Erik Spoelstra wants Nikola Jovic to get uncomfortable with the Heat

The Miami Heat head coach had some enlightening comments about Nikola Jovic's progress and his development playing forward and center.
Miami Heat v Milwaukee Bucks
Miami Heat v Milwaukee Bucks / Patrick McDermott/GettyImages

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra this week said he wants second-year forward Nikola Jovic to get comfortable in positions “where he’s not as comfortable.”

After Wednesday’s win against the Toronto Raptors, Spoelstra was asked about Jovic, who played three minutes that night in just his fourth appearance of the season.

“We feel very encouraged by his progress but we have to quiet all the noise out there when everybody wants it to be a microwave impact right now,” Spoelstra said of Jovic, who went scoreless with two rebounds in his limited minutes. “We just want to stay disciplined to the plan. He is getting better, and he’s ready for minutes if called upon.”

It’s been a confusing start to the season for Jovic, who was among the most hyped players on the roster following an impressive showing in the FIBA World Cup and heaps of praise in training camp. But he’s so far been out of Miami’s rotation, passed on the depth chart by Haywood Highsmith and rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr., among others.

He’s been used sparingly and mostly only when the Heat have dealt with injuries to one or two of their stars, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Jovic played 21 minutes against the Timberwolves in October and 16 minutes against the Nets two weeks ago, with most of his minutes coming at center.

This has been another point of contention with Jovic and onlookers. Jovic, the 27th pick in the 2022 draft, stands at a slight 6-foot-10 and is a perimeter player by trade. His strengths are as a ball-handler, passer and open shot-maker, not as a rebounder or rim-protector. After Butler watched Jovic play center for the Sioux Falls Skyforce in a recent G League game, he told reporters that Jovic “is not a five.”

In an interview with a Serbian media outlet after the game in Brooklyn, Jovic voiced his frustrations playing center. Jovic cleared those comments up a few days later, telling Miami-based media, “In the G League, you know playing-wise, we don’t have a five so I play the five,” Jovic said. “Sometimes it’s not easy to play the things you’re not really good at. Which playing the four, I’d basically be a lot better. That’s basically it.”

Jovic has impressed coaches since rejoining the Heat after a brief stint in the G League. The staff wants him to continue to add muscle, learn to fit in Miami’s defensive system and use this as an opportunity to grow.

“He’s had two very good weeks and that makes an impression on everybody,” Spoelstra said. “That’s all behind the scenes in practice. Once he got back from the Sioux Falls stint, he’s really gotten to work.”

But minutes at forward are hard to come by. The Heat have used Butler, Highsmith, Jaquez, Caleb Martin and Kevin Love at power forward this season. With Adebayo nursing a lingering hip injury and the absence of many true center in the G League, the easiest way for Jovic to get playing time, for now, is at center.

Spoelstra contends that learning to play both positions is part of Jovic’s development program.

“I want him to learn how to do both,” Spoelstra said of Jovic playing forward and center. “You become a basketball player. You’re a frontcourt player, it’s part of the development. I know where he can feel more comfortable now – I understand that and we’re developing that – but I also want him to learn to develop where he’s not as comfortable. 

“That’s where we have to guard against the noise and all the narratives that are out there,” Spoelstra continued. “It’s all part of a plan. He’s on board with the plan, the plan will not just be linear all the way through. There will be ups and downs because he’s young, but I feel very encouraged by the progress that he’s made.”