The Miami Heat organization has become famous over the years for unearthing diamonds in the rough, whether late in the draft or plucking overlooked talent on the undrafted market. The organization's ability to identify talent is elite, with Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, and Duncan Robinson playing huge roles in their run to the NBA Finals this past season. During the 2023 NBA Summer League, Heat fans should get a their first glimpse at players who may be next in line to emerge out of nowhere.
With Vincent and Strus departing for the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively, in free agency, the Heat should have plenty of room to throw those who excel during Summer League into the fire. Moreover, amid trade talks for Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard, Duncan Robinson and his huge contract could also give way in any prospective deal, freeing up more minutes for some potential high-impact youngsters.
With that said, here are five prospects Heat fans must keep an eye out for as they continue their 2023 NBA Summer League journey on Wednesday night when they take on the Sacramento Kings in the California Classic.
Jaime Jaquez Jr.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. adores Heat star Jimmy Butler, and it shows in the way he attacks the opposition. Not only is he aggressive in getting to the hoop, even launching himself into the air with a nasty poster dunk in his Summer League debut against the Lakers, he can also put the ball on the deck and create for himself, even getting to his spots with ease.
Scoring 22 points against the Lakers, Jaquez put his entire offensive arsenal in display. There's certainly a bit of Butler in his game. Jaquez loves knifing and snaking his way towards the lane, then stopping on a dime and pulling up for an easy jumper from around eight feet.
The 22-year old wing also showed some impressive court vision, leveraging the defensive attention he drew to pass the rock, or to keep the ball moving. He is also in constant motion, relocating for easier shots around the perimeter and the hoop.
His three-point shot will be crucial in determining just how impactful he could be for the Heat in his rookie season, provided he stays amid all the Damian Lillard trade talks. But it certainly looks like Jaquez has the skill to make some noise and endear himself to the coaching staff as early as his rookie year.
Nikola Jovic didn't impact the game too much in his rookie year. He played in just 15 games, starting eight of them, and he didn't exactly play well enough to warrant more minutes. The addition of Kevin Love late in the season only served to complicate Jovic's path to staying in the rotation.
However, Jovic is only 20 years old. For reference, Jaime Jaquez Jr. is two years older than him. And yet Jovic already has a year under his belt training under the Heat developmental staff, which goes a long way towards helping him improve his game.
Any improvement Nikola Jovic would be making should begin with his efficiency, particularly from deep. Jovic doesn't have fast-twitch athleticism, so it's paramount for him to play within the flow of the offense and not force anything. He should also tighten his handle, as he seemed to lose control of the ball on a few possessions against the Lakers on Sunday.
Jovic loves to operate out of the post, and at 6'10, he certainly has the size (and even speed advantage against some matchups) to see over defenders and use the threat of his improving scoring ability to facilitate for others. Given his versatility, he should crack the Heat rotation with ease, for as long as he continues to work hard on remaining disciplined on both ends of the floor.
The Heat had to rely on Orlando Robinson to fill in minutes at the center spot last season. And Robinson, despite being undrafted, didn't look too lost playing against NBA-talent. His size helped him survive the physicality of the league, and he also showed some soft touch finishing in the paint.
Now on a standard deal, Robinson should have the opportunity to threaten Thomas Bryant's role in the rotation and perhaps become the Heat's undisputed best option at backup center — especially if he continues to display improved marksmanship from deep. (He made two of his three three-point attempts against the Lakers this past Sunday.)
Plucking an undrafted 6'8 guard who has shown the ability to knock down from deep… now where have we heard that story before?
Of course, it's disingenuous to compare Duncan Robinson to Drew Peterson straight up. Robinson was a better sniper from deep during his collegiate days at Michigan than Peterson has ever been. But there might be a chance that Peterson is just a Robinson clone who dedicated a few more of his skill points to defense than shooting.
During his Summer League debut, Peterson tallied three stocks, being a disruptive presence all around. Peterson was also a willing mover of the ball, notching four assists (albeit against three turnovers).
If Peterson's shooting ever turns up, the Heat may have no choice but to sign him to a two-way deal so he could at least remain close to the Heat's developmental pipeline.
Patrick Gardner did not face the most impressive opposition during college, allowing him to rack up some impressive stats as a versatile 6'10 center who could put it on the deck as well as stroke it from deep.
Gardner did not play during the Heat's Summer League tilt against the Lakers, but expect him to play a few minutes here and there, impressing fans with his versatile offensive game even though he may struggle defending in space against speedy guards.