Miami Heat: Could KZ Okpala’s best role be next to Bam Adebayo in starting lineup?

KZ Okpala #4 of the Miami Heat warms up prior to the preseason game against the Atlanta Hawks(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
KZ Okpala #4 of the Miami Heat warms up prior to the preseason game against the Atlanta Hawks(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Could the Miami Heat starting lineup see another second-year player make an entrance?

It is often said that it is not who starts the game, but who finishes it. However, one of the biggest questions leading into the start of the season is who Miami Heat will trot out in their first five.

Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler are locked in as the Heat cornerstones. Add Duncan Robinson to the lineup and pick anyone from Tyler Herro to Goran Dragic to Kendrick Nunn.

Either would find ways to contribute in the backcourt. The last frontcourt spot seems wide open though.

Conventional wisdom would have Miami slotting Moe Harkless or Meyers Leonard into the space Jae Crowder abandoned for security out West. But what if they were only temporary?

While Leonard once excelled playing next to Adebayo in the past, he now looks like a player that coach Erik Spoelstra lost trust in. On the side of Harkless, his preseason has exemplified the definition of a walking foul–committing 11 of a possible 12 in two games.

Not to mention his three-point shot often seems streakier than Crowder’s did during the NBA Finals. So, what about second-year player KZ Okpala?

The anticipation of KZ Okpala has become a thing of Miami Heat folklore, but will he be ready for starter’s minutes?

In no way would it be a stretch to say that in just a year, Okpala has become one of the most hyped Heat players in history. Enough to be reminiscent of the Justise Winslow overhype, but without being seen in significant minutes, until Friday’s preseason game versus the Toronto Raptors.

At best, rational fans had Okpala stepping into Derrick Jones Jr.’s minutes this season, however, a 24-point and five rebound game may warrant nudging rationale out of the window for a moment.

Okpala’s preseason gave flashes of a player who could, instead, step into Crowder’s minutes next to Adebayo. His 6-for-10 outing from behind the three-point line not only showed touch but the type of stretch activity the Heat look for at the 4-position.

His ability to cut, pass and score off the bounce–when aggressive–also marks a plus. Still, starting alongside Adebayo would require a deeper dive into the other side of the court.

In two games, Okpala showed the ability to effortlessly switch off on every position. He was even praised for being willing to stand up to Zion Williamson on the defensive end, only to get cooked by Brandon Ingram.

Yet, the effort was there and it may have shown that his 7-foot-2 wingspan could possibly be more suited, at the moment, for guarding players trying to operate closer than 15-feet.

Next. Miami Heat: 3 potential high-end role players shine. dark

Consider it all a sample, but if Okpala’s preseason play can be replicated, the hype could become starter’s minutes.