feels like everything around him is happening too fast.

That’s why you see his passing and scoring be so binary — it’s one or the other. Even when the reads are right there for him, he still struggles to notice everything quickly:

And in other cases, his processing speed is noticeably slow:

He does make the pass eventually, but you can still feel that he notices it a split second too late. That may sound like nitpicking, but that split second is the difference between an open shot at the rim or no pass at all. These windows can disappear instantly.

I’m not blaming Adebayo one bit. This is something he hasn’t experienced yet and will have to develop. These are just the growing pains you have to live with. But at the same time, these are the little things that stop him from being able to create for others.

The good sign is he does have that vision when he does look for it. When flips the playmaking switch, there aren’t a lot of passes that he can’t make.

Wrapping Up

Adebayo has solidified himself as a max-level player and an All-NBA caliber. There is zero question about that. The only thing that has prevented him from reaching that next level was his offense.

Each year, he added something new and improved his all-around game. He’s worked on everything that makes him such an invaluable piece for the Heat’s offense. Everything he provides as a play-finisher has a significant impact and when you combine that with his generational defense, it’s hard to ask him for much more.

But that doesn’t mean you stop here. He has all the tools and has shown that he can be that player with no ceiling. Nothing about his skillset, talent, work ethic, or physical attributes… nothing, says that he can’t improve.

He needs to find ways to create easier shots at the rim. He can’t live in the short mid-range with this volume. Whether it’s having a better handle, a better post-game, or being quicker or stronger, he needs to add something to make his life easier.

Once that happens, he needs all the reps to initiate the offense and be the creator on the team. It’s then that the game will slow down for him and he will able to combine his scoring to create for others.

And from what I’ve seen recently, it does look like he’s adjusting on the fly very quickly. Some of the issues I’ve pointed out with his passing, he’s already been showing improvements.

Hopefully, by the end of the year, we may end up seeing a whole different Bam Adebayo.