In what was a bit of a surprise decision, the Miami Heat pulled back forward Nikola Jovic, the No. 27 selection in this year’s NBA draft, from participation with his Serbian national team in the upcoming FIBA Eurobasket tournament, according to his coach, Svetislav Pesic.
Pesic said that both Jovic and Thunder big man Aleksej Pokusevski were denied permission from their NBA teams to play for Serbia in Eurobasket.
“For Pokusevski and Jovic, we did not get permission from their teams,” Pesic said in a report by Eurohoops.net. “The teams want the players to work there and get ready for the new season.”
That’s not always the approach of the Heat toward international competition, most notably last summer, when head coach Erik Spoelstra coached the Team USA Select team that practiced against USA Basketball before the Tokyo Olympics. Bam Adebayo participated in the Olympics last year, and Tyler Herro was a member of the select team.
Guard Gabe Vincent and former Heat forward KZ Okpala were members of the Nigerian national team in last year’s Olympics.
Lot of Reasons to Hold Out Jovic
Still, Jovic is obviously in a different stage of his career, just 19 years old and entering NBA waters for the first time. He participated with the Heat’s entry in the California Classic summer league and averaged 11.3 points on 43.3% shooting, with 42.9% shooting from the 3-point line. He averaged 5.3 rebounds as well.
Jovic was injured during the Heat’s first game at the Las Vegas Summer League, injuring his quad, and did not play again in that tournament. The injury could be part of the reason why the Heat wanted to hold off Jovic from the Serbian team.
And there could be other factors, including the fact that Jovic would not likely play much for the Serbs if the team has its full, healthy complement of players. Serbia is favored to win Eurobasket and would not be in a position to give much playing time to a raw teenager with the likes of Nikola Jokic, Nemanja Bjelica Vasilije Micic and Filip Petrusev on hand.
Jovic Looking to Bulk Up
Even more in favor of the Heat holding out Jovic is the team’s desire to get him into the gym and have him add weight. Jovic is 6-foot-11 and 225 pounds.
“He has a lot of potential,” an NBA scouting executive told Heavy Sports. “He is probably a hit-or-miss kind of guy, he has to smooth out so many things in his game. He is going to have to play the 4 in the NBA, and maybe some small-ball 5. He does not have the muscle for that right now, he is going to have to add to that. But you can see him as a playmaking big guy, a guy who can develop as a ballhandler and a shooter. He is going to need work, though.”
There is an argument to be made that keeping Jovic around Jokic, the Serbian star and two-time MVP, and letting him learn from him might have been a smart play by the Heat. But clearly, they want to keep Jovic in their fold—and out of Eurobasket.