Heat Forward’s Job on Thin Ice: Needs to Be ‘Working Double Overtime’

KZ Okpala

Getty KZ Okpala #11 of the Miami Heat handles the ball in the first half against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena on May 16, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan.

Miami Heat forward KZ Okpala was already facing an uphill battle competing for minutes during the 2021-22 NBA season after the team acquired veterans P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris in free agency, however, his continued struggles on offense makes it highly unlikely the 22-year-old will regularly step off the bench.

The Heat sent out three second-round picks in order to draft Okpala as their No.32 overall pick in 2019, but due to COVID-19, this was the Standford alum’s first time competing in the NBA’s summer league. During the first four games, he scored a total of just 25 points, shooting a paltry 23.5% both from the field and beyond the line.

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Okpala’s best performance came during the final game of the Heat’s summer league, when Omer Yurtseven, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, and Marcus Garrett were out. During the Heat’s 83-82 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Okpala scored 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field, 4-of-5 on threes, four rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block.

“I think today I was really working through the system,” Okpala said after the game,” as reported by Miami Herald’s Anthony Chiang. “Obviously, a lot of our scorers were out. So everybody gets more shots. So it’s just a matter of knocking them down.”

Okpala showed a spurt of what he’s capable of during the Heat’s regular-season game against the Detroit Pistons on May 16, scoring 17 points in 34 minutes of play. But finishing summer league play averaging 8.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and two assists — these disappointing stats won’t propel Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra into using Okpala as a primary backup playmaker. And the 6-foot-8 forward knows it.

“I know when I get out of here, I’m going to be working double overtime,” Okpala said. “So it’s going to be good, it’s going to be fun.” Heat’s training camp starts on September 28.

Okpala Is in the Final Season of His Heat Contract

Time is not on Okapala’s side when it comes to breaking out of his offensive slump. Okpala is now entering the final season of a three-year, $4.2 million contract, and while he can create a defensive presence on the perimeter, his offensive struggles “limit him to a 3-and-D option at best,” Sun Sentinel‘s Ira Winderman surmised following the conclusion of the NBA’s summer league.

Malik Allen, Heat’s regular-season assistant coach who led the summer league team in Las Vegas and Sacramento, noted that Okpala is putting in his best effort:

The takeaway I have is he stayed with it. It wasn’t the start that he necessarily wanted, especially on the offensive end. But you got to keep working and keep at it, and he did every day while he was here.

Outside of practice, he was in the gym trying to get himself back. And, again, it culminated on the last day. It was great to see. But for him, it was a work in progress. And it’s kind of good to be able to actually see at the end of this him play well in the last game before we break.

As for Okpala, he’s more than ready to switch up the narrative on his offensive game. “I think it’s just confidence,” Okpala said of shooting threes. “Confidence when I step into my shot, so being mentally locked in and just putting the reps in and keep working.”

Miami Heat’s 2021-22 NBA Roster So Far

While the Heat said goodbye to Kendrick Nunn, Andre Iguodala, Trevor Ariza, and Nemanja Bjelica, the team also lost Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa in the deal that brought Lowry to Miami.

In addition to Okpala, the following 13 players are locked in for the Heat’s 2021-22 NBA season:

Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, Udonis Haslem, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, P.J. Tucker, Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, KZ Dewayne Dedmon, Markieff Morris, Victor Oladipo, and Omer Yurtseven.

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