Nikola Jovic’s first two summer league games were shaky, but the Miami Heat’s first-round pick flashed his intriguing offensive potential Tuesday.
The skilled 19-year-old big man turned in his best summer league performance yet in the Heat’s 94-70 blowout win over the Golden State Warriors at an empty Chase Center to close the California Classic. The game was only open to NBA scouts and executives.
It marked the Heat’s first win of the summer, as it ended the California Classic with a 1-2 record. Next up for Miami is a five-game stint at Las Vegas Summer League, which begins on Saturday against the Boston Celtics (5:30 p.m., NBA TV).
“He’s been so humble and he wants to be good like right away, which is a good trait to have,” Heat assistant coach and summer league head coach Malik Allen said of Jovic. “He’s almost like apologetic after the last two [games]. I just told him, ‘You just got to keep playing and keep trusting and keep learning.’”
After a rough start to summer league, Jovic bounced back in a big way in Tuesday’s win with a game-high 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field and 5-of-7 shooting from three-point range and nine rebounds (six offensive rebounds and three defensive rebounds).
Through the Heat’s first two summer league games, the Serbian rookie forward had totaled just nine points on 4-of-14 (28.6 percent) shooting from the field and 1-of-7 (14.3 percent) shooting from three-point range, seven rebounds, one assist and two turnovers in 49 minutes.
Jovic’s first week with the Heat’s summer league team has required a few adjustments from what he became accustomed to in Serbia, including a move to the frontcourt after playing as more of a perimeter player in Europe. Instead of having the ball in his hands, the Heat is also using Jovic as an off-ball scorer and playmaker more often.
“It’s different for sure,” Jovic said. “I played always as a shooting guard and small forward. Now I’m at power forward or even center. I don’t have the ball that much. I’m trying to cut a little bit more. I need to be in there for rebounds, I need to set good screens. I didn’t do that stuff that much last season. So I’m trying to get used to it. That’s why I can say I had kind of a rough first few nights.”
Jovic (6-11, 223), who was drafted by the Heat with the 27th overall pick, was sharp from the start Tuesday. He opened the scoring by hitting a catch-and-shoot three and then scored eight points in the second quarter to enter halftime with 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field and 1-of-1 shooting on threes and five rebounds in 14 minutes.
Jovic scored two of his first-half points on a one-legged turnaround fadeaway jumper from 12 feet away that resembled Dirk Nowitzki’s signature move.
In the second half, Jovic scored 14 points with the help of 4-of-6 shooting on threes.
“He wound up being the recipient of wide open shots, and I think that’s a little bit of the difference,” Allen added regarding Jovic’s transition to more of an off-ball role. “He’s not necessarily the guy always making the play. 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.
“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.”
But Jovic wasn’t alone, he had plenty of help from his Heat summer league teammates.
Even with two-way contract guard Javonte Smart having the day off, four Heat players finished with double-digit points on Tuesday.
Guard Mychal Mulder, who holds the Heat’s other two-way deal, recorded 11 points and five rebounds.
Forward Haywood Highsmith, who is currently under contract to be on the Heat’s 15-man roster this upcoming season, contributed 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field and 2-of-6 shooting on threes, nine rebounds and five assists.
Guard Jamaree Bouyea, who went undrafted out of San Francisco this year, totaled 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, three rebounds and six assists.
Guard Kyle Allman Jr., who went undrafted out of Cal State Fullerton in 2019 and spent last season playing overseas in France, added five points, four rebounds and 10 assists for the Heat.
And talented reinforcements are on the way for the the Heat’s summer league team.
Center Omer Yurtseven and guard Marcus Garrett, who both spent time on the Heat’s roster this past season, are expected to join the team for Las Vegas Summer League after skipping the California Classic.
Yurtseven has been away from the Heat’s summer squad because of obligations with the Turkish national team as it took part in World Cup qualifying games. His presence will certainly help Miami’s summer league team as the only player on the roster who has a fully guaranteed contract with the Heat for this upcoming season.
ANOTHER QUIET DAY
The Heat hasn’t made any moves in free agency since receiving commitments from center Dewayne Dedmon and guard Victor Oladipo to return next season just minutes after negotiations opened on Thursday night. Miami also lost forward P.J. Tucker to the Philadelphia 76ers on the first day of free agency.
The holding pattern continued Tuesday, as the Heat has taken a patient approach amid the ongoing Kevin Durant sweepstakes. Durant, who requested a trade from the Brooklyn Nets last week, reportedly has the Phoenix Suns and Heat as two of his preferred trade destinations.
But as the Heat’s free agency pause went on, another option to fill the void Tucker left behind as the starting power forward came off the board on Tuesday. Veteran forward T.J. Warren reportedly agreed to join the Nets on a one-year deal in free agency.
Notable forward options who remain available in free agency include Paul Millsap, Blake Griffin and Carmelo Anthony, and two of the Heat’s own free agents in Caleb Martin and Markieff Morris.
The Heat’s roster for next season currently stands at 12 players on standard contracts: Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Dedmon, Tyler Herro, Highsmith, Jovic, Kyle Lowry, Oladipo, Duncan Robinson, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and Yurtseven.
Mulder and Smart currently hold the Heat’s two-way contracts.
NBA teams are allowed to carry up to 20 players under contract in the offseason and preseason, a total that does not include those on summer league contracts. Rosters must be cut to a maximum total of 17 players (15 on standard contracts and two on two-way contracts) by the start of the regular season.
Three players from the Heat’s season-ending roster remain available in free agency: Udonis Haslem and Morris are unrestricted free agents, and Martin is a restricted free agent.
Free agents around the NBA, including Dedmon and Oladipo, can begin signing their new contracts with teams when the free-agency moratorium ends at noon on Wednesday.
If Martin receives an offer sheet from another team as a restricted free agent, the Heat’s two-day clock to match it would also begin Wednesday when the moratorium ends.