Here in the early NBA season, the Heat have dealt with injuries to major rotation players in just about every game. But through it all, one thing has remained almost certain: Nikola Jovic has been firmly out of the rotation in Miami.
He started one game, back in October in Minnesota. He made one other appearance. Jovic has missed two games because of illness, but he has been back for the last two, but even with a spate of absences—long-term injuries to Tyler Herro and Caleb Martin, shorter-term injuries/rest for Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry—Jovic has not been able to sniff the floor.
That’s both surprising and disappointing for a young player who seemed to show some growth in the offseason. But it was not quite enough for coach Erik Spoelstra.
“At this moment, I’m not in the rotation, which I have nothing against,” Jovic said, according to the Miami Herald. “It’s coach’s decision and I respect it. It’s on me to continue to work and show him what I can do.”
Nikola Jovic Defense Remains an Issue
What Erik Spoelstra wants Nikola Jovic to do, apparently, is show progress in one spot in particular: on the defensive end. The Heat, of course, had a tricky defensive system for a young player to learn, especially a young big guy who needs to be versatile and show he can guard different style of power forwards.
That’s an issue with the Heat’s current batch of bigs. Bam Adebayo, of course, can guard anybody, anywhere. But Kevin Love and Thomas Bryant are, in today’s NBA, relatively slow-footed and therefore limited in their ability to guard the perimeter and the interior.
Jovic has the potential to do both. He has the length to be able to get a hand up on a 3-point shooter, and the agility to get back and guard the paint. He is 6-foot-10 and still only 20 years old. That means he is more spry than most NBA big men. It means he is a bit more clueless than most, too.
“Spo wants me to do different stuff,” Jovic said, per the Herald. “Showing, dropping, everything basically. So I’m still in between. I’m not in the normal rotation, so I’m not even used to knowing exactly what things are. But I’m going to try to give my best to the team and that’s it.”
Miami Heat Rotation Always in Flux
What is disappointing about it all is that, after the summer, it looked like we’d finally get to see what kind of player Nikola Jovic can be in the NBA. He was very good playing for a shorthanded Serbia side in the summer’s World Cup, averaging 10.1 points and 3.0 rebounds, making 42.3% of his 3-pointers. He drew attention with a 25-point game in the pool round against South Sudan.
But even in the World Cup, Jovic’s role shrank as the competition got fiercer. Serbia made it to the final game and lost to Germany, and in the five knockout games, Jovic scored a total of 30 points. Maybe the Serbs knew then what the Heat know now—Jovic has talent but is still not quite ready.
Spoelstra has not given up on him, for sure. Jovic knows that.
It’s going to change a lot,” Jovic said of the Heat’s rotation. “There will be certain times where I’ll probably be able to play. But the fact is that in the normal rotation, I’m not in it. It’s just on me to continue to work. These guys do a great job of developing players, and I think I’ve developed a lot since last year and I think I’ll be even better this year.
“My chances will come and I hope I’m going to play good when it comes.”