There was a stretch in the 2010's when it seemed like the San Antonio Spurs were nailing every one of their draft picks. Not because the guys they were drafting were the most talented players or went on to have the best careers, but because at the time of the selection, it seemed like they'd make good San Antonio Spurs. There was a system in place, built over decades by a front office, a head coach and a few notable players, and if they could find guys who could simply fall in line, the machine would continue running without flaw.
The Miami Heat have since taken the title from the Spurs as the NBA's most consistent and steady franchise. With the triad of Micky Arison, Pat Riley, and Erik Spoelstra leading the way for nearly two decades now, Miami has been able to build a well-established ‘Heat Culture' that has seemingly been turned into the punchline of jokes delivered by fans of teams who haven't been nearly as successful as Miami has. Go ahead and chuckle at the notion that the Heat are the “HARDEST WORKING. BEST CONDITIONED. MOST PROFESSIONAL. UNSELFISH. TOUGHEST. MEANEST. NASTIEST TEAM IN THE NBA,” if you'd like, but there's little evidence that they aren't. And just as the Spurs had gotten so good at adding guys to the system, the Heat found a gem in Jaime Jaquez Jr. in last year's NBA Draft, and former NBA star JJ Redick sees it that way too.
The Heat selected Jaime Jaquez Jr. with the 18th overall pick, but as of right now, you could easily argue he's somewhere between the 3rd and 5th most impactful rookie in the NBA. It feels like Jaquez is having the same kind of season Jalen Willams had last year in Oklahoma City. And I mean, look at the stats comparing Jaquez to Williams' rookie season.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. – 15.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.4 steals per 36 minutes, 52-39-82 shooting splits
Jalen Williams – 16.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.6 steals per 36 minutes, 52-36-81 shooting splits
Pretty similar across the board, huh? The numbers aren't necessarily eye-popping, but there's a maturity, calmness, fearlessness and completeness to his game that makes it feel like he's not a rookie. Williams finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting last year, and if I had a ballot, Jaquez Jr. would be either 3rd or 4th right now behind Holmgren, Wemby, and potentially Ausar Thompson (dude can play some serious defense!) Like Williams last year, I imagine that Jaquez will continue to earn the trust of Erik Spoelstra and his Heat teammates and get more and more minutes throughout the year. By the time the Playoffs roll around, count on seeing Jaquez out there in crunch time as the Heat try to defend their Eastern Conference title.