The list of rookies to score at least 15 points, grab 15 rebounds and block at least five shots in a game since the start of the 1963-64 season isn’t very long.
In the Miami Heat’s heart-pounding win Tuesday night in Toronto, Bam Adebayo became the second-youngest ever to join that 19-player list (only Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns was younger) when he put forth arguably the best performance of his young career (16 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks).
But do you know what got the 20-year-old, 14th overall pick from the University of Kentucky most excited about this memorable night?
“The best thing about it was I got to play with Whiteside,” Adebayo said. “I call us the Twin Towers. That was just the best thing for me, just having him by my side back in the paint... it’s a scary sight.”
For as long as Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra had been thinking about pairing Adebayo and Hassan Whiteside on the floor together (he claims it was on his radar before Whiteside was sidelined by a bone bruise at the end of November for 13 games), the Heat’s two North Carolina-born centers had managed to play only a minute’s worth of possessions together before Miami’s last road trip.
James Johnson’s ejection in the third quarter in Toronto and subsequent one-game suspension a night later in Indiana finally forced Spoelstra’s hand. Adebayo and Whiteside played together for 14 minutes in Toronto and then another 12 in Indiana.
The Heat broke even in terms of plus/minus when Whiteside and Adebayo were on the floor together over those 26 combined minutes. But the pairing was a scintillating experience for both, who believe they have the athleticism and chemistry to form a dangerous combination.
Adebayo has even come up with a working nickname, “Pork N Beans.” Whiteside is still mulling it over.
“We’re both from North Carolina, so we’re going to figure out something,” Whiteside said after Wednesday’s win in Indiana when he had 16 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks in 28 action-packed minutes. “But what works out for me and Bam, both of us are kind of flying around and rebounding and blocking everything. I think a lot of people would think that the spacing would be an issue. But the way we play, we’re flashing and we got Wayne spacing and Josh and Goran. It’s not an issue because both of us can shoot. It’s not an issue of spacing.”
Spoelstra calls Adebayo’s energy, quickness and toughness off the bench “infectious.” Whiteside (7-0, 265) has started to show more of those elements of late perhaps in part because of the emergence of the 6-10, 255-pound rookie.
Whiteside said he feels Adebayo’s energy on the court.
“It’s crazy because I’m turning around and all I [see] is a shadow,” Whiteside said. “I see a shadow when we run off of rebounds and blocks. I know if somebody gets past me, it’s like a layup and I’m looking and turning around like this guy is coming out of nowhere [to block the shot], and vice versa. It’s definitely different because I’ve never played with anybody like that, not on the court with them.”
Through 32 games, Adebayo’s numbers don’t jump off the page (7.0 points, 5.0 rebounds. 1.2 assists and 0.7 blocks in 19.9 minutes per game). He’s actually last on the team in plus/minus (-85). But it’s still on par in terms of the production the Heat got out of Willie Reed last season (5.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.7 blocks).
And lately Adebayo’s offensive game has started to expand as he’s started to gain the confidence to shoot more jump shots (he’s 16 of 40 on on jumpers this season).
“I’m getting more comfortable — I feel like I’m playing free,” Adebayo said. “I’m not looking back. In the beginning of the season I was nervous. I didn’t know whether to shoot it or not. Now my teammates want me to do that. Just knowing that in the back of my mind — my teammates want me to do this, they want me to make plays — I can’t ask for anything more.”
Said Whiteside: “I think he was really caught up in running the plays and doing the system thing. But I just told him, man, you can look at the basket, man. I told him look at the basket, man. You can score if it’s in the context of the game.”
Adebayo said he feels like he’s gaining confidence week-to-week in part because of the many lessons he’s learning as he goes from assistant Juwan Howard, 15-year veteran Udonis Haslem and Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning.
Howard, he says, is constantly in his ear about opposing personnel and what to look for. They’ve formed a close bond, Adebayo said. He’s done the same with Haslem and Mourning.
“I can relate to UD because UD was a like an undersized big who used his quickness,” Adebayo said. “So he’s always giving me tips about using my quickness. Zo is like 6-10, 6-11, and was all about using athleticism and length. Zo will go in there at practice and it will look like he’s about to go to church — Rolex, big pants, and he’s out there doing jump hooks. So I get two things from two different type of players. So, it’s great both of them see something in me.”
They aren’t the only ones. Dragic’s eyes light up talking about the rookie. Wayne Ellington called Adebayo a beast after his memorable night in Toronto.
“There’s no other way to describe him really,” Ellington said. “He’s 20 years old and looks like he’s 35, and he plays like it. He’s a beast, man. He’s going to be a force in this league for a long time. There’s no ceiling for a guy like Bam. He can handle, he can pass it. We run actions through him as a rookie in late game situations. That says everything right there. He’s very poised. He’s ahead of his time. He’s going to be great.”