Named a DPOY finalist, Heat’s Adebayo continues to evolve: ‘He’s becoming a defensive technician’

Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo has been considered one of the NBA’s top defensive players for most of his NBA career, but he’s never been among the top three vote-getters for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

Until this season, with Adebayo named on Sunday as one of the three finalists for the Defensive Player of the Year award in his seventh NBA season. The other two players who made the cut are Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert and San Antonio Spurs center Victor Wembanyama. The winner of the award will be announced later this postseason.

“They’re actually watching games, they’re actually looking at games,” Adebayo said of receiving that recognition from a panel of media members who vote on the NBA’s regular-season awards. ”They’re paying attention to what I do. It’s not only what shows up in the stat book.”

That’s because most of what Adebayo does on the defensive end doesn’t usually show up in the box score unlike Gobert and Wembanyama, who both averaged more than two blocks per game this regular season. Adebayo averaged just 0.9 blocks per game this regular season.

Instead, Adebayo makes his impact in subtler ways like his ability to effectively guard every position on the court and now with his unique versatility between different defensive schemes. After spending the last few seasons playing mostly as an elite switching big man, he has adjusted to the personnel around him to shine in a different coverage this season.

From switching 12 pick-and-rolls per 100 possessions last regular season, Adebayo switched just 5.8 pick-and-rolls per 100 possessions this regular season, according to Second Spectrum tracking data. With fewer switchable Heat defenders around him, Adebayo has played as more of a drop defender this season to stay around the rim and make an impact in the paint.

“Man, I can play in any coverage,” Adebayo said of what he’s proven to himself this season ahead of Game 2 of the Heat’s first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night at TD Garden. “That’s pretty much the dynamic that I have. I can play any coverage. If you want to be in drop, we can play drop. If you want me in zone, we can play zone. Blitz, switching, being able to be on the one or two option, being able to be the help guy. I’ve been in many different roles throughout my career.”

Adebayo, 26, went from playing drop on 11.1 screens per 100 possessions last regular season to 17.9 screens per 100 possessions this regular season.

When taking out assist opportunities and looking only at plays where the ball-handler shoots, draws a foul or commits a turnover, Adebayo allowed less than one point per possession when switching a pick-and-roll (0.81 points per possession), playing drop on a screen (0.91) and anchoring the Heat’s zone (0.96) this regular season.

“What it shows you is that he’s becoming a defensive technician,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Adebayo’s evolution. “That’s a different level of expertise.”

When asked if Adebayo is the most unique defensive player he’s ever coached, Spoelstra grinned.

“Obviously, there’s another guy that I would prefer not to make comparisons to,” Spoelstra said earlier this season, clearly referring to his time coaching LeBron James from 2010 to 2014. “Just at that time, we didn’t do as many schemes during that era. He could have, for sure. He’s proven that he can.”

Gobert is the favorite to win the Defensive Player of the Year award this season for the fourth time in his NBA career.

But Adebayo’s resume was impressive enough this season to be named one of the three finalists for the honor after leading the Heat to the NBA’s fifth-best defensive rating this regular season despite the team’s injury issues and ever-changing starting lineups. Among the three finalists, Adebayo posted the second-best defensive estimated plus/minus behind Wembanyama.

“It’s great to see he’s acknowledged for the efforts that he does,” Spoelstra said. “Our team defense was very good this year. He was a major part of that. And his ability to do things that help your defense be at an elite level that are not obvious, that are not just the basic shot-blocking or protecting the rim. It’s being able to do multiple coverages, being able to guard one through five and do it consistently every single night against the very best.”

Adebayo’s defensive philosophy is simple: get stops.

“I feel like if you pride yourself on defense, it’s on getting stops,” he said. “No matter if you average X amount of blocks, X amount of steals. I feel like at the end of the day, if you can hold a team under their averages, hold a person under their averages, those are stops. So I feel like that’s my way of thinking of it. It’s not all about the traditional way that people do it. It’s my way. I focus on getting stops.”

The hope is Adebayo’s way will one day earn him his first Defensive Player of the Year award, whether it’s this season or another one down the road. The only Heat player to be named Defensive Player of the Year in franchise history is Alonzo Mourning, who received the honor in back-to-back seasons for the 1998-99 and 1999-00 campaigns.

“I think he’ll get it,” Spoelstra said when asked if he’s concerned that Adebayo could go his entire NBA career without getting the Defensive Player of the Year award. “That’s the way I’m viewing it. He just has to keep on being exceptional on that side of the floor, getting more people to understand how unique and impactful he is on that side of the floor. Sometimes it’s clear to people, sometimes people need to learn the intricacies of it.”


Heat three-point shooting forward Duncan Robinson didn’t finish among the top vote-getters for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, but he did receive four third-place votes.

Robinson finished 11th in the voting for the honor that went to Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey this season The voting results for the award were announced on Tuesday, with Robinson getting more votes than players like Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Indiana Pacers wing Aaron Nesmith.

“Hopefully I can get more votes next year,” Robinson said. “That’s the goal.”

Spoelstra believes Robinson may have received more votes for the award if a back injury didn’t limit him in the final weeks of the regular season.

“I think it would have just kept on growing this year if he was able to stay healthy all the way through,” Spoelstra said. “But he’s had those kinds of improvements every single year. This year, it just happened to be noticeable, which I think is great. But I’ve noticed the improvement year after year and also the work has been years in the making before he unveils something that our team needs. This year, it was a little bit more off the dribble, off the move, cutting, those kinds of things.”


The NBA announced that Game 4 between the Heat and Celtics on Monday at Kaseya Center will start at 7:30 p.m. if a Game 5 is necessary for the Los Angeles Lakers-Denver Nuggets series. If the Nuggets sweep the Lakers, Game 4 between the Heat and Celtics will begin at 7 p.m on Monday. The Nuggets lead that best-of-7 series 2-0.

The NBA also announced that if Game 5 is necessary for the Heat-Celtics series, it will start at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 1 at TD Garden.

Both Games 4 and 5 of the Heat’s series against the Celtics will be aired nationally on TNT and also on Bally Sports Sun in South Florida.