As Bam Adebayo continues to recover from a hip contusion, the question isn’t whether the Heat can survive the temporary loss of his career-high 22.3 points per game.
The issue is whether Miami can win consistently without his unique and elite defensive skill set, along with his rebounding.
Miami will be without Adebayo for a second consecutive game, and for the fifth time this season, on Wednesday in Toronto (7:30 p.m., Bally Sports Sun).
Adebayo said Tuesday that while his hip has improved, there is no specific target date for his return. Could he return Friday at home against Cleveland (which seems like a long shot) or next week?
“I have no idea,” he said. “This is new to me.. to be on the sideline. I get re-evalated when the team gets back from Toronto. We’ll have a conversation then.”
On Tuesday, he shot jumpers after practice but didn’t move around much. “I haven’t started doing much basketball stuff; no contact,” he said. “Everything else I’ve been doing, shooting and stuff like that, has been fine.
“The best thing for it is rest. That’s what I’ve been trying to do these past couple of days. Very boring. But this is the process.”
Asked his mobility with the hip, he said: “Baby steps. Haven’t gotten that far.”
Adebayo, with his deft footwork and ability to defend any position, often can cover up for others’ shortcomings, especially when wing players drive past Heat guards.
When Adebayo plays this season, Miami is 10-6 and allows 110.3 points per game, which would be in the top seven in the league.
When he doesn’t play, the Heat is 1-3 and permits 118.5 points per game, which would be in the NBA’s bottom six.
Adebayo’s absence defensively was particularly felt in Saturday’s 144-129 Pacers’ win in Miami.
Yes, he wouldn’t have been able to fully fix a defense that was beaten repeatedly off the dribble.
But he would have been able to offer more help when teammates failed.
At one point Saturday, after Orlando Robinson couldn’t help in time to prevent a T.J. McDonnell layup (after Jaime Jaquez Jr. was beaten off the dribble), Erik Spoelstra called a timeout, with a look of disgust.
The Heat seems fully invested in Robinson, whose $1.8 million contract becomes guaranteed on Jan. 10. But the defensive dropoff from Adebayo to any of the Heat’s available centers is pretty dramatic.
Field goal percentage against tells only part of the story, because it doesn’t account for help defense or Adebayo’s ability to defend players of all sizes and skills.
But in that metric, Adebayo is permitting opponents to shoot 43.9 percent against him, far lower than the 48.3 percent they shoot overall. Among centers who have defended at least 200 shots, that 43.9 is eighth-lowest (or eighth-best defensively) in the league.
Players defended by Orlando Robinson are shooting 48.8 percent (not great but not awful), and 52.1 percent each against both Kevin Love and Thomas Bryant.
Bryant, who went from starting the second half in Adebayo’s absence Thursday to not playing at all on Saturday, has lost rotation spots over his career because of defensive shortcomings. Last season, he allowed the player he was guarding to shoot 55 percent, second worst defensively among all NBA centers.
The metric site “Dunks and Threes” uses a complicated formula to determine each player’s estimated defensive plus/minus. Adebayo leads the Heat at 1.8, a number that rose from 1.5 before he missed much of the past two games against Indiana.
Robinson is at minus 1.2, Bryant minus 1.0 and Love minus 0.3.
On Wednesday, Robinson will need to deal with Toronto’s 7-1 Jakob Poetel, who’s averaging 11.4 points per game.
While his offensive game has made major strides, Robinson’s defense remains a work in progress.
“I’m getting better,” he said. “I’m trying to be an elite pick and roll defender. I don’t want to give up too much there but also want to protect the basket more; footwork wise in pick and roll, I’m trying to impact the ball, trying to slow down the guard and keep the roll behind me. I’m trying to do both. It’s very challenging. I want to be elite at that. That’s what I’m working on.”
Erik Spoelstra has been non-committal about which centers he would use in Adebayo’s continued absence, though Love likely will continue to get minutes, probably with the second unit, where he has been a stabilizing presence.
As for Robinson’s second career start on Saturday, “he did some good things,” Spoelstra said. “He did some other things we have to continue to get better. Initially I wanted to make sure I monitored K-Love’s minutes.
“I was thinking some of those minutes would be plug minutes. I planned on playing three centers. Once we couldn’t grab control of the game, we shortened the rotation. When we lose in this fashion, I’ll review some things.”
The encouraging aspect of Robinson’s second career start? The 16 points on 7 for 11 shooting, including two threes on two attempts. He’s now four for four on threes this season, after shooting 0 for 6 in his 31 games as a rookie last season.
On that side of the floor, Robinson looked very much like the player who averaged 29.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists on 57 percent shooting in this past summer’s Las Vegas Summer League.
▪ Haywood Highsmith, who aggravated a lower back injury against Indiana, is out for Wednesday’s game. Spoelstra said Highsmith and Adebayo are “day to day.”
Guard Tyler Herro remains out with an ankle injury; he is doing court work after practice, but Spoelstra said he’s not sure when he will partake in contact practices. Two-way contract wing players RJ Hampton (knee) and Cole Swider also won’t accompany the team to Toronto.