Heat president Pat Riley on Nikola Jovic: 'He has all the skills.'

Heat president Pat Riley on Nikola Jovic: ‘He has all the skills.’

The Miami Heat spent its 2022 first-round selection — No. 27 overall — on 19-year-old Serbian forward Nikola Jovic, the player with the eerily similar name to reigning back-to-back NBA MVP Nikola Jokic. Differentiating between the two names will admittedly be an initial obstacle for all of us, including myself, to overcome — but I digress.

There was plenty of pre-draft speculation that the Heat were ultimately going to trade out of the pick, specifically trading back to pile up the extra assets.

Heat insider Greg Sylvander of Five Reasons Sports Network reported Thursday that they “explored” trading back to the second-round while potentially adding another first-round pick in 2025 or 2026. The caveat, however, was if a “handful of prospects” persuaded them to stay pat (pun intended) and draft a player that fell to them.

In short: While his size and raw ability game might slightly differ from the aforementioned two-time MVP and one of the best players in the world, Miami might’ve ultimately found their pot of gold that fell into their lap at No. 27, prompting them to pounce on the selection.

Last season with Mega Basket in the Adriatic League (Serbia), he averaged 12.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 0.7 steals, shooting 41.4 percent from the floor, 31.5 percent from 3-point range and 71.8 percent from the free-throw line , earning the league’s Young Player of the Year award. In the U19 World Cup last summer, he averaged 18.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.7 blocks, shooting 49 percent from the floor, 36.4 percent (12-33) from 3-point range and 65.2 percent from the charity stripe.

“The thing that impressed us the most [about Jovic] was that he’s got great size, great length, great skills, he’s young and he’s going to get better,” Heat president Pat Riley told reporters Thursday evening. “And how we play — switching all the time, position-less basketball — he has the ability to do those things. So that’s how we see him. How he develops will determine whether or not he evolves into the kind of player that we can keep.

Thursday marked the first time Miami drafted an international prospect outright in the first round without any collegiate experience, per Stathead. The only other time Miami’s lasted past the first round with an international player was when Martin Muursepp, who played in Estonia, was traded from the Utah Jazz in 1996.

Riley acknowledged that the player they were planning on drafting anyways likely was going a younger and developing player — criteria that Jovic, who just turned 19 on June 9, met.

“He grew about seven or eight inches over the last couple of years, so he still knows more development’s going to come,” he added. “I think all of the competition internationally — whether it was in Europe or wherever the players come from — the quality of competition has really gone up. He’s played against some really good teams, a lot of good players and he’s been coached very well … We feel like we got a very good pick.”

He stated that they had discussions about potentially moving back, but ultimately came to the conclusion that he wanted the player and kick start the development process instead of accumulating the extra assets that might’ve not less enticing to another team.

“I wanted to get the player now, develop him and you can always defer picks down the road if you want to do that,” Riley said. “But there wasn’t anything that was that exciting from getting another second or whatever it was for the pick, so we decided to use the pick.”

According to pundits and other evaluators, the biggest wart in Jovic’s game is his defense; some don’t currently believe that Jovic possesses the requisite strength, quickness and/or focus on that end of the floor, despite utilizes those traits to his advantage offensively.

Riley didn’t see it that way, stating that all players at are between ages 19-21 are “never really great defenders.”

“The whole defensive disposition first has to come in your mind and in your heart,” he said. “I think the kid’s athletic enough, quick enough, long enough to play defense that we want him to.

“Individually, [opponents] will probably pick on him like they pick on everyone else,” Riley said, smirking.

Miami snagged a prospect that’s multi-dimensional offensive player. As Mega’s de-facto point forward, Jovic’s ability to handle, take defenders off the dribble on closeouts, and create well 6-foot-11 as well as executing hit-ahead passes and simple pick-and-roll reads makes him a very intrigiuing said next to Bam Adebayo. That’s especially apparent if he’s becomes more consistently efficient with his 3-point shot and effectively space the floor above-the-break and from the corner.

“[Jovic] is a burgeoning talent,” Riley said. “You couldn’t pass him up at 27.”

Watch Riley’s full interview below:

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