Heat looking for Nikola Jovic to again stand tall at NBA’s Las Vegas summer league – The Denver Post


Downsizing typically is the story of summer league, when 6-foot-8 or 6-7 college centers have to learn the perimeter skill sets that will allow them to survive in the oversized world of the NBA.

That’s what makes Nikola Jovic’s situation with the Miami Heat so unique.

The Heat are in the midst of upsizing, getting their 6-foot-11, 223-pound first-round pick into his rightful place amid the league’s sequoias.

“I mean, it’s different, for sure,” the 19-year-old said as the Heat open another summer camp in advance of the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League. “I always played shooting guard or small forward, and now I’m at power forward or even center.

“So I don’t have the ball that much. I’m trying to cut a little bit more. I need to be on the rebounds. I need to make good screens. So I didn’t do that stuff that much last season. So I’m trying to get used to it.”

In Europe, the Serbian served as set-up man and wing scorer. Those the Heat have plenty of, in more typical NBA packages, from Jimmy Butler to Tyler Herro to Kyle Lowry to Victor Oladipo and Max Strus.

What made Jovic so intriguing in the draft was the possibility of taking those perimeter skills closer to the pivot, possibly making an already dynamic front line with Bam Adebayo something even more diverse.

“He’s going to be the guy who’s going to be the recipient of good ball movement, hopefully, if we’re playing the right way,” said Heat assistant coach Malik Allen, who is guiding the team’s summer roster. “So that’s a difference. So that’s the adjustment for him, incrementally getting more and more patient.

“He’s still going to be up and down. He hasn’t got it yet. But he’s been really, really receptive to the coaching and teaching and trying to learn and grasp everything as it’s coming to him.”

Without coach Erik Spoelstra in this part of the Heat offseason equation, there is no one to constantly cut short conversation about positions. But even in Spoelstra’s position-less universe, there still are requirements for big men to play big.

“The more comfortable he gets with it,” Allen said of Jovic bringing his game closer to the basket, “the more he starts understanding angles and creating angles and creating space and pockets. He’s got a chance to be a pretty good playmaker from there.”

The irony is that the NBA has become a game of offenses typically attempting to draw opposing big men to perimeter defensive assignments off the pick-and-roll.

So on that end of the court, Jovic very much still will be operating in space.

“I like the competitiveness, and that’s a big, big part of it,” Allen said of the defensive work Jovic has done on the perimeter through three summer-league appearances at the just-completed California Classic in San Francisco. “I’m not saying he’s not ready to play NBA defense. I just thought he did a good job of taking the challenge. I think the more he understands getting called up, trying to get switches or those closeout situations, that’s where he has a lot to gain and improve on when he’s in those closeouts.

“He’s got a chance. The stronger he gets, the more he can anticipate things – he reads the game pretty well on both ends – I think he’ll get more comfortable in those situations. So the more experience he’s going to get, he’s just going to keep growing.”

The next chapter will come on the campus of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where the Heat will play five more summer-league games, starting 5:30 p.m. Saturday against the summer roster of the Boston Celtics (NBA TV).

That’s where the Heat hope their next big thing will stand tall, not shrinking back to the comfort zone previously established while playing in Europe.

“The game is different here,” Allen said. “He’s going to be a guy who’s getting switched on a lot. And he’s got to get used to playing against that. And even at a small five, it’s going to be the same as if he’s playing the three in a lot of ways.

“So he’s just got to get used to that. And we’re still trying to give him freedom. I still want him to get it and bust out and push the ball and make plays.”



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