There was one big question surrounding the Miami Heat entering this year’s NBA Draft: Would the Heat keep or trade its first-round pick?
The Heat could have attached the selection to a multi-year contract in a deal to offload salary. Among the other possibilities, Miami could have packaged the pick with a player in a trade to acquire an earlier first-round selection or dealt the pick for multiple second-rounders or a future selection.
But the Heat chose to keep the 27th overall pick in Thursday night’s NBA Draft held at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, taking Serbian forward Nikola Jovic.
“We just think this kid is a burgeoning talent that you couldn’t pass up at 27 from that standpoint,” Heat president Pat Riley said late Thursday night shortly after the team selected Jovic. “There were other guys on the board that we liked, but I also think that they were duplicates of what we had. So this is a very unique player. Unique size, unique skills. So that’s where we wanted to go with it.”
Among those the Heat bypassed were Kentucky guard TyTy Washington Jr., Milwaukee forward Patrick Baldwin Jr., Ohio State forward EJ Liddell and UCLA forward Peyton Watson, who were all still on the board when Miami picked.
Riley called Jovic “a developmental player” and noted that he was at the top of the Heat’s draft board at the time of its first-round selection and the team “stayed true to our board.”
The 19-year-old Jovic (6-11 and 223 pounds) is a skilled forward with a 7-foot wingspan who played professionally for Mega Mozzart in Serbia. He averaged 11.7 points while shooting 42.8 percent from the field, 35.6 percent on threes and 75.4 percent from the foul line, 4.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists to 2.7 turnovers and 0.4 blocks per game in 25 appearances for Mega Mozzart during the 2021-22 season
“If I get in a game right now, I’m sure I can help the team,” Jovic said on a call with reporters after being drafted by the Heat. “My passing, vision. What a lot of people don’t see is I improved on defense. I’m a big guard who can switch on everything. Things that can translate immediately are my shot, my passing skills and basketball IQ.”
Jovic, who made his Serbian National Team debut as an 18-year old, averaged 18.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.7 blocks over 31 minutes per game while playing up a year at the 2021 FIBA U19 World Cup.
“He’s played against some really good teams, he’s played against a lot of good players, he’s been coached very well,” Riley said. “So he’s got 6-10 size, he’s long, he can handle the ball, he’s tremendously skilled. So we’ll see where he goes from here. We feel like we got a very good pick at that number.”
In the NBA’s 2021-22 preseason survey of general managers, Jovic was among those who received votes for the best international player not in the NBA.
According to the NBA’s scouting report on Jovic, he’s a “skilled three-level shot maker with tremendous size for a wing who has been productive in his first full season playing with Mega Mozzart’s senior team. … Showing intriguing potential as a floor spacer but getting opportunities to handle the ball in the pick and roll and attack matchups from the post and the perimeter, his talent was apparent at times when his pull-up was falling. While he has room to get stronger, more comfortable using his frame against smaller defenders, and steadier with the ball to help him create higher percentage shots, his ability to score with touch from all over the floor and pass on the move at his size is certainly intriguing.”
The Ringer’s scouting report on Jovic compared him to Danilo Gallinari and described him as as a “player at his best with the ball in his hands in the open court or in the pick-and-roll. He’s capable of getting into his shot from any area of the floor. He doesn’t force it, though. Jovic has good shot selection and has the vision as a pass to make his teammates better.”
Jovic is slotted to make about $2.2 million next season as the 27th pick and will be under team control for five seasons. Next up for Jovic is likely summer league basketball with the Heat in San Francisco and Las Vegas, with the team scheduled to travel to the West Coast on Tuesday to begin summer league practices.
“The thing that impressed us the most at that time was the fact that he has great size, he has great length, he has great skills, he’s young and he’s going to get better,” Riley continued. “How we play, switching all the time, we’re sort of this positionless basketball. He has the ability to do those things. So that’s how we see him.”
Jovic, who was born in England before moving to Serbia and grew up playing water polo and basketball, is only the second first-round pick kept by the Heat in franchise history who played his previous season overseas. The other was Martin Muursepp, who was the 25th overall pick in the 1996 draft and went on to play just 83 games in the NBA and 10 for the Heat.
Of the decision not to trade the No. 27 pick, Riley said: “We talked about it and I would rather get the player now. We have a team that we don’t really know in free agency what’s going to happen. But I’d rather get the player now, develop him and you can always defer picks down the road if you want to do that. But there wasn’t anything that was really that exciting in the second round or whatever it is for the pick, so we decided to use the pick.”
Jovic has some familiarity with the Heat, as he attended Game 5 of Miami’s second-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers at FTX Arena. The Heat won that game 120-85.
“The atmosphere there was crazy,” Jovic said. “The first impression was great.”
As for other teams around the Eastern Conference, the Orlando Magic took forward Paolo Banchero with the No. 1 pick, the Detroit Pistons drafted guard Jaden Ivey at No. 5, the Indiana Pacers selected forward Bennedict Mathurin at No. 6, and the Washington Wizards picked guard Johnny Davis at No. 10.
Jovic is the only player the Heat added in this year’s draft, as Miami was forced to forfeit this year’s second-round selection as a result of the NBA’s investigation into last offseason’s sign-and-trade acquisition of Kyle Lowry.
The Heat’s current salary-cap breakdown for next season includes 10 players: Jimmy Butler ($37.7 million), Bam Adebayo ($30.4 million), Lowry ($28.3 million), Duncan Robinson ($16.9 million), Tyler Herro ($5.7 million), Max Strus ($1.8 million nonguaranteed salary), Gabe Vincent ($1.8 million nonguaranteed salary), Omer Yurtseven ($1.8 million nonguaranteed salary), Haywood Highsmith ($1.8 million nonguaranteed salary) and the projected $2.2 million cap hit for Jovic.
Including cap holds, the Heat has about $130.4 million committed to salaries for next season with the 2022-23 salary cap projected to be set at $122 million and the luxury-tax threshold projected to be set at $149 million. The full $1.8 million salaries of Strus, Vincent and Yurtseven become guaranteed for next season on Wednesday and the first $50,000 of Highsmith’s $1.8 million salary for next season becomes guaranteed if he’s not waived before July 1.
The Heat is expected to operate as an over-the-cap team in free agency this offseason since it does not hold cap space. By entering free agency over the cap, the Heat will have the opportunity to bring back most of last season’s roster that finished just one win short of reaching the NBA Finals because it will be able to leverage the Bird rights of its own free agents to re -sign some of them.
As an over-the-cap team, the Heat will also have a few exceptions available to sign players: the $10.3 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception and the $4.1 biannual exception, or the $6.4 million taxpayer midlevel exception.
The Heat would be able to use both the $10.3 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception and $4.1 biannual exception in one scenario, but using either of those exceptions would hard cap the Heat at about $155 million.
Or the Heat could opt to use the $6.4 million taxpayer midlevel exception instead, which would not hard cap the Heat. But using this exception will prohibit Miami from using the $10.3 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception and $4.1 million biannual exception during the 2022-23 NBA calendar.
With forward PJ Tucker expected to opt out of his $7.4 million player option with the Heat for next season before Wednesday’s deadline, the Heat will have six players from its season-ending roster enter free agency this summer: Dewayne Dedmon, Udonis Haslem, Markieff Morris , Victor Oladipo and Tucker will be unrestricted free agents, and Caleb Martin will be a restricted free agent.
The Heat holds full Bird rights for Haslem and Oladipo, so it can exceed the salary cap to re-sign them up to their maximum salary despite being over the cap.
The Heat holds Dedmon’s early Bird rights, so it can exceed the salary cap to re-sign him to a contract with a starting salary of up to about $11 million but for no less than two seasons.
The Heat does not hold any form of Bird rights for Morris, Tucker and Martin. That means Miami is limited to either the non-Bird exception, the bi-annual exception, one of the mid-level exceptions or a minimum contract to re-sign them this summer
Free-agent negotiations across the NBA can begin on June 30 at 6 pm, with free-agent signings permitted to start on July 6 at noon.
This story was originally published June 23, 2022 10:55 PM.