KZ Okpala

Heat Notes: Herro, Okpala, Adebayo, Spoelstra, Olympics

Heat guard Tyler Herro is off to an electric start to the preseason, increasing the hype around the 21-year-old entering his third NBA campaign, Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald writes.

Herro has scored 26, 24 and 26 points in his first three games, respectively, shooting 28-of-50 from the field (56%). Miami will depend on his scoring off the bench as it looks to compete for a title this season.

“He has really improved all across the board,” head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “His skill level is extremely high. He has really worked at it. This is a league that’s becoming a league of skill and he’s developing into one of the most skilled players in this league. You can see he gets where he needs to get. He can get to different levels on the floor. So, it’s a very good start for him.”

There’s more out of Miami today:

  • The clock is ticking on forward KZ Okpala, who’s also entering his third season with the organization, Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel writes. The Heat traded three second-round picks to acquire Okpala on the night of the 2019 NBA Draft, but the 22-year-old has played just 42 games in the last two seasons. Okpala is expected to play behind Max Strus and Markieff Morris as a third-string player to start the season.
  • The team’s game against San Antonio on Friday served as a reunion for Bam Adebayo, Erik Spoelstra and Gregg Popovich, Chiang writes in a different piece for the Miami Herald. Adebayo played for Popovich last summer on Team USA, while Spoelstra served as head coach of the select team. “It was an amazing basketball and life experience,” Spoelstra said. “I’ve admired Pop, like everybody in this business, for years. To be able to see him behind the scenes in that setting was like a Master’s class in coaching and also human being relations. It’s amazing how he makes everybody feel like they have a role, that they matter and he has a great way of making the entire room feel inclusive.”
  • Ira Winderman examines whether Tyler Herro has already cemented his role this season in his latest mailbag for the Sun Sentinel. In addition to using Herro as a sixth man, Miami has also given him some minutes at point guard when Kyle Lowry sits during the preseason.

Heat Notes: Lowry, Power Forwards, Martin, Camp Questions

New Heat starting point guard Kyle Lowry is looking forward to building an on-court relationship with incumbent stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, writes Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald.

Lowry, a six-time All-Star and 2019 title winner with the Raptors, inked a three-year, $85MM contract with Miami in a sign-and-trade deal this summer. Butler and Lowry have been friends since winning a Gold medal together for Team USA in the 2016 Olympics. Lowry is the godfather to Butler’s daughter.

“Having that common interest in the love of the game and how hard we work and how much we want to win, that was the first thing of us being on the same page,” Lowry explained of the origins of his relationship with the All-NBA swingman.

Lowry also expressed excitement about what Adebayo brings to the floor. “Bam can handle the ball,” Lowry raved. “He can make plays, super athletic. He’s high energy. He’s competitive.” Lowry expects that his own facilitating abilities will benefit the big man. The 35-year-old hopes that he can help Adebayo “be in better spots” and get “easier looks, layups and dunks.”

There’s more out of South Beach:

  • Questions remain about how much three-point shooting the Heat will be able to get out of their power forward corps, writes Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. The team’s two new power forward additions, recent champions P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris, have seen their long-range output dip recently. Tucker, 36, is a career 35.9% shooter, but his shooting fell to 32.2% from deep during the Bucks’ 2021 playoff run. Morris connected on 38.6% of his 3.9 triples per game with the Pistons and Lakers during the 2019/20 season, but saw that number fall to 31.1% in 2020/21. KZ Okpala and re-signed big man Dewayne Dedmon could also see time at the power forward position alongside starting Adebayo in Miami’s frontcourt, though both have been unreliable from long range. Dedmon had two seasons with the Hawks, in 2017/18 and 2018/19, in which he averaged 35.5% or better on a decent volume of three point attempts, but has not connected on more than 21% of his threes in a single season since. Seven-footer Omer Yurtseven, meanwhile, is a solid three-point shooter, but Jackson wonders if the Heat will trust him enough to give him meaningful minutes in their rotation.
  • With training camp just around the corner, new two-way player Caleb Martin will do his darnedest to prove his mettle as a candidate for legitimate Heat roster minutes, writes Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel“At the end of the day, regardless if I’m on a two-way or if I was on an Exhibit 10, it doesn’t matter,” Martin said. “I’m just coming into training camp to try to play the best basketball I can and contribute any way I can and impact enough in a way to where I earn minutes.”
  • The Heat are figuring out rotational questions for the fringes of their roster ahead of training camp, says Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Winderman notes that, in the absence of Kendrick Nunn (now with the Lakers) and Goran Dragic (traded to the Raptors as part of the Lowry deal), Gabe Vincent looks like he will begin the season as the Heat’s prime backup point guard. 6’5″ backup shooting guard Tyler Herro could see an uptick in ball handling duties. The rotational fate of forward Okpala, on the last season of a three-year deal, could be figured out in the club’s preseason. Winderman anticipates that Micah Potter, Javonte Smart, Dru Smith and D.J. Stewart will have plenty to prove in the preseason, though they will most likely spend the majority of the 2021/22 season with the Heat’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Each player will hope to intrigue the Heat enough in training camp to encourage a call-up to Miami during the season.

Heat Notes: Garrett, Okpala, Lowry, Aldridge, Herro

Heat rookie Marcus Garrett may take over KZ Okpala‘s role as a defensive specialist off the bench, writes Ira Winderman of The Sun-Sentinel. Garrett was a standout for Miami’s Summer League team and signed a two-way contract this week.

The Heat gave up three future second-round picks to acquire Okpala in a 2019 draft-day trade, but he has struggled with his shot during his first two NBA seasons. He connected at 37.5% from the field and 24.0% from three-point range in limited playing time last year. Winderman states that Garrett’s point-of-attack defense may be a better fit for the team and speculates that the playing time will go to whichever player produces more on offense.

There’s more from Miami:

  • The opportunity to win a title was the main reason that Kyle Lowry chose the Heat in free agency, Winderman relays in a separate story. Lowry explained his reasoning in a recent appearance on CJ McCollum‘s podcast. “For me, it’s only championships or bust,” he said. “Going to Miami, that was a situation where I feel like this is what they want to do. I have a close friend, Jimmy Butler, there and I feel like Miami, that’s what they want to do. It’s about winning championships.” Lowry later added, “If you aren’t playing for championships, what are you playing for? And that’s the only thought process that went into my free agency, is where do I go to become a champion?”
  • The Heat’s history with players who have serious medical conditions may have made them reluctant to pursue LaMarcus Aldridge, Winderman adds in another piece. Aldridge received medical clearance this week to return to the NBA after being forced into retirement when he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat in April. He signed with the Nets, the team he joined after a buyout agreement with the Spurs last season. Miami has gone through similar health scares with Chris Bosh and Alonzo Mourning.
  • Picking up Tyler Herro‘s option for 2022/23 was an easy decision, but the Heat will face a tougher choice next summer when he’s eligible for a rookie scale extension, observes David Wilson of The Miami Herald. More than three quarters of Miami’s projected cap space through the 2023/24 season is tied up in Lowry, Butler, Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson, so extending Herro could result in a huge tax bill.

Southeast Notes: Wizards, Heat Youth, Hawks, Wagner

In a recent piece for The Athletic, Fred Katz and John Hollinger broke down the Wizards’ offseason, and what may still be in store for the new-look Washington team.

In the piece, the writers look at the team’s greatest strengths heading into the 2021/22 season (guard shot-creation and depth), possible defensive concerns stemming from the lack of defense-minded bigs behind 2021 standout Daniel Gafford, and how the team could cobble together mid-size contracts and young players in lieu of picks in order to find trades that help rebalance the roster.

As for where the Wizards end up in the Eastern Conference hierarchy this season, Hollinger says that after the top eight teams in the East, the Wizards are in a group of four where they are as good or better than any of the rest of their peers. Barring a Bradley Beal trade demand, he writes, they’re likely to return to play-in action.

We have more from around the Southeast Division:

  • In a piece for the Miami Herald, Barry Jackson talks to two veteran scouts to get their takes on Heat youngsters Omer Yurtseven, Max Strus, Marcus Garrett and KZ Okpala. Of Yurtseven, one scout says, “I’m not sure that (he) will be a rotation guy this year. But they have something there.” Both scouts agree that Strus can be a situational, end-of-rotation player, and that Okpala has a lot to prove before he’s considered a lock to remain with the team.
  • In an offseason review, Chris Kirschner of The Athetic profiles where the Hawks are now and where they could be going. Within the article, Kirschner quotes president of basketball operations Travis Schlenk as saying, “Those who want to get traded, they want to go somewhere they think they can win. And I think now that perception of us is out there, because we do have a young core that did show success in the playoffs. So the hope would be when a star player does ask to be traded, we’ll be one of the destinations he’ll be open to coming to.”
  • Keith Smith of Spotrac has the official numbers for Moritz Wagner‘s contract with the Magic: two years at the veteran’s minimum, with the second year non-guaranteed. Wagner joins his brother, eighth overall pick Franz Wagner, as part of Orlando’s young rotation.

Heat Notes: Oladipo, Okpala, Vaccinations, Yurtseven

Victor Oladipo, who recently signed a one-year, minimum-salary contract to stay with the Heat, could be the key that unlocks Miami’s future, writes Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

As Winderman details, because the Heat hold Oladipo’s Bird Rights, they can’t trade him this season without his consent, but they also can re-sign him next year without requiring cap space. Given the lack of star power on the 2022 free agency market, if Olapido is able to recover from his quad injury, that could be a bet that pays off in a big way, as his defense, slashing, and shooting ability fits perfectly alongside stars Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and Bam Adebayo.

Oladipo returning to form would also lessen the burden on offense-only players like Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro, Winderman writes, while insulating them to form a smothering defensive unit even with their presence.

We have more news from the Heat:

  • In a separate article, Winderman addresses the idea of a KZ Okpala extension, saying it’s “not even close to a factor,” while also rejecting the idea of giving Okpala extended time in the G League. Because Okpala is on the last year of his contract, Winderman writes, the Heat could easily be giving him those development reps for the benefit of another team.
  • Winderman also addresses the question of whether Summer League breakout star Omer Yurtseven could be a better prospect – and end up a better pro – than the recently-traded Precious Achiuwa. He writes that while Yurtseven has the potential, it’s unlikely he finds the playing time, as the Heat have Adebayo, Dewayne Dedmon, P.J. Tucker and even Markieff Morris blocking his way, whereas Achiuwa will be part of a more limited rotation with the Raptors.
  • The Heat have announced that all employees must have their first vaccination dose by September 1, aside from those with qualifying religious or medical exceptions, tweets Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. “Employees who are not fully vaccinated, or have not submitted a formal request for an accommodation that has been granted or is still in the evaluation process by the next phase of our return to work will be deemed to have resigned,” the Heat said in their statement (Twitter link via Chiang).

Heat Notes: Jarreau, Okpala, Stewart, Yurtseven

A strong Summer League performance has made DeJon Jarreau a leading candidate to grab one of the Heat‘s open two-way slots, writes Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. A thigh contusion forced Jarreau to miss the two games in Sacramento, but he was among the team’s best players in Las Vegas, averaging 11.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists.

The 23-year-old guard played for Miami this summer after going undrafted out of Houston and finds himself in an open competition for a two-way deal. Both of last season’s two-way players, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent, have received standard contracts.

“With DeJon, it’s just his makeup,” said Summer League coach Malik Allen. “He finds a way to put his imprint on the game … He has the vision and it’s just a matter of trying to harness the things that we see so he can keep growing and getting better as an NBA point guard.”

There’s more on the Heat:

  • KZ Okpala went from the playoffs to the Olympics to the Summer League, and now he’s focused on trying to expand his role in his third NBA season, Chiang notes in a separate story. However, Okpala’s path to more minutes appears blocked after Miami added P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris in free agency. Okpala is heading into the final season of a three-year, $4.2MM contract.
  • The Heat see potential in D.J. Stewart, who signed an Exhibit 10 contract on Tuesday, Chiang adds. The undrafted guard out of Mississippi State is likely to end up with the team’s G League affiliate in Sioux Falls. “There is something there. He’s long. He’s got good athleticism. He’s competitive,” Allen said. “And offensively he’s got a little ways to go, but just continuing to develop. … He’s just one of those great intangible guys that has a lot of potential to keep growing in that type of role.”
  • Omer Yurtseven‘s impressive Summer League showing may give him a chance to become Miami’s backup center, per Ira Winderman of The Sun-Sentinel. That job currently belongs to veteran Dewayne Dedmon, but Winderman expects Yurtseven to see spot duty early in the season to determine which frontcourt combinations are most effective.

Heat Notes: Tucker, Oladipo, Haslem, Vincent, Okpala

P.J. Tucker was looking for the right situation in free agency and he believes he has found it with the Heat, according to Barry Jackson and Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. Tucker won a ring after being traded to Milwaukee in March, but the Bucks had limited resources to offer him. He wound up signing with Miami for $15MM over two years.

“When you’re a free agent, you’re looking for a fit, coaching styles, team styles, and this (team) is exactly what I do,” Tucker said after the signing was formally announced earlier today. “Last year, I trained in Miami. So this has been a long time coming. I’m super excited.”

Tucker averaged just 3.7 PPG last season with the Rockets and Bucks, but he has a reputation as one of the league’s best defenders. He’s expected to split time at power forward with fellow new addition Markieff Morris. Tucker thinks the Heat are positioned to become contenders again in the East after being swept in the first round last season.

“We have a tough team with guys that get after it. It’s going to be fun,” he said. “You look at our roster, we’re going to be a tough, gritty team, guys that play two ways, can switch multiple positions. More than anything, I can see us being united. Guys who are like minded and play the same way. If you have a bunch of guys like that on the same team, you have special things happening.”

There’s more from Miami:

  • The Heat are hoping Victor Oladipo may be cleared for full contact by November and could be ready to play in March, Jackson and Chiang state in the same story. A right knee injury limited Oladipo to four games after being acquired in a mid-season trade with Houston, and he underwent surgery on his quadriceps tendon in May. Oladipo re-signed on a one-year, minimum-salary contract that will pay him about $2.4MM.
  • Miami announced all its major offseason moves on Friday and Saturday, and one roster spot still remains open for veteran big man Udonis Haslem, the authors add. The 41-year-old hasn’t decided whether he will return for another season.
  • The Heat expect to have Gabe Vincent and KZ Okpala available when the Las Vegas Summer League starts on Sunday, tweets Ira Winderman of The Sun-Sentinel. Both players represented Nigeria in the Summer Olympics and didn’t take part in this week’s Summer League in Sacramento.

Eight Current NBA Players On Nigeria’s 12-Man Olympic Roster

After making some noise in the exhibition schedule by upsetting Team USA, Nigeria will be looking to become the first African men’s basketball team to win an Olympic medal. And they’ll be doing so with a roster that features eight current NBA players, along with one former NBA player.

Here’s the 12-man squad that will represent Nigeria at the Tokyo games, per the Nigeria Basketball Federation (Twitter link):

Achiuwa, Nwora, Okafor, Okogie, and Okpala are all on guaranteed contracts for next season with their respective teams. Metu and Oni are on non-guaranteed deals, while Vincent will be eligible for restricted free agency after finishing the season on a two-way pact. Udoh, a former sixth overall pick who just finalized a two-year deal with Italian club Virtus Bologna, has appeared in a total of 400 NBA games (regular season and postseason)

While the Nigerian squad isn’t exactly loaded with star power, it’s worth highlighting since it’s rare for any country besides Team USA to send so many current NBA players to the Olympics.

Australia’s team will have seven players who finished the season on NBA rosters, while Spain’s roster features 10 players with at least some NBA experience. But the U.S. team is the only other one in Tokyo that will feature at least eight current NBAers.

Southeast Notes: Dragic, Heat, Unseld, Hornets

Goran Dragic has been with the Heat for over six seasons, and has played some of the best basketball of his career in Miami. He was arguably the third-best player during the Heat’s run to the Finals last season before a foot injury limited him to two games against the Lakers. But the 35-year-old point guard is coming off an injury-plagued season and owed over $19MM next season.

According to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Heat don’t want to trade Dragic this offseason. But if a deal for a star presents itself, the team would be willing to do so.

We have more news from around the Southeast Division:

  • The Heat have traded away both their picks in this year’s draft, but that hasn’t stopped team president Pat Riley for setting the edict to the scouting department to find and secure useful players from the draft, writes Winderman. “We don’t have any picks, but I can guarantee you we’ll probably get a couple of good players out of this year’s draft, somehow,” Riley said at the end of the season. The Heat have a track record of landing productive players like Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson despite scant draft resources. They’ll try to repeat history this year.
  • Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald looks at how the Olympics experience could help the Heat‘s Nigerian trio of Gabe Vincent, KZ Okpala and Precious Achiuwa. Team Nigeria has been dominant during exhibition games, but if they don’t make the medal round, it’s possible the three young players will be back in Las Vegas for Summer League, looking to build off the momentum and confidence they’ve gained from this experience.
  • Wes Unseld Jr. is not just a familiar name, he’s also an experienced coach who has paid his dues, writes Fred Katz in a piece for The Athletic on the Wizards’ newest head coach. Katz writes that Unseld sold the Wizards based not only on his track record, but also on ideas for how to better utilize star Bradley Beal and last season’s lottery pick Deni Avdija.
  • The Hornets are working out six prospects today, per a tweet from the team: Derrick Alston Jr., Ian Dubose, Romeao Ferguson, Ariel Hukporti, Carlik Jones, and Ruot Monyyong. The Hornets have the 56th and 57th picks in the draft, the range in which most of said prospects may be available.

Southeast Notes: Crowder, Heat, Mosley, Wizards

The Heat made a key personnel decision that could have adversely impacted their 2020/21 season in letting Jae Crowder walk as a free agent during the 2020 offseason, writes Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The club opted to not sign Crowder to a long-term deal so that it could keep its coffers open for the summer of 2021, when Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was scheduled to be a free agent. Of course, Antetokounmpo then signed a lucrative extension with Milwaukee, and the Bucks would go on to sweep the Heat 4-0 in the first round of the 2021 postseason.

Crowder, meanwhile, signed a three-year, $29.2MM deal with the Suns. Though Crowder’s statistical numbers may be modest, Winderman notes that his toughness and versatility would have significantly aided Miami’s 2020/21 season. Crowder is now bringing those same attributes to bear for the Suns in the NBA Finals. The club is up 2-0 against the Bucks.

There’s more out of the Southeast Division:

  • Team Nigeria head coach Mike Brown sang the praises of Heat forwards Precious Achiuwa and KZ Okpala after they contributed to Team Nigeria’s 90-87 exhibition match upset over Team USA in an Olympics tuneup game, writes Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Achiuwa and Okpala’s contributions went beyond their minor offensive output. Their Miami teammate Gabe Vincent, meanwhile, enjoyed a stellar offensive game for Nigeria, scoring a team-high 21 points on 66.7% field goal shooting.
  • Several current and former Magic players expressed their excitement when the news broke today that Orlando would be hiring Mavericks assistant Jamahl Mosley to be the club’s new head coach, writes Chris Hays of The Orlando Sentinel. “I’m happy for him,” Magic forward Jonathan Isaac told Hays. “He’s been faithful to the grind and the league for many years.” Former Magic guard J.J. Redick, who was coached by Mosley in Dallas this season, tweeted “Love this!!”
  • The Wizards, who have the No. 15 pick in the 2021 draft, will hold pre-draft workouts for six draft candidates on Monday, per a team press release. Richmond guard Blake Francis, Florida guard Tre Mann, Avtodor Saratov forward Nikita Mikhailovskii, Tennessee swingman Yves Pons, Stanford forward Oscar Da Silva, and Coppin State wing Koby Thomas will all get a look from Washington’s brain trust.