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Hyde: Bam Adebayo’s search for greatness, one mundane shot at a time | Commentary

Sun Sentinel logoSun Sentinel 1/19/2021 Dave Hyde, South Florida Sun Sentinel
Derrick Rose holding a basketball: Miami Heat's Bam Adebayo runs into Detroit Pistons Sekou Doumbouya during Saturday's game, which fueled his Monday performance. © Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS Miami Heat's Bam Adebayo runs into Detroit Pistons Sekou Doumbouya during Saturday's game, which fueled his Monday performance.

We want greatness to be spectacular. It’s how our top-10-plays-of-the-day society defines it. So when Bam Adebayo seemed to stand in the air Monday night and swatted Detroit’s Jerami Grant driving shot like a gale-force wind, that was the definition of basketball greatness, right?

But that’s not the play Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wanted to talk about after the 113-107 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena.

At another point in Monday’s fourth quarter, Adebayo took a mid-range jumper with a defender draped on him and —swish —the most-discussed weapon in his improved arsenal was on display. His analytics are moving off the charts. But Spoelstra was adamant here, too.

“That’s where I don’t want to point to,’' he said.

Here’s where he pointed, where he sees greatness emerging to take Adebayo’s game to a higher level: Adebayo standing alone at the foul line, dribbling once, twice, eyeing the rim over sweaty brow, the picture of greatness forming.

Swish.

“He’s worked diligently to add things to his game and his ability to make free throws is so big, so important,’' Spoelstra said. “I think it’s misguided to talk about mid-range [shooting]. The mid-range is his free-throw attempts and his ability to shoot that at an extremely high percentage.”

True greatness can be remarkably undramatic. It’s unflinchingly consistent, too, in ways that don’t make the highlight shows. Adebayo took 11 free-throw attempts in Monday’s win. He made 10.

“That’s improvement for him and for us,’' Spoelstra said. “That’s what great players do. They generate free throws.”

It’s been a miserable stretch for the Heat. COVID-19 has wrecked their roster. Their schedule is in flux. The team that went to the NBA Finals last season is “looking for our identity,” as Goran Dragic said, in this new season.

Adabayo and Dragic had harsh words for their team during its two-game split with an awful Detroit team. Dragic, at 35, a hardened if upbeat veteran, has carried this role of a team leader for a while. It’s new for Adebayo. He talks of maybe someday having inspiring words like Dwyane Wade or Udonis Haslem.

For now, it’s a role he’s still fitting into, he says. It also fits into the Jeff Van Gundy Rule that your team is only as good as your best player’s attitude. That’s why Adebayo’s words matter when backed up by work.

“The first thing is how important it was to him,’' Spoelstra said. “He as frustrated after [Saturday’s loss to Detroit]. That is 1,000 percent what you want your best player to embody. That type of competitive spirit. When it matters that deeply to him, then that becomes important to everybody else.”

What Adebayo did in Monday’s 28-point game mattered more than what he said. It’s why something as mundane as getting to the foul line might just define his games as much as his game-changing blocks.

The career 72.1 percent foul shooter is making 85.1 percent this young season. The star who shot 5.3 free throws a game last year averages 6.7 this year. All that was part of the Heat’s and Adebayo’s plans for this year as evidenced by his work.

“I do a conditioning workout and then I’ve got to make 10 [free throws] in a row,’' he said. “I put that pressure on myself. If I can’t make 10 in a row every cycle, I’m running again. That’s the type of stuff I put myself through so in games, close games, I have the confidence in myself.”

He has a line that sounds like a motto:

“My improvement is my work ethic.”

The NBA season is only 10 games old. It’s too late to be early but too early to make conclusions. The Heat can’t even get its players on the court together in a way that might be prologue for this entire out-of-the-bubble season.

All you know is the Heat go as far as Adebayo helps them. And how far does he go? You see the blocks. You see the versatility. You’re also seeing something more mundane if you look closely and as equally a sign of greatness.

He’s shooting more free throws. He’s making more free throws. None rock our play-of-the-day society. But they tell of still-emerging greatness.

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