Saturday, November 27, 2021

Heat Forward gets a long-awaited opportunity and delivers

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In many ways, Miami Heat striker KZ Okpala still feels like a rookie even though he’s third year with the team. To date, he has appeared in just 48 games for Miami, mostly as a garbage time player. Furthermore, after missing the summer league as a rookie, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented him – and many others – from getting game time in the summer of 2020 or in the G League the following year.

Consequently, there are some who expect that its greatest value could come in exchange for the Heat. And if he doesn’t get the minutes it takes to develop, they may be just right.

So far this season it has been largely similar for the 22-year-old. On Monday, however, Okpala finally got his first extended season at OKC, as the team skipped Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. He also took the opportunity.

In 15 minutes on the court, Okpala scored eight points, adding seven rebounds, an assist and a steal. After the competition, his coach couldn’t help but praise the performance.

Okapala has yet to prove himself as a shooting threat at the NBA level – and his 3-out-of-9 (and 0-out-of-3-from-depth) performance against the Thunder definitely didn’t get the job done. What he was able to do, however, is show the skills that have enabled him to hold a place on a competing list in multiple campaigns.

And heat trainer Erik Spoelstra is definitely there for that.

“KZ’s versatility on the defensive really helps, and that’s ahead of the other aspects of his game as he develops all of those other aspects,” Spoelstra said of the Miami Herald. “He was able to play to his strengths tonight and gave us a really good boost. I was very encouraged by his minutes. “

Spoelstra also noted that fans haven’t seen him on the pitch lately, but the former second-round pick has been busy behind the scenes.

“He took the time,” he said. “Everyone else on the road trip really had their options and finally KZ had its chance and made the best of it. He was ready. “

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As it stands, Okpala is in the third and final year of the $ 4.2 million three-year pact he signed in 2019. If the heat makes him a qualifying offer this summer, he will be a restricted free agent. There is no guarantee that Team President Pat Riley will do this, however.

While his defensive energy, versatility and work ethic fit well with the Heat culture, he needs to develop some kind of offensive play to stay in the NBA long term. Before the season, the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson wrote this about Okpala:

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