Jacari McRae | June 2nd, 2020
The Miami Heat have been one of the surprising NBA teams this season. Solid contribution from their rookies is a major reason why. Kendrick Nunn went from being undrafted to becoming the team’s starting point guard. Tyler Herro has been huge in the crunch time for the Heat this season. Chris Silva was the team’s backup center in the beginning of the season before falling out of the rotation.
One player we didn’t mention was KZ Okpala, who missed the early part of the season with a strained Achilles tendon. The Heat rookie has spent most of his season with the Sioux Falls Skyforce. He played 20 games in the NBA G-league and averaged 11.7 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.1 blocks. He played his first meaningful NBA minutes with the Heat on February 7th in their loss against the Sacramento Kings.
Okpala Making Strides
Heat vice president and assistant general manager Adam Simon has been very impressed with Okpala’s progress so far.
“Once mid-January came around, we saw the strides,” Simon said, via Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. “He was feeling more comfortable with the ball in his hands. The game was slowing down for him. The greatest things he was doing were on the defensive end, making an impact guarding multiple positions. At times, he was switched onto (centers), guarding both forward positions, being versatile, doing a great job on the glass. All those things were positives.”
Simon also talked about Okpala’s improving offensive game.
Besides running the floor well, “he’s a good midrange shooter,” Simon said. “He’s extending out to three-point shooting [range] and has been getting better at that. He’s being more selective. What he’s good at is understanding mismatches. He’s got a good handle; if he’s defended by a slower player, he can use his handle to defeat them off the dribble. Against smaller defenders, he can use his size to shoot over guys. That’s his best strength offensively — he’s good attacking and getting in position to shoot over guys.”
Before the season started, everyone knew playing time would be limited for Okpala. The NBA will be testing players regularly for COVID-19. The Heat will prepare accordingly. And should the team lose players, they’ll need Okpala to stay ready.
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