Erik Spoelstra, Pat Riley and the great Heat Center debate. † † it’s back, starring Bam Adebayo – The Denver Post

The last time Pat Riley got involved in the discussion about an up and coming Miami Heat center and its use by coach Erik Spoelstra, things got sidetracked.

“How can Spo change his thinking when it comes to offense and defense or minutes or whatever?” Riley said during his 2018 season-ending media session: “However he uses it, that’s what you do. We go through this with players almost every year. There’s always a disagreement, a change in philosophy or whatever.

“There has to be an intervention and I’m going to be the intervener. That is real.”

That was then.

When the discussion centered on Hassan Whiteside.

And then came last week, when Riley looked back on the Heat’s season and another big man and shot totals.

This time with Bam Adebayo leading the way and centering on the Heat president’s comments.

“This could take a year, and Spo and I will sit down and talk about it, about how Bam can be developed in a way to improve his consistent shooting ability every night, getting 15 shots every night?” said Riley. “Quality shots, you know, that he can get, that he can make, whether it’s into the post, whether it’s the elbow or whatever.”

Adebayo’s shots per game have risen each season since he was selected as number 14 in Kentucky in 2017, from 4.9 to 5.9 to 11.0 to 12.5 and to 13.0 this season. The score average has increased in the same way each of his five seasons, to 19.1 this season

But after averaging 14.3 shots in the Heat’s postseason run to the 2020 NBA Finals, that average had fallen to 9.7 in this postseason’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals.

“He can be very productive at times,” Riley said. “But he can’t always be on exertion alone, on running, on offensive rebounds, on lob dunks, on small floats. I think there’s a part of him that we can grow.”

That brought it back to Spoelstra, though hardly with the same force in the debate as when Riley was decidedly more cornered at Whiteside in 2018, following Adebayo’s rookie season.

“So that kind of depends on your general offensive philosophy and how much you want to change that,” Riley said of Adebayo as a leading offensive threat. “I think at his age there is a different level now, that we need more consistency in his ability to get good shots, make good shots for himself and us and score.”

Spoelstra, speaking a week before Riley, in the immediate aftermath of Game 7’s loss to the Boston Celtics in the East Finals, postponed any comment on Adebayo’s future use. He usually gives the floor to Riley, ignores suspicions and moves on as soon as such a sound settles, often without further comment.

“He has reinvented himself every low season”, was where Spoelstra left it. “Every year in the last three or four years he should have been considered the most improved player.”

With Kyle Lowry limited in the playoffs with a hamstring injury, with Jimmy Butler suffering from knee pain, there were times during the postseason when the canvas was Adebayo.

Earlier in the playoffs, there was a run of three consecutive 20-point games, and in the East final there were 31- and 25-point appearances against the Celtics.

It’s why, when the selflessness wanes, or if Riley or Spoelstra choose to emphasize so much, teammates see the potential for even more, even as Adebayo has tried to mute the conversation about his shot totals.

“I’ve said it all year, he’s the engine that makes us run on both sides of the floor. He does so many things well,” Butler said. “I’m very grateful to be able to play with a person like him, along with so many other people on the roster.

“I think the more comfortable Bam feels, the way he knows he’s a star in this league, you can’t put a limit on his talent and his abilities. As long as he’s comfortable, he’s going to be hell if he’s on the ground.”

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