To start the season, Edrice Adebayo epitomized the cliche, “Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane.”
Adebayo’s resemblance to Dwight Howard and his onomatopoetic nickname fooled us all. “Bam” came to Kentucky built like the NBA All-Star, but mostly on paper, carrying a generous 6’1o” height with a wide, muscular frame. Adebayo’s experience was limited, playing the smallest division of North Carolina basketball for his first three years of high school.
The early box scores reflected his raw talent. In the 2016 calendar year, he recorded double-digit rebounds just three times. Offensively, he scored points, but mostly from dunks. Defensively, he struggled to balance playing physical and fouling.
Like most Calipari post players, he needed time to develop. It’s safe to say that’s happened.
Last night he hauled in 18 rebounds, the most by a UK player in the NCAA Tournament since the 50s. In the last ten games, Adebayo averages 14.4 points and 11 rebounds per game while shooting 63 percent from the field. In his last eight games, Bam has four double-doubles, snapping a skid of more than two months without a double-double.
Bam has developed into the player we all thought he could be, but how did he get here?
Before getting into the X’s and O’s of fundamental basketball, all of his improvements are possible because Bam is now in shape. Most mistakes in basketball happen because you don’t move your feet. You don’t move your feet because when you get tired, you get lazy. It’s now rare to see Adebayo make a lazy mistake because he dropped ten pounds and quit ordering late night Insomnia Cookies.
A Reliable Right Hand Hook
The greatest fallacy about post players is the belief that they need an arsenal of weapons to score. In reality, you only need one go-to move. Bam has found it with the simple hook shot. He struggled at the beginning of the year to find his touch, but he’s finally found a soft sweet spot that gives the ball a chance to go in, even if it isn’t perfectly executed.
Patience in the Post
In the post, you gotta play fast. If you do not have a move ready before you catch the ball, the double-team is already there. You clearly see that in the GIF above, but you can’t do that every time. Like everything in life, there must be balance.
Earlier in the season, Bam would’ve gotten antsy with a one-on-one matchup in the post. Instead, he used a pass fake to keep the double-team away long to drop-step a foot away from the bucket.
That was fine, but this is beautiful.
With the floor completely isolated, he immediately attacks preseason SEC Player of the Year Moses Kingsley, but Adebayo doesn’t get too ahead of himself. The rip puts Kingsley on his heels and the extra head fake provides enough pause to get an easy left-handed look.
Attacking Out of the Pick-and-Roll
Kentucky’s improved play out of the pick-and-roll can primarily be attributed to the decision-making of the guards, but as my sixth grade math teacher always told me before filling out a detention slip, “it takes two to tango.” Even in the smallest of windows, Adebayo remains aggressive and attacks the rim with a leap of faith, relying on his guard to guide him perfectly to the bucket.
Rebounding with Two Hands
This sounds silly, like telling a wide receiver to catch a football, but they still drop passes. The best rebounders attack the ball in the air with two hands.
Using two hands is one big reason why Bam is better on the boards, but it’s a small piece to the puzzle. As the big guy in a small league, he didn’t have to learn the art of rebounding in high school. He was bigger than everybody, so he got the ball. Bam is learning how to anticipate where the ball will bounce off the rim, an under-appreciated nuance of the game.
Using his Feet in Post Defense
Just like post offense, most of the work happens before the opponent gets the ball. Here’s what happened when Bam did not do enough before Kingsley got the ball.
Kingsley caught the ball on the block, WAY too deep, guaranteeing either a layup or a foul.
The next time down the floor, Bam would not let him get near the block. When Kingsley tried to take a step to post-up Bam near the lane-line, he got pushed to the floor. When Kingsley got up, Bam made him go up the lane, away from the basket to open up a passing lane. When Kingsley eventually got back to the low block, Bam’s hard deny made the guard look elsewhere, ending the possession with a missed bucket.
In conclusion, this is Bam at his best.
He used his lower body to force Kingsley to catch the pass five feet from the paint. When Kingsley got his upper body involved, Bam kept his hands (and head) back. Earlier in the year, he might’ve used his hands and got called for a foul. Instead, Adebayo’s straight-up defense forced Kingsley to try to score over him. While contemplating the move, it gave De’Aaron Fox enough time to dig the ball out and create a turnover.
Bam Adebayo has transformed into a complete post player. He can still make an arena roar with a powerful, posterizing dunk, but that’s not what makes him a great post. His fundamental, hands-off defense gives up nothing easy, while a balanced offensive attack keeps his opponent guessing and forces double teams.
It’s safe to say, Edrice Adebayo has brought the Bam to Kentucky.