Let’s not sugarcoat what we all saw.
Bam Adebayo was simply not the same since his neck injury robbed the first-time All-Star from performing the way he has throughout the postseason.
And that hurt the Miami Heat. Badly.
From a historic Eastern Conference Finals run, where he averaged team-highs in points (21.8), rebounds (11.0), assists (5.2), steals (1.7) and blocks (1.0) to a sluggish 15.3 points and 6.3 rebounds in the NBA Finals, the bread and butter to the ‘Heat Culture’ was missing, and it resulted in elimination to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Now, is it understandable to why his poor performance came to be? Of course. Adebayo was giving it all he had, all while playing with one healthy shoulder after damaging it in Game 1 versus L.A. The former Kentucky Wildcat begged to be out there on the court until he was eventually cleared for Game 4.
As we learned quickly, he wasn’t performing at the same level, failing to facilitate the ball, rebound over double-digits and even shoot over seven attempts per game. He wasn’t comfortable with his mid-range shot, either, a tool he used effectively against the Boston Celtics.
He was struggling, and as all stars should do, he took accountability.
“[Jimmy Butler’s] been as close to perfect as you possibly can get,” Adebayo said after Miami’s Game 5 win, where he posted just 13 points on 5 of 12 shooting, along with 4 rebounds and 4 assists. “On my part, I’ve got to be better for him so he doesn’t have to carry that load as much. My whole mindset is I’ve got to be better for Jimmy, my team.”
Entering Game 6, it was expected that Adebayo would bounce-back, and have a performance like no other. After all, he’d done it before, notching a 32-point outing to take Miami to its first Finals appearance since 2014.
As we now know, the opposite occurred. While the stat sheet would disagree – 25 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists — a simple glimpse at the Heat’s first-half disaster, which featured pure domination from L.A. in the paint, would say otherwise.
Adebayo didn’t play to his usual standard, and he’ll have to live with that until the start of the 2020-21 season. While it sounds harsh, it’s true, and it’ll surely make him an even better player than he is now.
It hurts to make it so far and not get it done. It hurts to see another team celebrate as you sit inside a quiet locker room for the final time this season. Those experiences sometimes tarnish the future of players, but it’s only bound to make the 23-year-old reach a level nobody would’ve imagined.
In typical Adebayo fashion, it’s “motivating.”
This won’t be the first time he’s been underlooked before. Just last summer, Greg Popovich chose to cut Adebayo from the USA Basketball senior roster in favor of Derrick White and Marvin Bagley III. He used that as a call to prove everyone wrong, which he did.
Now, it’s nothing short of a similar circumstance. With a great front office, coaching staff and teammates under his wing, Adebayo will only get better as time goes by.
“I have to remind myself sometimes that he just turned 23 in the bubble here, coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It feels like he’s been in the league 10 years. He took on that type of leadership and role for us. There is no ceiling for his potential.”
After all, the bounce-back season is always the sweetest.
As President Woodrow Wilson once said, “the difference between a strong man and a weak one is that the former does not give up after a defeat.”