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An aggressive Adebayo made an appearance during Heat’s 2-game trip. Is he here to stay?

Spoelstra on Wade’s 35-point performance vs. Raptors

Erik Spoelstra speaks about Dwyane Wade’s 35-point performance in the Heat’s loss to the Raptors.
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Erik Spoelstra speaks about Dwyane Wade’s 35-point performance in the Heat’s loss to the Raptors.

Bam Adebayo has received one short, but direct message from his Heat teammates.

“Be aggressive.”

That’s exactly what the 21-year-old big man has done on the offensive end lately, and it’s resulted in his two best performances of the season. Adebayo averaged 15 points and 17 rebounds, and posted his first two double-doubles of the season during the Heat’s two-game trip that ended with Sunday’s loss to the Raptors.

On Sunday, Adebayo was especially impressive. He finished with 16 points and a career-high 21 rebounds while playing a team-high 36 minutes in Toronto.

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It’s not a coincidence that his recent success has come as his shot attempts have gone up. While Adebayo is averaging just 5.1 shot attempts for the season, he took eight shots in Friday’s win over the Bulls and a season-high 10 shots in Sunday’s loss to the Raptors.

“My teammates want me to be aggressive offensively and defensively,” Adebayo said, with the Heat moving on to begin a four-game homestand Tuesday against the Hawks. “And I’m doing that for them. We don’t want to play four on five basketball, so they want me to be aggressive. They want me to crash the glass and they want me to defend.”

Since Adebayo was drafted by the Heat with the 14th overall pick last year, aggressiveness on the offensive end usually equals success for him. Of his nine career double-doubles, six have come when he’s taken at least eight shot attempts.

“He’s just being aggressive. He’s picking his spots,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said of Adebayo. “I think he understands how defenses are playing the guards, and he’s able to get the ball in that pocket, he’s able to get mismatches, he’s offensive rebounding and he’s being aggressive. So he just looks more comfortable and we need that out of him. We need that when he gets the ball, to be aggressive to make plays or score himself.”

The problem is Adebayo isn’t always looking for his own offense. The Heat’s hope entering the year was that he would play a more aggressive style in his second NBA season after spending most of his rookie season in a role that included more screens and passing than shot attempts.

Adebayo, who is averaging 7.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists, has taken five or fewer shots in 10 of the 19 games he’s played this season. And his average of 5.1 shot attempts per game is only slightly up from the 4.9 shots he averages last season.

Adebayo is also still working to expand his offensive game, with almost all of his points still coming in the paint. Only one of his 50 made shots this season has come from outside the paint.

But defense is still a strength for the athletic Adebayo, who limited those he was guarding to 42.3 percent shooting as a rookie. He is holding the player he’s defending to just 38.7 percent shooting this season, which is 8.9 percent worse than those players shoot overall.

Among centers who have played in at least 10 games this season, Adebayo’s 38.7 opponent shooting percentage ranks fourth-best in the league.

“He’s doing it on both ends,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of Adebayo’s impressive two-game stretch. “You just feel his energy. He asked to come out a couple of times tonight [against the Raptors] and we couldn’t afford to take him out. He was making too many things happen. That’s what you want to do as a player. But that force is something we can definitely build on.”

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