Miami Heat Select Kentucky Center Bam Adebayo at No. 14 in 2017 NBA Draft

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With the 14th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, the Miami Heat selected Kentucky center Edrice “Bam” Adebayo.

The 6-foot-10, 243-pounder is built like Dwight Howard. He’s strong, freakishly athletic, and explosive both laterally and vertically. He runs the floor with reckless abandon, he is a superb above-the-rim finisher and rebounder on offense, and he has the versatility to guard both in the paint and along the perimeter on defense. But he can’t yet shoot from outside the paint, he can’t pass, and he’s an underwhelming defensive rebounder and shot-blocker. Which, at this point, essentially makes him a less effective version of free agent Willie Reed, the man he now figures to replace on the Heat roster.

It was a surprising and questionable selection for a team which seemingly has clear needs at most every position except the position which Adebayo plays.

The Heat doesn’t currently have a single backup point guard anywhere on the roster. And starting point guard Goran Dragic, though All-Star caliber, is also 31 years-old. It may be time to start developing a succession plan. But while the draft was deep in point guard talent, it was also far too top-heavy for the Heat to be able to utilize its mid-round pick to select a viable candidate for the role.

The Heat only has one true small forward on the entire roster. That’s Justise Winslow. But Winslow is not starting caliber at this point, and doesn’t project to develop into such a role unless he drastically improves his shooting stroke. Which makes small forward the single most critical position to fill on the roster, ideally by a premium 3-and-D candidate. And, thankfully, there was an excellent prospect with just those credentials available to the Heat: OG Anunoby. Much like Winslow, Anunoby is an elite athlete with an NBA body, plus a 7-foot-2 wingspan. And much like Winslow, he plays hard on both ends of the floor and can defend up to four positions. But, though it’s still wildly inconsistent at this point, and though it’s triggered by a low and slow release, his shot is far more advanced than that of Winslow. He has the potential to become a knock-down, catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter. Which makes him a prototypical 3-and-D prospect, who could potentially develop into a future Miami Heat starter. But while he was available and would’ve come with plenty of upside, he also would’ve come with a fair degree of risk after having undergone surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee this past January. Miami passed.

The Heat is also seeking a long-term replacement for Chris Bosh at power forward. While James Johnson will almost certainly re-sign in free agency this summer, he’s also 30 years-old and struggles to space the floor. Johnson did a bit of everything when Dion Waiters went down last season: he led the fast-break, dished out some slick passes, knocked down some big shots at the rim, grabbed some big boards, and played fantastic defense while guarding every position on the court. But a healthy Waiters changes the dynamic. He may not be quite as effective playing off the ball as a floor-spacer when the Heat are using Dragic and Waiters as its primary playmakers. Lauri Markkanen and Zach Collins were both intriguing options in that regard, but the Heat long since knew that neither was likely to be available mid-way through the first round.

Without a viable option at point guard or power forward, the ideal small forward presumably deemed too big a health risk, and no legitimate need at shooing guard, the Heat selected Adebayo.

Adebayo is slotted to make $2.5 million this coming season, and $3.0 million in 2018-19. The Heat can secure his rights for an additional two seasons, at $3.5 million and $5.1 million respectively, based on team option decisions. Adebayo would earn a total of $14.0 million if he’s retained for the full four years, and can be extended or made a restricted free agent thereafter. The hope in Heat circles if that he develops into a Dwight-Howard-type force on both ends of the court, but with a far better shooting stroke in time. 

Will he become that dominant force? Does his potential to become one make him a worthwhile selection for a Heat team with seemingly far greater near-term needs elsewhere?

Would you have instead drafted Anunoby? (I would have! He was my second favorite draft prospect for the Heat, behind Markkanen(1).)

Would you have went in a completely different direction? What if, for example, the Heat instead were to have swapped the pick in exchange for a future first-round selection(2)? And not necessarily a better one. Just any first-round pick over the next two seasons, really. Doing so could’ve accomplished four key things: (i) created another $2 million of cap room, (ii) given the Heat another future 1st-round pick, and (iii) made the Heat’s 2019 first-round pick instantly tradable.

An Extra $2 Million of Cap Room

The Heat will surely aggressively pursue Utah Jazz free agent Gordon Hayward this summer, and word from ESPN’s Marc Stein is that they’re gaining traction toward that goal. Hayward would be a huge get, and would slot in perfectly as the team’s starting small forward, alongside Dragic at point guard, Josh Richardson at shooting guard, and Hassan Whiteside at center. But he’d surely cost the full $30 million max salary. Which would leave the Heat with only about $6 million of post-Hayward cap space with which to work, and Josh McRoberts as the only viable power forward on the roster. Miami could get to $9 million by stretching McRoberts, or $11 million if they could trade him outright. Is that enough to re-sign James Johnson? An extra $2 million could come in quite handy.

If the Heat don’t get Hayward, they’ll quickly turn their attention to re-signing both Dion Waiters and Johnson. But they won’t stop there. They’ll try like hell to squeeze three guys into their available cap space. Perhaps by looking to pair them with the best damn shooter at the small forward position they can possibly find. Joe Ingles could fit the bill perfectly, among other possibilities. But pairing him with Waiters and Johnson could require $40-plus million of cap space. Even more if they somehow try to keep Wayne Ellington. An extra $2 million could come in quite handy.

Another Future First-Round Pick

Despite having now finally satisfied the obligations of the LeBron James and Chris Bosh sign-and-trades that were executed way back in 2010, the Heat remains depleted of future first-round draft picks as it begins to satisfy the terms of its trade with the Phoenix Suns for Goran Dragic. The Heat still owes Phoenix two future first-rounders, in 2018 (top-7 protected, unprotected in 2019) and 2021 (unprotected). Which means the Heat will only two first-rounders (and no second-rounders) over the next four years. Miami is also very likely to be capped out for the next several seasons, which makes building through the draft as well as via trade critical. An extra first-rounder would have helped rebuild the stock pile for both of those purposes.

A Tradable 2019 First-Round Pick

Since Miami owes its 2018 first-round pick (top-seven protected, unprotected in 2019) and its 2021 first-round pick (unprotected) to the Phoenix Suns, and since teams can’t trade all of their first-round picks in consecutive future seasons, it is currently impossible for the Heat to trade any of its first-rounders in 2019, 2020 and 2022. And since teams can only trade draft picks up to seven years into the future, the only first-round pick available for trade is all the way out in either 2023 or 2024. There’s virtually no shot either is traded anytime soon.

Acquiring another first-round pick, however, would have changed that dynamic. Adding an extra pick in either 2018 or 2019, even one projected to be at the very bottom of the round, would have made either the acquired pick or the Heat’s own 2019 first-round pick(3) instantly available for trade. As it stands, the Heat’s 2019 first-round pick will only be tradable after the 2018 draft.

And then there’s this:

Unlike either drafting a small forward such as OG Anunoby or trading the pick altogether, drafting a center prospect in Bam Adebayo effectively means the end of Willie Reed.

Reed is the far better, far more polished player than Adebayo at this point. He’s a prototypical backup center. Despite his limited minutes (14.5 per game), he was a key part of the Heat’s success last season. He proved to be a strong finisher in the paint — catching and dunking lobs, dunk-ins, and short hooks — despite limited range beyond it. He also gave the Heat a high-volume rebounder and shot blocker to anchor the second unit, and often proved to be a better defender for those certain match-ups against whom Whiteside tends to struggle. Reed’s presence was vital, in that he essentially allowed the Heat to have a full 48 minutes of rim protection and rebounding each game, which took pressure off their young wing defenders.

It’s unclear as to whether Adebayo will develop into the force the Heat thinks he can be. If so, he could become a possible future replacement for Whiteside. But he has a long way to go to get there. It will take time. He’s not likely to see significant minutes early on, and could in fact spend a chunk of his rookie season in Sioux Falls. Which will leave the Heat exposed at the rim this season when Whiteside is out.

Of course, it’s no guarantee that Reed would’ve re-signed with the Heat had they not drafted Adebayo, or that he won’t next re-sign month anyway, but both seem imminently likely. While the center position is critical to the Heat’s style of play, its relevance around the league is shrinking. And with future salary cap levels finally starting to taper off, you’re unlikely to see many top-quality teams paying big money to backup centers anymore. Which means the Heat would likely have been able to bring him back, and without utilizing any cap room at that. The Heat could’ve offered him the Mid-Level Exception for Room Teams, which allows for a starting salary of up to $4.3 million and a term of up to two years. It figures to have been enough.

***

Was drafting Bam Adebayo the right decision for the Miami Heat?

Would you have rather had OG Anunoby? What about Anunoby AND Willie Reed?

Would you have rather traded the pick in exchange for a future first-round pick, an extra $2 million of cap space, the immediate availability of a near-term first-round pick in trade AND Willie Reed? Would it have even been possible?

What would’ve been the right approach?

Only time will tell.

Notes:

(1) If I were Pat Riley, the only two players I would have considered drafting (who had any realistic chance of falling to the Heat’s #14 draft slot) were Lauri Markannen and OG Anunoby. If neither was available, I would have pursued a trade of the pick described herein… As it turns out, Anunoby was available. I, personally, continue to not be encouraged by the potential of Justise Winslow. I would have drafted Anunoby… and given him every chance to be the Heat’s starting small forward of the future! 

(2) A potential Heat trade of its 2017 first-round pick would have been executed by pre-arranging the details of such trade, using the pick to select the player of the trade partner’s choosing, and then officially executing the trade after the selection was made. 

(3) For the Heat’s 2019 first-round pick to be instantly tradable, the first-round pick received would’ve had to have been unprotected. But even if it had protections, the Heat could’ve traded its 2019 pick on condition that the acquired pick was conferred. 

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