When the Miami Heat drafted rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. in June, coaches and executives around the league rolled their eyes. Other teams had an opportunity to pick Jaquez—most notably the Lakers at No. 17, one pick ahead of the Heat—who was expected to be an instant-impact player.
It’s often a struggle for coaches to get their front office and owners to draft players who are ready to play, because they prefer the mystery of high-upside guys. Everyone wants to draft the next Giannis Antetokounmpo and is not much interested in drafting the next high-quality rotation player.
“It’s one of those things where the Miami Heat go out and get a perfect Miami Heat player, and everyone just let them have him,” one assistant coach said. “A lot of us loved Jaime Jaquez, he has the IQ, he plays defense, he is versatile. But he is not gonna average 20 points and be an All-Star, so he gets pushed down the draft board. Your owner does not want to pick a four-year college guy. But a lot of us knew, this is guy who wins, this is a bad dude.”
But Jaquez never fretted. Here he is, the perfect Miami Heat player now in a role that suits him. And he is not shy about saying so, declaring that he belongs here.
“I just learned and felt like this is where I belong,” Jaquez said, per the Miami Herald. “This is where I want to be at, in the NBA. I feel like I can play. There’s a lot of things I still need to learn, but I felt comfortable out there and I felt like I’m ready to play and that I belong in this league.”
Erik Spoelstra: Jaime Jaquez’s Experience ‘Matters’
On Thursday against Brooklyn, Jaquez played 33 minutes in a hard-fought, 122-115 win on the road, the seventh straight for Miami. He has played 285.6 minutes this season, which ranks fifth in the NBA among all rookies.
Jaquez has averaged 9.2 points in playing all 12 of the Heat’s games, shooting 49.5% from the field, though only 29.7% from the 3-point line. He is averaging 3.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists, flashing a well-rounded inside-out game on both ends of the floor.
One reason Jaquez slipped in the draft was that he had been a four-year player at UCLA, and was already 22 years old. But for the Miami Heat, that is a strength.
“This is a very experienced, mature, savvy, competitive player,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of Jaquez, per the Herald. “He’s been in a lot of really tough battles in college. To us, that matters. It doesn’t matter if it matters to anybody else. He’s been in big games, he’s had big responsibilities and that’s been on both ends of the court, where if he didn’t play well that wouldn’t lead to a win. He can do it where he’s featured or more often than not where he’s not featured, he can find a way to impact. That’s a talent.”
Facing off vs. Best in the NBA
Certainly, even here at the very opening of his career, Jaime Jaquez has earned some trust from Spoelstra and the veteran cast of players around him. On Thursday, he spent significant time guarding Nets star Mikal Bridges, who was just 6-for-15 from the field, for 23 points.
Jaquez has been thrown into the fire against the Likes of Anthony Edwards of the Timberwolves, Jayson Tatum of the Celtics and, of course, LeBron James of the Lakers.
But again, he has been ready for this. He belongs.
“I’m just learning as I go. This is the game I played my entire life,” Jaquez said, per the Herald. “This is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I knew when I got my chance, I was going to be ready. That’s why I did four years of college, to prepare for this, so I could be ready and confident in my ability. To go out there and make an impact right away. That was kind of my plan all along.”