Kentucky power forward Bam Adebayo was a surprise pick for the Miami Heat at 14th overall in the NBA Draft on Thursday night. Not just to the supposed media experts who didn’t have him on their mid-round mock draft radar, but to the player himself.
When did he first think he might wind up here?
“Not ’til 30 seconds left on that clock,” he said after being chosen. “I was that surprised.”
Call Adebayo a “reach” if you wish, based on most mock-draft projections that had him going a bit lower. But you know what I call him? A 6-foot-10, 245-pound kid promising enough to be recruited by John Calipari, and then promising enough again to be drafted by Pat Riley. That earns a little benefit of doubt. Make that a lot.
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I like that Miami targeted a replacement for Chris Bosh in the first round, a front-court guy to pair with Hassan Whiteside. That was the big need. Once Gonzaga’s Zach Collins went 10th overall, I thought the Heat might look to Wake Forest’s John Collins or UCLA’s T.J. Leaf to fill. It was Adebayo.
But no matter who it was, at whatever position, this was an especially important Heat draft. Why? Here are two reasons:
1. This was Miami’s third-highest pick since it struck gold with Dwyane Wade in 2003. Since then, the only selections higher than 14th have been Michael Beasley (second in 2008, and largely a flop) and Justise Winslow (10th in 2015, with the jury on him still out). Miami seldom picking this high owes to the team’s success and also to Riley traditionally not caring that much about the draft as a roster-building tool. But players drafted 14th in the NBA draft have included Clyde Drexler and Tim Hardaway, and this was a fairly deep draft.
2. Golden State. Every other team,including Miami, that hopes to make up ground on the dominant, champion Warriors will need kisses of good fortune from all directions. One is the draft. Riley needs to hit big with this pick. Adebayo must be an immediate rotation player who develops into a starter and (dare Heat fans dream) a star. That isn’t a level you’d expect from a No. 14, but it happens. So let’s see if Riley has saved all of his magic for free agency, or if he spared a sprinkle for this draft.
Much luck is involved, too, of course, beyond the top-tier picks. The crazy youth of modern NBA drafts has become an added uncertainty. Freshmen (like Adebayo) reign. Teenagers. As a parent, I didn’t entirely trust my 18- or 19-year-old to remember to feed the cat; now they’re being trusted with the futures of franchises. If you’re a sophomore or a junior, you’re a graybeard. Seniors who get drafted — they’re more rare than aberrant spasms of humility from LaVar Ball.
Speaking of which, America’s most famous shoe salesman was happy Thursday night, as son Lonzo Ball got drafted second overall by the preferred hometown Los Angeles Lakers, right after Philadelphia, which traded up, selected Markelle Fultz at No. 1. The best thing about Ball going early? Fewer subsequent TV screenshots of Overbearing Dad.
The top end of the draft went mostly as expected, meaning Miami had its choice of a handful of targeted players across several positions. It just happened to not select one of the ones everyone else had targeted for the Heat.
“I’m blessed,” Adebayo said. “I went in there in the workout and did everything I could.”
Adebayo averaged 13 points and eight rebounds for a pedigreed program. He shot 60 percent. He is not a big who will be a three-point threat, but he'll join Whiteside in giving Miami what could be an awesome defensive presence.
Since Wade, the Heat have drafted 22 players. Zero have made an NBA All-Star team. Might Adebayo finally end that streak?
Riley’s summer has just begun, the draft just the appetizer.
In trades or via free agency, he must find a way to make Miami a force in the Eastern Conference again. That is the starting point, not the Warriors.
Might the Spurs’ LaMarcus Aldridge be available in a trade? How about Gordon Hayward in free agency?
Pat Riley Season has just begun.
It got off to an unexpected start Thursday night, but the heft of two men’s résumés — Calipari’s, and Riley’s — gives cause to think this kid Bam may prove to merit the exclamation his nickname invites.