Bam Adebayo’s development during 2020-21 NBA season suggests future MVP potential

Bam Adebayo's growth over this season was notable, especially with his jump shots and defense. What is next for Bam and what went right for him in 2021?

Bam Adebayo’s contribution to the Miami Heat during the 2020-21 NBA season may have been the most notable thing to take away from what was a disastrous year of COVID-19 and injuries.

Coming into the season, Adebayo had shown flashes of being able to shoot efficiently from the mid-range area and it was on full display this season. Despite a rough start to the NBA Playoffs, the groundwork was already laid down for Adebayo’s improvement.

Adebayo even earned one first-place vote for the Defensive Player of the Year award and finished fourth in the voting. However, what is next for the 23-year-old star, and what went right for him this season?

Bam Adebayo’s jump shot started to flourish

Bam Adebayo’s most notable improvement was his jumper, which took a huge leap from last season. The statistics show the volume of mid-range shots increased and the percentage of makes rose along with it.

Last season, Adebayo attempted 48.1% of his shots from 0-3 feet from the basket. That percentage fell almost 13.0% this season down to 35.3%. It was notable from the eye-test during the regular season and it was even more obvious in the NBA Playoffs when it was down to 28.1%.

The biggest increase for the former Kentucky Wildcats player came from 10-16 feet from the basket. Adebayo boosted his shots from that distance over 8.0% from 14.4% to 22.5% during this past season.

Along with this boost in allocated shots, Adebayo then shot 45.6% from 10-16 feet, which is higher than his 2020 number of 40.4%. Despite Adebayo’s struggles in the first game of the NBA Playoffs, he ended up shooting 45.8% from that same distance.

Adebayo was unable to get into the paint against Brook Lopez in the four games played and ended up shooting 42.1% of his shots from 10-16 feet from the hoop. That percentage is bloated compared to his regular-season statistics.

Another notable improvement from Adebayo was his shots that came from 16 feet to the three-point line. Adebayo shot 11.0% of his shots from that distance and saw his percentage rise from 22.7% to 38.6%.

He continued to show that he could stretch his game out further to the three-point line. While he may not be ready to attempt threes during real games, it’s a positive development in the modern NBA where being a three-point shooter is critical.

There’s no reason why Adebayo can’t continue to elevate his shooting even more as time goes on. Confidence will start to grow and he’ll be able to consistently make those types of shots and be aggressive.

Related: NBA defensive rankings – Updated hierarchy of all 30 teams heading into 2021-22 season

Bam Adebayo’s defense took another huge step forward

Bam Adebayo's defense took another huge step forward
Apr 18, 2021; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (13) blocks the shot of Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) during the first half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Another improvement for Bam Adebayo this season was his ability to guard every position on the court. While he did this last year, the numbers are more notable, and his defense looked better on the court.

For instance, here are multiple MVP and All-Star caliber players when they were guarded by Adebayo this season.

  • Julius Randle: 7-of-22 (31.8%)
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo: 7-of-18 (38.9%)
  • Kyrie Irving: 4-of-14 (28.6%)
  • Devin Booker: 3-of-11 (27.3%)
  • John Collins: 2-of-11 (18.2%)
  • LeBron James: 2-of-8 (25.0%)
  • Bradley Beal: 1-of-7 (14.3%)

The names on that list of players are some of the best we have in the game today. The most notable part about this is how the sizes and skill sets of these players are all over the place.

Kyrie Irving and Devin Booker have been amazing in the NBA Playoffs and are two of the best offensive guards in the NBA, but Adebayo was able to hold both of them to under 30% shooting while each took double-digit shots.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the most difficult players to guard in the NBA due to his size and Adebayo held his own against him. LeBron James is arguably a top-2 NBA player of all time and he only shot 25.0% on eight shots.

While Adebayo didn’t put up amazing numbers with blocks and steals, his defensive presence on the floor was huge. Jimmy Butler did lead the NBA in steals per game and combined with him, they were a lethal defensive duo.

Adebayo was arguably the best overall defensive player during the 2020-21 campaign and should have been a finalist for the Defensive Player of the Year award. There aren’t many players that can switch 1-5 and excel against them.

There are many things to love about Adebayo’s game and his development, but his defensive abilities are the best possible thing for the Heat as they look forward into the future.

What does Bam Adebayo need to improve on for next season?

Jan 16, 2021; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (13) looks to pass the ball as Detroit Pistons center Mason Plumlee (24) defends on the play in the third quarter at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

While some of Bam Adebayo’s improvements like his shooting and defense were great developments, there are still some areas of the game where he struggled at times.

One of the biggest areas, when it came to this, was his aggression. There were many occasions where Adebayo was used more as a facilitator to create open looks for his teammates rather than attacking the basket and scoring on his own.

This could have been due to Erik Spoelstra’s scheme and role for Adebayo, but there were games where it was blatantly obvious that offense wasn’t his focus. Such as the last Bucks game in the regular season where he only attempted nine shots with no Butler.

Many people, including his teammates, implored Adebayo to become more aggressive on offense, but there is also a fine line to that aggression that needs to be addressed. Adebayo still attempted 11-plus shots in each playoff game.

The Heat may need to re-wire Adebayo’s offense during the offseason, which will be close to normal after losing in the first round. Adebayo has the skillset to be an efficient shooter, but he needs to find the confidence and be more aggressive with his offense.

If Lopez is instantly dropping to the paint when he catches the ball in between the paint and three-point line, there is an issue. The Bucks didn’t show respect to Adebayo’s shot for a majority of the series.

Adebayo somehow needs to tap into his mental aspect of the game and play with confidence all of the time. The Heat’s play in the future will depend on the mental makeup of Adebayo on offense.

This isn’t an ask for Adebayo to shoot 20-plus shots every game, but if there’s an opportunity to score then he needs to take it. No more sitting with the ball if his defender is playing off of him in the paint. Try to drive and create an opportunity for another player or attempt the shot.

Pat Riley mentioned in his final press conference before the summer that he and others tried to influence Adebayo to delay his max-contract extension so they had more cap space this summer. Adebayo declined and Miami gladly paid its star player.

Riley doesn’t say something like that without it having meaning. The next time Adebayo plays in an NBA game, he will have a $28.10 million cap hit. Riley may have said that to remind Adebayo that they believe in him by giving it to him at that time.

Either way, Adebayo has shown enough to prove that he is a max-contract player. But, there are other areas that need improvement if he wants to take the leap into the list of top-15 players in the NBA next season — and become an MVP candidate.

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