Whole blocks go up overnight in Bam Adebayo’s neighborhood. He builds in increments, of course he does, but we’re not in the gym with him each morning and afternoon, watching him develop the skills he brings to the game fully formed. He entered the league as a boulder-shouldered (and perhaps slightly undersized) big man who could bring energy off the bench, which he did for a while, and then it became apparent that he was an intriguingly versatile defender, and then he was getting assists from the elbow, and then he was averaging 16 points per game, and then 19, on the same percentages he’d always shot, that energy guy clip that typically doesn’t sustain as the field goal attempts climb into the double-digits. At some point, he became one of the best isolation defenders in the entire league, at 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds. Sometimes it feels like Bam has never tried something on the court that he couldn’t already do—no uneasy tinkering, stepping into shots he doesn’t trust. He’s a bracingly assured presence, switching 25 feet from the bucket like it’s nothing, on the block and halfway into a move you know is going to pan out.

And yet there are drawbacks to doing only what you’re absolutely sure you can manage. Bam is a franchise cornerstone, entering the first year of a max deal any team in the league would have signed him to, but in Miami, where there’s no Dame Lillard or Bradley Beal to fill up the scoring quotient, they’ve wanted Bam to be more aggressive for a while now. Take more jumpers, attack the rim, maybe try a triple or two per game. He clearly enjoys getting assists, and the dribble handoffs he runs with Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson are a staple of Erik Spoelstra’s offense, but there are times when his deferentiality doesn’t help. His influence on the contest fades and he becomes an extremely overqualified role player, doing all the little things exactly right but not enough of the big stuff the Heat expect from him. He puts Jimmy Butler, who doesn’t have much interest in doing a slightly off-timbre Lillard or Beal impression, in a tough spot. Jimmy has to carry the offense while chasing the opponent’s best wing around on the other end of the floor. The Heat get out of whack.

Kyle Lowry, newly signed away from his spiritual home in Toronto, will relieve some of Butler’s burden, but Kyle is 6-foot-nothing and 35 years old. That overqualified role player spot that Bam occasionally slips into might be the fullest extent of what Kyle can provide, in most contests. No, it’s still up to Bam to expand into the available space. He has to teach himself to be okay with playing ugly basketball, getting the rock and trying against his better instincts to force a foul or a bucket while his teammates catch their breath. He has that Marc Gasol, Al Horford-esque grip on the game. It’s not passiveness that has him one-touching the ball back out to the perimeter, always making the extra pass. It is an abiding belief in a certain set of aesthetics. But sometimes you simply need to rely on your ability to make it work. A little less Horford, a little more Giannis in the Finals. It’s a mindset thing. More fixable than a talent deficiency, but not something you can snap your fingers and overcome. We don't all have access to Russell Westbrook’s borderline mortifying confidence.

It seems that Bam understands what he needs to do. Last month, he claimed “I want to be a shooter. I’m going to be shooting, attacking the basket more often, and being assertive.” You assume that was somewhere near the beginning of the 109-page PLAYER EFFICIENCY EVALUATION report that Heat brass gives to their charges at the end of every season, and that Bam has taken the order to heart. He’s even hinted that he’s going to be unafraid to shoot threes, which is sort of an extra credit aspect of his development but would hypothetically allow Miami to run some terrifying five-out sets. (A note on that: Bam hasn't attempted a three-pointer in three preseason games. Your optimism sometimes makes you a liar.)

There does have to be a limit on how many times Bam Adebayo can emerge from his summer workouts a noticeably better player. He can’t keep grinding until he’s some league-obliterating cross between Nikola Jokić and LeBron James. And yet at 24, entering his fifth NBA season, the limits of Bam’s potential remain exciting to ponder. The part of him that you could almost mistake for shyness, the instinct not to emerge from the edit booth without a final cut, leaves you wondering what else he’s pretty good at that he isn’t willing to show us yet, until he’s mastered it. Maybe we finally see some works in progress this year, some honest struggling, Bam experimenting in public. Regardless of the speed at which it arrives, there’s likely a lot more to come from the Heat’s exquisitely flexible five. He’ll keep surprising us at his own pace.

Eleven Other Characters: Russell Westbrook | Zach LaVine | John Collins | Domantas Sabonis | Devin Booker | Draymond Green | Julius Randle | Kyrie Irving | Khris Middleton | CJ McCollum | Joel Embiid