Observations and notes from Nikola Jovic’s summer league debut in Heat’s loss to Lakers

·8 min read
Alie Skowronski/askowronski@miamiherald.com

The Miami Heat dropped its summer league opener 100-66 to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday at Chase Center as part of the California Classic.

Here are some observations from the Heat’s blowout loss to the Lakers in San Francisco:

Heat quiet so far in free agency as Kevin Durant watch continues, and Jovic signs rookie deal

The Heat opened summer league with a starting lineup of guards Javonte Smart and Mychal Mulder, forwards Haywood Highsmith and Nikola Jovic, and center Orlando Robinson.

Smart and Mulder currently hold the Heat’s two-way contracts.

Highsmith just had the first $50,000 of his $1.8 million salary with the Heat for next season became guaranteed when he was not waived by Friday’s deadline. Highsmith is currently on track to be a member of Miami’s 15-man roster this upcoming season.

Jovic, who was selected by the Heat with the 27th overall pick in this year’s draft, played after signing his rookie deal shortly before the game.

Robinson went undrafted this year out of Fresno State and is working to earn a spot on an NBA team for next season.

When speaking to reporters following Friday’s practice, Jovic said the biggest adjustment from playing in the Serbian league early on has been the faster pace and playing for coaches who don’t speak Serbian for the first time.

As expected for a player who turned 19 earlier this month, Jovic’s first NBA summer league game proved to be a learning experience.

Jovic finished with three points while shooting 1 of 6 from the field and 1 of 3 on threes, three rebounds and two turnovers in 21 minutes.

“I know he wanted to play better. I think it was kind of a typical rookie’s first game,” said Heat assistant coach Malik Allen, who is serving as the team’s summer league head coach for the second straight year. “I think the game was moving a little fast at times, but he did make a couple good plays. He put the ball on the ground and made some passes. Like I said, he’s got a good feel for it. I just think it was moving really fast. I told him just to keep his head up. He was frustrated. But I thought his effort was good.”

Jovic air-balled his first shot — a corner three pointer — and then had a layup blocked on his second shot attempt. He missed his first three shots before hitting a catch-and-shoot three-pointer with 4:05 left in the third quarter for his only points of the game.

“This is something new for me,” Jovic said. “Of course, the pace is different and I could feel it right now. The game, guys are a lot faster and a lot more athletic than in Europe. But I don’t find it to be a problem.”

Despite his shaky summer league debut, it was still a celebratory day for Jovic. He signed his rookie contract with the Heat shortly before Saturday’s game, which means he’ll be under team control for five seasons.

“It’s unbelievable. I still can’t believe it,” Jovic said after signing his first NBA contract. “But right now, we lost by 34 points. So there is not much of a smile on my face. But yeah, it still doesn’t feel like it’s real.”

Jovic’s four-year rookie contract is worth $11.5 million (120 percent of the rookie scale amount, which is standard). He’s scheduled to make $2.2 million this upcoming season, $2.4 million in 2023-24, $2.5 million in 2024-25 and $4.4 million in 2025-26.

The third and fourth seasons are team options in rookie deals, and the Heat could then keep Jovic under team control for a fifth season by extending a qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent after four seasons if he doesn’t agree to an extension before then.

Jovic is now not eligible to be traded for 30 days after signing his rookie scale contract, which could make it hard for the Heat to include him in any potential trade offer for Kevin Durant. If Jovic is included in a potential trade for Durant, the deal wouldn’t be allowed to become official until the 30-day window has passed.

Highsmith was one of the lone bright spots for the Heat on Saturday. He finished with 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 shooting on threes, eight rebounds (five offensive rebounds and three defensive rebounds), one assist and two steals.

“I thought he was one of the bright spots today just overall,” Allen said.

Highsmith is working to prove he deserves a spot on the Heat’s roster next season. After forward P.J. Tucker’s departure early in free agency, Highsmith could have an opportunity to get some playing time as a stretch power forward who can rebound and provide some versatility on defense.

As part of the Heat’s developmental plan for Highsmith, he told the Miami Herald last season that the work has been focused on “defense and shooting threes” to resemble “a little bit of P.J. Tucker.” That work was on display on Saturday.

The Heat’s summer league team struggled to score, shooting just 28 percent from the field and 9 of 30 (30 percent) from three-point range. The Heat never led, as the Lakers pulled ahead by as many as 38 points.

“The score, it’s a rough score to look at. I’m not even going to lie,” Allen said. “But we just got to keep getting better and I think over time the system, it will help guys. What I’ve seen for two days [of practice] is not what I saw today, and we just got to work to shrink the gap between the two from practice and the actual game.”

The starting backcourt of Mulder (seven points on 3-of-10 shooting from the field and 1-of-5 shooting on threes) and Smart (13 points on 4-of-20 shooting from the field and 1-of-8 shooting on threes) combined to total just 20 points on 7-of-30 (23.3 percent) shooting from the field and 2-of-13 (15.4 percent) shooting on threes.

Robinson, who is one of the most intriguing undrafted prospects on the Heat’s summer league roster, recorded four points, nine rebounds and three assists on Saturday.

Listed at 7 feet and 235 pounds on his Fresno State bio, Robinson averaged 19.4 points on 48.4 percent shooting from the field, 37-of-105 (35.2 percent) shooting on threes and 71.6 percent shooting from the foul line, 8.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.2 blocks per game as a junior last season.

Robinson, 21, was named to the All-Mountain West First Team last season. At the NBA Draft Combine, he measured in at 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan.

Heat guard Kyle Allman Jr., who went undrafted out of Cal State Fullerton in 2019 and spent last season playing overseas in France, stood out with his three-point shooting and playmaking.

Allman ended the loss with 13 points on 3-of-5 shooting from deep, four rebounds and five assists.

Forward Jamal Cain, who went undrafted this year out of Oakland, finished with eight points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals.

“Jamal gave us a great boost and energy off the bench. He’s really been a bright spot actually in camp so far just in terms of his energy,” Allen said.

Cain averaged 19.9 points on 49.9 percent shooting from the field and 84.1 percent shooting from the foul line and 10.2 rebounds per game last season with Oakland and was named the 2021-22 Horizon League Co-Player of the Year.

The only two players on the Heat’s 14-man summer league roster who are not available to play during the California Classic are center Omer Yurtseven, who already has a guaranteed contract with Miami for this upcoming season, and guard Marcus Garrett, who spent part of last season as one of the Heat’s two-way contract players before being waived in January.

Yurtseven and Garrett are expected to play in Las Vegas Summer League.

Yurtseven, Highsmith and Jovic are the only players on the summer league team who are under contract to be on the Heat’s 15-man roster this upcoming season.

Saturday marked the first of three games that the Heat’s summer league team will play in the California Classic.

The Heat is right back at it on Sunday against the Sacramento Kings at Chase Center (5 p.m., NBA TV) before closing its three-game stint in San Francisco on Tuesday against the Golden State Warriors (3 p.m., NBA TV). Then the Heat will be off to Las Vegas for five games.

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