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Bam Adebayo has been one of the breakout players of the 2020 NBA playoffs, and he’ll lead the Miami Heat against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2020 NBA Finals from the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida. Adebayo is straight out of the new breed of centers – not only can he score down low and rebound, but he can handle the ball off the dribble and pass as well as any big guy this side of Nikola Jokic. For the Heat to pull off an NBA Finals upset of the Lakers, Adebayo will need to combine with Jimmy Butler to have an amazing series.

But before Adebayo got to the Heat, he wasn’t a top-10 pick. It wasn’t obvious that he’d display the all-around game he does now. He was just one of many talented cogs at Kentucky, and well before that, just a kid who flipped over his mother’s coffee table.

MORE: How will the Lakers handle Heat’s red-hot Bam Adebayo?

How did Bam Adebayo get his nickname?

Adebayo’s given first name is Edrice. But while watching “The Flintstones” at age 1, Adebayo flipped over a coffee table in a way that reminded his mother of one of the show’s characters, Bam-Bam Rumble. From that day forward, Edrice was known as Bam Bam, eventually shortened to just “Bam.”

The nickname fits well, too, for a boy who grew into a 6-9, 255-pound center with a 7-1 wingspan. Bam is the perfect name for dunking on people’s heads and blocking their shots. 

Bam Adebayo’s NBA evolution

Adabeyo played one season at Kentucky following high school ball at High Point Christian Academy in North Carolina. He was well-regarded, a consensus top-10 recruit in the 2016 class in the same group that brought De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk to Big Blue Nation. Adebayo’s job was simple playing for John Calipari – serve as the college version of Dwight Howard. So Adebayo averaged 13.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game in his lone season with the Wildcats, but he dished out less than an assist per game and shot 65 percent at the foul line.

The Heat took Adebayo with the 14th pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, behind already likely busts like Josh Jackson, Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. Both Fox and Monk went ahead of Adebayo, and that’s the year the Lakers took Lonzo Ball with the second overall pick.

It was already obvious even in his rookie season that Adebayo had a skillset that hadn’t been utilized at Kentucky. He averaged 1.5 assists per game in about 19 minutes per contest, doubling his Kentucky rate in about two-thirds of the playing time. In both of Adebayo’s first two years, though, he mostly came off the bench behind Hassan Whiteside.

With Whiteside in Portland ahead of the 2019-20 season, the Heat could finally unleash Bam. He led fastbreaks. He worked dribble handoffs on the perimeter. He fed backdoor cutters from the high post. While he isn’t exactly the same as Jokic, much of Adebayo’s offensive functionality is. It resulted in a season averaging 15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. In the postseason, Adebayo is averaging nearly three more points per game, and his free-throw percentage is up more than five percent in the NBA from his time at Kentucky. While it wasn’t obvious right away in Adebayo’s usage, his third-year breakout has made him one of the most valuable centers in the NBA.

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How Bam Adebayo helps the Heat slow down Anthony Davis

Early in NBA Finals games, Adebayo might find himself matched up with Javale McGee or Dwight Howard. But as the Lakers often do, they’ll likely go small and play Anthony Davis at the 5. It’s not Davis’ preferred spot, but it’s the most effective place for the Lakers to use him. Davis is a handful on both ends, a first-team All-League and All-Defense player.

Adabeayo’s offensive game is such that he shouldn’t be supremely limited by Davis’ defense. The ability to do so many things well means that Adebayo can just focus on the aspect of his game that Davis isn’t looking to stop on a given night. 

Defensively is where Adebayo will have to work hard against Davis. Adebayo averaged a career-high 1.3 blocks per game this season, but guarding Davis is more about making him catch as far away from the basket as possible and contesting his jump shots while not fouling. At 6-10, Davis has the slight height advantage on Adebayo, meaning Adebayo will have to work early, before Davis catches the ball. 

Players that Adebayo has been guarding in the playoffs have shot a combined 44.2 percent while he’s on them, according to NBA Stats. That’s not too different than the 43.1 percent shooting Davis has allowed, meaning they could be a fair match for each other. 

Miami will need Adebayo’s usual impact on the offensive end to match his results against Davis on the defensive end – if they do, the Heat have a chance at one final series upset.

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September 30, 2020
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