Even with the 2023 NBA Summer League in full tilt in Vegas, the Miami Heat’s focus remains locked towards negotiations for Damian Lillard. The Portland Trail Blazers star has singled out the Heat as his preferred destination, so it’s only a matter of finding a trade that suits both parties.
Even then, with the Heat expected to put everyone but Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo on the table in trade talks for Lillard, a few of their players in Summer League may end up playing huge roles for the team next season.
The Heat have become famous for bringing out the best in unheralded players, as evidenced by the prominent roles four undrafted players played in their run to the 2023 NBA Finals. Thus, it’ll be interesting to see which player is next in line in that respect.
Through three games in Vegas (and two games in the California Classic in Sacramento), what are the biggest things the Heat have learned about some of the most important players on their Summer League roster?
Orlando Robinson looks like a long-term keeper
One of the Heat’s more pressing areas of need during their impressive 2023 playoff run was a quality backup center. Cody Zeller gave it his all every time he was on the court, but he was too slow to keep up for extended stretches. Meanwhile, Omer Yurtseven clearly fell out of favor with the Heat coaching staff as he suffered an injury-riddled 2022-23 campaign. Thus, Bam Adebayo had to shoulder an incredibly heavy workload.
So to that end, the Heat signed Thomas Bryant in free agency. Bryant is a great offensive player to have, as his touch around the hoop is sublime and he can also space the floor. But Bryant is a defensive sieve, and he doesn’t have the best playoff viability. He barely played during the Denver Nuggets’ championship run.
But Orlando Robinson could end up being the Heat’s second-best center next season when all is said and done. Robinson, the 23-year old center, has been showcasing his well-rounded game during Summer League. His size (7’0) jumps off the page, and the things he does at his size simply makes him an exciting prospect for the Heat to have.
Robinson is quick on pick-and-rolls, diving to the cup with conviction every trip down. He also has soft touch near the rim, as he tries to go up for dunks every time he could. And to top it all off, he’s not just an interior scorer. He can also pop for threes, nailing three triples during his tour de force against the Boston Celtics during their first game in Vegas.
His feel for the game separates him even further. Robinson can read the game at a high level, positioning himself well to haul in rebounds and moving his feet well when guarding in space. He also doesn’t force anything, as he’s a willing passer who lets the game come to him.
Robinson hasn’t showed much shot-blocking ability, but length and feel could make him, at the very least, a bit of a plus on that end of the floor.
The Heat signed the 23-year old center to a standard contract for a reason — and they may reap the rewards of Orlando Robinson’s development for the long haul.
Nikola Jovic is more expendable than Jaime Jaquez Jr.
Both Nikola Jovic and Jaime Jaquez Jr. aren’t safe from trade talks, as promising as their futures may be for the Heat. Damian Lillard is definitely worth giving up either of those two, perhaps even both, for. But if the Heat were to choose, Jaquez may be the more desirable prospect to keep, even though he’s two years older than Jovic.
Jaquez had his fair share of struggles during Summer League. But the eye test shows that he may be more of an impact player for the Heat for the years to come than Jovic. Jaquez knifes into the lane with such precision and strength, and his movements around the floor are more effortless than that of Jovic’s.
Meanwhile, Nikola Jovic, even though he’s had some solid games for the team during Summer League, looks slow and appears to force his way through a lot of shots. Jovic has made some difficult shots because he’s a talented player, but against tougher competition, the way he plays may not translate too seamlessly.
Given the Heat’s win-now mandate, Jaquez could be a more helpful piece for them on the interim. So if there’s anyone who the Heat must fight harder to keep away from the Blazers’ grasp, it’s the 18th pick of the 2023 NBA Draft.
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