Nikola Jovic ready to keep learning as Miami Heat rookie

Whether the Miami Heat can find a trade to shake up its roster for next season is still up in the air. But there is already one new face on the roster with plenty of upside and lot to prove.

While 12 of the 13 players currently signed by the Heat to standard contracts for this upcoming season were also on the season-ending roster, Serbian rookie forward Nikola Jovic is the one player who joined Miami this summer.

“I’m still learning,” said Jovic, who was selected by the Heat with the 27th overall pick in last month’s draft. “I just need a little time.”

That much was clear in summer league when Jovic, who turned 19 on June 9, went through ups and downs that revealed his intriguing potential but also the room for growth in his game.

A quad contusion forced Jovic to miss the Heat’s final four summer league games, as he averaged 8.5 points on 13-of-31 (41.9 percent) shooting from the field and 6-of-14 (42.9 percent) shooting on threes and five rebounds in four games before the injury cut his summer league shorts.

Most of that production came in one game, when Jovic recorded 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field and 5-of-7 shooting from three-point range and nine rebounds in a July 5 win over the Golden State Warriors’ summer squad. Jovic totaled just nine points on 4-of-15 (26.7 percent) shooting from the field and 1-of-7 shooting on threes in the other three summer league games he appeared in.

“This is going to be a process with him,” Heat assistant coach and summer league head coach Malik Allen said of Jovic earlier this month during summer league. “It’s not going to come right away. He has to be steady. I know what it’s going to look like in terms of his development and how it’s going to keep evolving because he will. He’s got so much skill and potential.”

Aside from the fact that Jovic recently turned 19 and is living in a new country after growing up in Europe and playing last season in Serbia, he’s also adjusting to a new role with the Heat.

Jovic (6-10, 205) played as a perimeter player who often had the ball in his hands to create for himself and others in Europe. Miami is using him as a power forward who is primarily operating as a screener and off the ball, which is the role the Heat needs him to play alongside primary offensive options like Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro.

“He’s not necessarily the guy always making the play,” Allen said of Jovic. “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. So that’s a difference. That’s the adjustment for him, where he’s 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.”

Jovic will also need time to become more comfortable on the other end of the court, as he’ll face some obvious physical defensive limitations early in his NBA career while playing in the frontcourt. He’ll need to add more muscle to his frame to avoid being picked on, along with simply learning how to play in the Heat’s defensive system.

“I think the more he understands, getting called up trying to get switches or those closeout situations, that’s where he’s got a lot to gain and improve on when he’s in those closeouts,” Allen said. “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.”

Even as the Heat’s first-round pick at a position of need after the departure of forward PJ Tucker in free agency, Jovic’s rookie season could be more about development than playing time.

Jovic returned to Serbia following summer league and has been invited to try out for the Serbian national team ahead of EuroBasket 2022, which begins Sept. 1. But he also knows he needs to get to work in Miami to prepare for his first NBA season.

“I’m a rookie. I have a lot to work to do,” Jovic said before receiving the tryout invite from the Serbian national team. “I showed I need to work a lot. So I’ll be back [in Miami] pretty soon. But just I need to go home, see my family a little bit, get some stuff.”

BAM HOLDING YOUTH CAMP IN MIAMI

Adebayo will hold his fourth annual youth basketball clinic on Saturday at Riviera Preparatory School in Kendall.

Campers will be grouped by age, with Adebayo offering tips and hands-on instruction. The clinic will take place from 9 am to 1 pm for campers ranging from third grade to sixth grade and from 1 pm to 5 pm for those from seventh grade to 12th grade.

To register for Adebayo’s youth basketball clinic, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bam-adebayos-youth-clinic-tickets-290962154637. The registration fee is $100.

Profits made from the youth basketball clinic will benefit the BAM Foundation, which has a mission “to change lives for single mothers while changing the future chances, choices and challenges for children.”

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.

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