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The Miami Heat wasn’t sure how it would survive life without star center Bam Adebayo when he was sidelined because of a right thumb injury in late November.
With Adebayo making his return seven weeks later on Monday against the Toronto Raptors at FTX Arena, the Heat must now figure out how to handle life with him back in the middle of its starting lineup. Adebayo missed the past 22 games following early December surgery on a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb.
Before Adebayo’s injury, the Heat’s center rotation was clear: Adebayo was the starter and veteran Dewayne Dedmon played as his backup off the bench. But rookie center Omer Yurtseven has been a revelation for the Heat with Adebayo out, making a strong case to at least be considered for a spot in the rotation even with Adebayo back in the mix.
“I’m still gonna do everything possible and everything I can to win, and that’s all that matters,” Yurtseven said ahead of Monday’s game when asked about the uncertainty surrounding his role with Adebayo again available. “Whatever they ask of me, whatever [Erik Spoelstra] guides me to, that’s what I’ll try to perfect.”
Yurtseven, who spent the first month of the season out of the rotation, entered Monday with more than 20 minutes logged in 12 consecutive games and starts in 10 straight games, seemingly getting better with each one.
In his 10 starts during the past 10 games, Yurtseven averaged 13.6 points, 13.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists. The Heat outscored opponents by an impressive 11.3 points per 100 possessions with Yurtseven on the court during that stretch.
“I think the biggest thing with him has been the development that now you’re able to apply to games,” Spoelstra said. “That game experience is something, as much as we try to check every single box in that player development program, you can’t check the game experience against real live NBA competition.”
While Yurtseven, 23, has improved as a finisher, defender and playmaker in the past month, it’s his rebounding that has been eye-opening and historic.
Yurtseven, who went undrafted in 2020, has grabbed double-digit rebounds in 14 straight games. That’s the longest such streak by a rookie in Heat history and stands alone as the second-longest overall streak in Heat history behind only Hassan Whiteside’s string of 19 consecutive games in 2017.
It’s also the longest such streak by a rookie since Karl-Anthony Towns grabbed double-digit rebounds in 15 games in 2016.
“Pursuit,” team captain and forward Udonis Haslem said of what makes Yurtseven such a prolific rebounder. ”You got to chase it every time. It has to be a habit. At his size, you very rarely see guys 6-11, 7-foot pursue it every time. That’s usually for little guys like me. So if you get a guy 6-11 or 7 foot to pursue and chase it every time, you see what you’re getting.”
During the past 15 games, Yurtseven has posted the NBA’s top rebounding percentage (the percentage of available rebounds a player grabs while on the court) among those who have appeared in at least five games during that stretch at 23.2 percent. Atlanta’s Clint Capela is second at 23.1 percent and Utah’s Rudy Gobert is third at 21.8 percent.
But the Heat believes Yurtseven still has room to improve as a rebounder. Teammate P.J. Tucker said recently that Yurtseven is “so unaggressive and nice” that if “he ever gets that mean streak in him where he wants to go get them all, he will be really big-time.”
“I’m still tough,” Yurtseven said of Tucker’s comment. “Me being a nice person doesn’t mean I’m not going to go hard out there. You can’t get as many rebounds as I do by being soft. You have to be tough and you have to be mean. I think what he said was, ‘You don’t have a mean bone in your body’ or something like that. What I do means being mean when needed, so I only see it as a progressive comment. Where he’s saying that, ‘We know that he can do much better’ is what I kind of understood it as. That gives me a lot of confidence.”
Haslem believes Yurtseven just needs to be himself, even if that means never developing a mean streak.
“It’s not for everybody. Everybody can’t be me, man,” Haslem said. “But as long as you go out there and you play hard and you get results, I think he’s doing the right thing. That will continue to grow. We don’t need him to be like me. He just needs to be O. He doesn’t have to be me, he doesn’t have to be P.J. He has to find the best version of Omer and I think he’s working toward that.”
Whether Yurtseven remains in the Heat’s rotation moving forward is still to be determined. Whatever happens in the coming days and weeks, teammates now know they can rely on Yurtseven if he’s needed.
“You trust what you see. You trust what has actually happened,” Spoelstra said. “The guys have seen it, the veterans have all seen how much he has improved and how diligent he has been behind the scenes working at it every single day.”
As Jimmy Butler put it, Yurtseven proved “that he belongs in this league.”
“I think he has put the league on notice with how he rebounds the basketball, how he guards and obviously how he scores,” Butler said. “I just want him to keep that mentality, understand that just because Bam is back doesn’t mean you don’t go about everything the exact same way and know that your time is going to come again.”
GUY SIGNS DEAL
The Heat made it official, signing guard Kyle Guy to a two-way contract on Monday. He was previously on a 10-day deal with the Heat as a COVID-19 replacement.
The Heat waived Marcus Garrett, who will undergo season-ending surgery to fix the instability in his right wrist, to open a two-way spot for Guy.
“I never looked at how things could happen because then you’re just limiting the infinite possibilities,” Guy said of going from a 10-day contract to a two-way contract with the Heat. “If I would have said, I want to take the two-way from somebody, then it probably wouldn’t have happened. I just wanted to be a part of the team. I didn’t really care what the contract was. It worked out the way that it did. I don’t look at the how, I’m just happy that it happened.”
Guy, who is a Cincinnati Bengals fan, watched the Bengals win their first playoff game in 31 years on Saturday afternoon and learned that night that the Heat wanted to sign him to a two-way deal.
“That’s pretty much all you can ask for,” Guy said with a smile.
▪ The Heat ruled out Kyle Lowry (personal reasons), Markieff Morris (return to competition reconditioning), KZ Okpala (wrist sprain), Victor Oladipo (knee injury recovery) and Chris Silva (ineligible to play) for Monday’s game against the Raptors.