With 20 seconds left in overtime against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Miami Heat held a three-point lead, and that margin looked precarious after Goran Dragic missed two free throws that could have sealed the game. Grabbing the ensuing rebound, speedy guard Eric Bledsoe raced down the floor, and no Heat player picked him up. Bledsoe appeared to have a wide-open dunk in his immediate future.
Enter Bam Adebayo. Miami's third-year big man sprinted the length of the court, caught up with Bledsoe and swatted the ball away, preserving the win for the Heat. It was like a Mack Truck keeping pace with a Ferrari.
"Bam's block is one of the best plays that I've seen," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Tracking him down 90 feet, and you're talking about a really fast, explosive guard that he tracked down."
Electric, hyper-athletic plays like that were always the expectation for Adebayo, the baseline for him becoming a meaningful contributor in the NBA. But he's proving to be much more than today's prototypical non-stretch big, who catches lobs, protects the rim and does little else.
Adebayo can catch lobs and protect the rim just fine, but he separates himself with creative playmaking and versatility on both ends. This season, the 22-year-old is playing a larger role than ever before, and Spoelstra said he trusts him with "the responsibilities of one of our veteran players in terms of leadership." Through four games -- three of them wins -- Adebayo is averaging 15.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.3 steals, all of which are career-high marks and put him in elite company: Only reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and burgeoning MVP candidate Karl-Anthony Towns have similar numbers across all five categories.
Adebayo will do "anything I have to do for my team," he told CBS Sports. "From ball screens to being a floor coach, for real. Just being a floor general."
Outside of Pascal Siakam, Adebayo might be the only player who has shed the "energy guy" label to become a full-fledged playmaker. While not the most refined scorer, he has developed into a high-level passing big man, with keen vision and court awareness. Unlike at least one other recent Heat player, they never have to worry about his willingness to share the ball.
"It's not always about you scoring, it's about getting someone else going," Adebayo said. "I get a good feeling from getting people going, and they feel the same way about me, so they try to get me going."
For a team that often uses lineups without a "true" point guard, this is crucial. The Heat can dump the ball to him at the elbow, where he operates as the hub of their offense. He excels at the dribble hand-off game, which he says is "not really that complicated" because of his ability to read the defense. (Coaches around the league wish every big man found this so simple.) He's crafty about using his body to create space for his guards, and it's no surprise that the Heat are second in the league in points per possession in hand-off situations at 1.265, per Synergy Sports.
Twice in a span of 12 seconds, Miami center Meyers Leonard described Adebayo as "incredibly dynamic." His assists come from all over the court -- it's not uncommon to see him bring the ball up the floor himself after a rebound, hit a cutter with a needle-threading bounce pass or kick the ball out to an open shooter on the perimeter. And his defense is just as impressive as his point-center skills.
Adebayo is often responsible for guarding the opponent's best big man, which in this era is an unenviable task. It requires being physical in the paint, mobile on the perimeter and intelligent everywhere. While most young players are focused on becoming the kind of player no one wants to guard, Adebayo said he is trying to "be a guy that everybody doesn't want to be guarded by." He wants to be a "headache." His approach is to "be relentless."
Watching him make plays like this against Towns, it's easy to envision him making an All-Defensive team. He has all the tools you could want in a modern defensive big, and the basketball IQ and mindset to match.
"It's all up here," Adebayo said about defense, pointing to his head. "It's effort. Defense is about effort and making plays and inspiring teammates. So that's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to inspire my teammates."
Spoelstra said the Heat are "expecting big improvement" from Adebayo over the course of the season. In a culture defined by hard work and selflessness, his dedication and mentality have endeared him to the organization. "I feel like you can get better at all things," said Adebayo, who stays sharp during games thanks to impromptu pop quizzes from Udonis Haslem when he goes to the bench. Adebayo has nothing but respect for the 17-year veteran's maturity and his determination.
"It's great because you got the same mindset as a like, literally a vet," Adebayo said. "Like as veteran as they get. It's good to just be on the same page with him. You're thinking how he's thinking, and how he sees the game."
Adebayo has miles -- and many, many years -- to go to reach Haslem's status as a Heat legend, but he is already more talented and will be a part of keeping Heat culture alive after Haslem joins Dwyane Wade in retirement. "We're invested in him," Spoelstra said, a fact made apparent when the Heat moved Hassan Whiteside to the bench last season and to Portland in July. With a complicated cap sheet for the next two years and win-now pressure with Jimmy Butler in town, Miami is counting on Adebayo staying on his upward trajectory.
The more he expands his game, the more extraordinary plays he makes -- game-saving or otherwise -- the more clear it becomes why the team is confident he'll make the leap.
"You can see why that will happen," Spoelstra said.