Heat’s Bam Adebayo on his Team USA experience, chemistry with Damian Lillard and more

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With the 2021 NBA Draft set for Thursday night, center Bam Adebayo was asked following Team USA’s practice in Tokyo what advice he would offer the incoming draft class.

“For them, just soak in as much knowledge as you possibly can,” Adebayo said Thursday afternoon in Tokyo, an interview with reporters that took place at around 3:30 a.m. in the Eastern Time Zone. “I mean, from watching film to just actually being in the NBA. I mean, it’s going to be a whirlwind, like everything’s going fast. Right now, they’re probably thinking, like, ‘Yo I was just in college playing games. I’m about to be in the NBA.’”

Then Adebayo’s thoughts shifted to himself. In that moment, Adebayo realized just how fast time has passed since he was drafted by the Miami Heat with the 14th overall pick in 2017.

“It’s kind of like that for me, now that I’m going into Year 5,” said Adebayo, who turned 24 on July 18. “It felt like just yesterday I was a rookie walking into the 305. And now, four years, about to be five years later, it’s like, ‘Dang,’ like I’ve developed a home here, like this is a part of me now.”

Adebayo went from mostly playing as a Heat reserve during the first two seasons of his NBA career to starting for Team USA in the Olympics this year. In the first two games of the three-game group stage schedule, Adebayo has averaged nine points on 8-of-14 shooting, five rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.5 steals and two blocks in 19 minutes.

Team USA split its first two Olympic games, dropping the opener to France on Sunday and bouncing back against Iran on Wednesday. USA Basketball closes group play with a matchup against the Czech Republic on Saturday at 8 a.m., and a win would push the Americans into the knockout-stage quarterfinals as the second-place team in its group.

Even in the unlikely event of a loss to the Czech Republic, there’s a decent chance that Team USA would advance past the group stage based on margin of victory after defeating Iran 120-66.

Group play runs until Sunday, with the teams that finish first and second in each of the three groups joining the two best third-place teams in advancing to the quarterfinals. France already clinched first place in Team USA’s group.

“At the end of the day it just shows our game is becoming more international than it used to be,” Adebayo said of the improved competition around the world. “And it just makes it more competitive. I feel like it makes it more fun. You know. It definitely puts us on edge, because we don’t go into every game thinking we’re going to beat everybody by 50.”

Adebayo is coming off the best two seasons of his NBA career. He won the Skills Challenge, played in his first NBA All-Star Game and helped lead the Heat to the NBA Finals in 2019-20, and averaged career highs in points, assists and steals this past season.

“Definitely just being around them, seeing their work ethic, seeing how they go about their professional business, and seeing what I can do differently,” Adebayo said of what he has learned from playing with NBA stars like Damian Lillard and Kevin Durant on Team USA. “And seeing the small ways, the little ways of getting a foul, or getting extra baskets or looking at the game differently from their standpoints. You got some of the best players in the league, so why now pick their brain, to see how they got to the next level.”

Adebayo pointed to Lillard and Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday as the two USA Basketball teammates he has learned from the most.

“Getting to talk to him and getting that chemistry with is Dame, just because I play center, he plays point guard,” Adebayo said. “So it’s kind of we’ve got to build a connection in the pick and roll. But just being in his ear and seeing how he thinks that game. And also Jrue Holiday, just seeing how they both just look at the game. I talk with Jrue mainly from a defensive standpoint, and how you get steals, just his instincts off ball.”

Lillard has questioned his future with the Portland Trail Blazers, but he remains insistent that he has not demanded a trade despite reports that he could be on the verge of doing so. The Heat, like most NBA teams, is expected to have interest if Lillard indeed becomes available, but whether Miami would have enough enticing assets to get a deal done for the star guard without including Adebayo or Jimmy Butler remains questionable.

“I’ve been as open about the situation as I can possibly be,” said Lillard, who is entering the first season of a four-year, $176 million supermax extension, “And things have continually come out, ‘Oh, Dame said he’s 75-25,’ and, ‘Dame is excited about this,’ and, ‘Dame is going to give back money.’ I’ve seen everything and I have not said any of those things. I’ve spoke directly to my team. My team knows the truth.”

As for Adebayo, his focus is on returning to the Heat as an improved player next season.

“For my next step, just working on my whole arsenal, I’ll just say that,” Adebayo said. “There’s no particular thing. I want to be great at everything, that’s my mindset.”

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