NBA Execs Sound off on Miami Heat ‘Near-Untouchable’ Trade Asset

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has been careful about how to use Nikola Jovic.

Getty Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has been careful about how to use Nikola Jovic.

When Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra felt he had a good matchup on Tuesday night against the Bucks, and with injuries limiting his options, he dusted off what has been one of his secret weapons all season: forward Nikola Jovic. All Jovic did, despite having totaled 10 minutes of playing time since January 24 and logging seven DNPs in his last 10 games, was score 24 points with seven rebounds and three assists.

After the game, Milwaukee coach Doc Rivers said the Heat drafting guys like Jovic and Jaime Jaquez Jr. with relatively late picks, “p***ed me off. Like how do they keep getting these guys in the 20s? They keep doing it.”

And while Spoelstra is judicious—too much so for the appetites of some fans—in how much he uses Jovic, executives around the NBA have a good sense of how much the Heat value Jovic, at least for now. That was clear in conversations around last week’s NBA trading deadline.

“It is not like teams put out a list and say, ‘OK, here’s who is untouchable and here is touchable,’” one Eastern Conference GM said. “That’s not how it works. But anyone who asked about Jovic, it was a pretty firm no. They have never been looking to move him. He has been a near-touchable, at least.”

Nikola Jovic’s Playing Time Has Been Uneven

Jovic has had an odd second season, showing flashes of brilliance when given consistent playing time, but finding consistent playing time hard to come by. He has played seven games in the G League with the Heat’s affiliate in Sioux Falls, and 21 games with the Heat, where he has averaged 6.2 points and 4.1 rebounds and shown proficiency as a big ballhandler and improvement as an overall defender, one of his big weaknesses.

Jovic played 14 minutes in Wednesday’s win over the Sixers. He has played 18 minutes or more 11 times, and the Heat are 7-4 in those games, with Jovic logging only two negative plus/minus results in the box score. His total plus/minus in those games in plus-78.

And he’s 20.

“They could change their roster going forward, but what you’ve got to understand is, if they do, they’re going to change with him moving up in the rotation, not him moving out,” a Western Conference executive said. “Ask around, anyone who has asked about including Nikola Jovic in any kind of deals, there’s never been any real talk involving him.

“I don’t know when. I am sure the kid would like to know when, his people want to know when. But eventually, he is going to be a starter for them and a good one.”

Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra Preaches Patience

Spoelstra has resisted, all season, the urge to throw Jovic into the fire and give him major minutes night after night. The team has obviously felt he is not ready for that. But there is no question he is getting better, even if that is only revealed in fits and starts.

Some around the league believe Jovic could garner more minutes down the stretch run and maybe even as a surprise weapon in the playoffs. But Spoelstra has long preached patience.

“The main thing is continued development and playing time,” Spoelstra said earlier this year. “Whether it was here or whether it was in Sioux Falls, he needs the live reps. And we supplement that with all the film work and the extra drilling and practice work, but it is much more relevant when you are doing now game scouts and you’re depending on him. His improvement is happening quicker. He has positional size. He’s very dynamic when you play him with Bam.”


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