The Miami Heat trading Hassan Whiteside to the Portland Trail Blazers did more than clear $27 million off of next season’s books, it also cleared the way for Bam Adebayo to take over as the starting center of the future.
The idea of replacing Whiteside with Adebayo has crossed the minds of Heat fans ever since the former Kentucky big was selected 14th overall in 2017. Hell, it’s probably been Pat Riley’s plan all along. Adebayo has long been the supposed successor to the Miami Heat frontcourt. Now, he’s finally going to get his shot.
Heading into his third NBA season, Adebayo is still a work-in-progress, but one that progresses every single game. Through his first two seasons, he’s averaged 8.0 points and 6.5 rebounds in 21.7 minutes per game while shooting 55 percent from the field. His gravity-defying athleticism and natural basketball intelligence label him as an elite prospect going forward.
Adebayo played in all 82 games during his second season and quickly solidified himself as one of the most versatile defensive big men in the NBA. Switch him onto a guard in the pick-and-roll and he won’t get beat. Put him in the post against a seven-footer and he plants himself into the ground. It’s that versatility alone that makes him such an intriguing prospect. Miami wouldn’t be giving Adebayo the keys to the frontcourt if they didn’t think he was ready for the challenge.
The spacing next to fellow big men Kelly Olynyk or James Johnson will work in Adebayo’s favor. Both players can stretch the floor and occasionally attack the rim. While Adebayo is limited to the paint in terms of his offensive production, he vastly improved from year one to two. He bumped his effective field goal shooting up six percentage points and his accuracy at the rim jumped another five percentage points. His scarcely seen midrange game was completely reinvented in year two, as well, even if he didn’t use it all that often.
At this stage in both players careers, you could easily argue that Adebayo is already the better player than Whiteside at this very moment. Whiteside is an elite shot blocker – there is no questioning that – and his rebounding skills rate near the top of the league. But he’s not even close to the overall defender that Adebayo is. If Whiteside is caught out of position, it’s over for him. His recovery time is nothing compared to Adebayo. Once Whiteside can successfully deter wing players on the perimeter as Adebayo can, then maybe we can have that discussion.
And on offense, it’s hard to argue Whiteside is anything better than subpar. His shooting numbers are similar to Adebayo, but that’s with a far inferior assist rate and a terrible clip from the charity stripe. Whiteside is limited to the paint on both sides of the hardwood. Adebayo is effective no matter where he is on the court. His passing ability opens up possible plays that Whiteside literally couldn’t even dream up in his sleep.
With the addition of Jimmy Butler into the fold, the Heat have a playoff-ready roster, one that includes Adebayo in the starting role. There was a stretch last season where Whiteside was sidelined for a chunk of March, which forced Adebayo to start in 22 of the team’s final 23 games. In those appearances, Adebayo averaged 11.6 points and 9.2 rebounds in 27.5 minutes per game while also shooting just a hair under 60 percent from the field. And that was on an arguably worse roster.
The Russell Westbrook to Miami trade rumors could mess this all up, in the end. Assuming any potential trade between the Heat and Thunder includes Adebayo (and probably Tyler Herro). However, a trio of Westbrook, Butler, and Adebayo would be the purest athletic lineup in the NBA. But no matter what happens, the Adebayo era is about to arrive.