3. Players with the chance to pop
The 2022-23 Heat were largely unchanged from the 2021-22 Heat. While the Heat did not go through the roster shakeup many, including them, expected, it still underwent more changes than last summer.
Strus and Vincent are gone. Richardson and Bryant are in. The other additions we already covered will help provide more depth than last season.
But what this team really needs, especially after failing to land a star, is a player to pop. To exceed expectations so much that it changes the way the Heat operate and delivers Spoelstra more options.
Two years ago, Caleb Martin blew away the expectations of being on a two-way contract and turned into one of Miami’s most versatile rotation pieces. A year later, he’s making an argument for Eastern Conference finals MVP. In 2020, Duncan Robinson sprouted into one of the league’s elite shooters. Last season, the Heat didn’t exactly get that outsized impact from anyone.
Could Nikola Jovic be that guy this season? The second-year forward is coming off an impressive showing in the FIBA World Cup, where he averaged 10 points per game and thrived as a quick-decision passer and 3-point shooter for Serbia. Word around Heat camp is that he’s returned bigger, stronger and more confident.
“He be walking with his chest up,” Butler said after training camp in Boca Raton this week. “He gained some confidence this summer. I like that. He’s becoming more aware of how good a basketball player he is and how he belongs in this league, and on the world stage as well.
“I think he knows he’s going to be up here with us and he’s going to play a significant role.”
If Jovic does earn a rotation spot, his fit next to Bam Adebayo is tantalizing. In the past, the Heat have settled for limited, veteran bigs on short-term contracts to space the floor next to Adebayo — from Meyers Leonard and Kelly Olynyk to PJ Tucker and Kevin Love. Those were band-aid solutions. Jovic could be the first to secure a long-term spot next to Miami’s franchise anchor.
Spoelstra called Jovic a “connector” at media day and that’s what he would need to be in a lineup with Adebayo and Butler. Make quick decisions — shoot, drive or pass — and hold up defensively. For Serbia, he was a transition menace, getting steals, running the floor, and using his length to finish at the basket. His veteran national team compatriots looked for him on offense, whether it was to finish the play with a catch-and-shoot 3 or attack a rotating defense off the dribble.
Should those things translate to the NBA, Jovic could be the kind of X-factor who can lift Miami’s ceiling and give what was at times a stale offense a new dimension.
Besides Jovic, there’s Haywood Highsmith — who spent part of the summer shooting with Duncan Robinson — and Jaquez, a rookie earning praise from Miami’s vets at training camp. Both could emerge as rotation players this season.