How a FIBA run will prepare Nikola Jovic to better help the Miami Heat in his second season

Dec 20, 2022; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Heat forward Nikola Jovic (5) watches from the court during the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bulls at FTX Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 20, 2022; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Heat forward Nikola Jovic (5) watches from the court during the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bulls at FTX Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports /

We don’t know how the Miami Heat roster will look come opening night because we don’t know who stays and who goes in a potential Damian Lillard trade. So, for now, we have to analyze the players the Heat have on their roster.

One of the players facing an uncertain future is Nikola Jovic. Entering his second year in the league, the 20-year-old Serbian would be an interesting piece for the Blazers in a trade, but it’s unclear if he would be part of any deal.

With Jovic busy preparing to play for Serbia in the upcoming FIBA World Cup, let’s take a look at what he’s been doing this summer and how that can affect his playing time next season.

The most important part of this summer for Jovic is getting more repetitions in a role close to the one he’ll have with the Heat. His Summer League stint was intriguing, but he played more of a leading, high-usage role. That won’t happen in the NBA next season and didn’t happen before he entered the league.

With Serbia, he’s playing as a 4, most times off the ball, screening and cutting or spotting up on the perimeter. That looks much closer to what his role would be on the Heat’s rotation. To succeed, he has to do the little things coaches always preach.

Here’s a compilation of some standout plays with the FIBA team.

Quick decisions

In the first play, Jovic uses his size to get a putback. Defenses will not be looking for him at times and he needs to take advantage of his6 6-10 frame and athleticism.

On the next play, we see Jovic make a great read after a miscommunication by Puerto Rico’s defenders. What should be a pop after the dribble handoff becomes a backdoor cut with an easy finish inside after Puerto Rico’s defenders over play the handoff.

In the third play, Jovic is playing as a distributor. He occupies the open space behind the defense’s press and assists his center as soon as the opposition shifts their focus to him.

The fourth play, this time against Italy, has Jovic spaced out in the perimeter. He gets the pass and decides immediately to attack the open space inside, knowing his man will be forced to make a decision between dropping back into the paint or closing out on Jovic’s teammate in the corner. His defender gets caught in between and Jovic finishes with an easy layup.

On the last play, Jovic’s teammate bobbles a catch before swinging to Jovic at the top of the arc. With the defense catching up, Jovic puts them back into rotation by attacking with a jab step that forces the defense to collapse inside. He then finds a teammate open in the opposite corner.

Perimeter shooting

If Jovic is going to earn time in the rotation, the outside shot will be key. You can’t play with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo and not be at least willing to pull the trigger from 3-point range.

Jovic has been kind of unwilling to shoot, but he did show some promising moments in the G-League last year. Still, he will have to shoot when he has the space and make shots at a high clip. He’s not doing that so far in the World Cup friendlies, shooting only 22% on three 3-point attempts per game. There’s a slight hitch in his shot (which could be attributed to his recent muscle gain) that needs to be ironed out.


An easy way to earn minutes is by scoring in transition. Miami was 29th in pace and in transition shot attempts per game last season. With Jovic’s size and ability to handle the ball, he could get the Heat up and running every time he gets a defensive rebound, just like he’s doing with Serbia.

And I mean every time. If Erik Spoelstra gives him the opportunity, there’s some easy baskets to be had when Jovic grabs the defensive board and pushes tempo, either by taking it to the rim or finding an open shooter on drive and kick opportunities.


The other side of the ball is till the main concern with Jovic. There were a lot of instances last season where he looked lost and out of position as a defender.

He was a rookie playing a new position at power forward or even center most nights — totally out of his comfort zone — so growing pains are expected. Just don’t expect him to become a specialist or anything close to that. There still a steep learning curve, both from his understanding and processing of defensive tasks in a complex scheme.

Let’s look at a few more possessions from Serbia’s recent slate of friendlies.

Jovic will have to be able to switch in the Heat’s scheme and, right now, he’s struggling. On the first two plays, Jovic is uncomfortable closing out, fearing the offensive player will blow by him off the dribble, so he hesitates and gives up too much space for open jumpers.

On the third play, Jovic reacts late to the switch, gets caught in no-man’s land, and arrives late to contest the shot, allowing two points.

The last play is just a bad read, with Jovic jumping out to deflect a pass he had no chance of deflecting and takes himself out of the play. The offense gets a wide-open drive.

There’s a way for Jovic to be a positive on defense, at least in certain situations, snd that is by taking some lessons from Butler and becoming an off-ball/passing lane disruptor.

It takes time and a lot of studying, but with his length and understanding of the game, there’s an avenue for him to become a player that can at least force bad passes or sew doubt in the minds of passers. I’m not asking him to become Butler on defense, but to be more active away from the ball as a way to minimize his negative impact on the ball. There are flashes:

So how much of an impact can Jovic make next season? To be honest, it’s hard to say.

Without a Lillard trade, it’s hard to find a spot in Miami’s rotation. Jovic has the tools to be the frontcourt partner to Butler and Adebayo, but not right now. Plus, if it’s a competition for minutes at power forward between Jovic, Caleb Martin, Kevin Love and Haywood Highsmith, coach Erik Spoelstra tends to favor experience.

More minutes could open up if Jovic is kept out of a Lillard trade, but he’ll still need to prove himself capable of handling a meaningful role on a championship-caliber team.

After playing just 15 NBA games as a rookie (back issues related to his growing frame sidelined him for much of his first season), this time with the Serbian national team provides a valuable chance to work on his game.

There’s a lot on the to-do list: Getting comfortable in an off-ball role, improving as a shooter, finding opportunities in the open court and, especially, developing as a defender.

The future is bright for young Nikola Jovic. Just don’t expect him to have much of an impact next season.

Next. How Bam Adebayo Evolved Into an Elite NBA Center. dark