Rookie Nikola Jović on adjusting to the Miami Heat, life in South Florida

Al Diaz/adiaz@miamiherald.com

Miami Heat first round pick Nikola Jović doesn’t get out much.

He recently moved into an apartment right across the street from FTX Arena. He’s a green 19, so he can’t dawdle into any bars or nightclubs. His exploration of the eighth most populous county in the United States has been limited to sampling restaurants in Downtown Miami and South Beach.

But life has been a dream operating within the confines of Heat, sleep, repeat, Jović said.

“I think everybody would love to be in our positions, the guys who play in the NBA,” he said in advance of Monday’s Red, White and Pink intrasquad scrimmage at FTX Arena. “It’s really a dream. I love it, especially being here in Miami. Like they say, ‘paradise on earth’ and stuff.”

In the span of four months, Jović turned 19 (June 9), got drafted by the Heat with the 27th overall pick (June 23), made his NBA Summer League debut (July 2), and participated in his first NBA training camp (Tuesday through Saturday in the Bahamas). And in the midst of all that moved from Serbia to South Florida. Jović and the Heat’s front office have been clear and consistent in their messaging that the 2022-2023 season will serve as a development year for the young forward. He joins a team chalked with veterans – as young as 22 in Tyler Herro, and as old as 42 in Udonis Haslem – so he’ll have no shortage of teachers.

Haslem and Jović share a birthday – just 23 years apart. The Miami native is returning for his 20th and final NBA season, making his professional basketball career a whole year older than his new teammate. In Jović, Haslem said he sees a “tremendous skill set.”

“[Jović] can score anywhere on the basketball court, can shoot with either hand, hard worker,” Haslem said. “Just experience, you know, experience is going to be the biggest thing that he’s going to need is this time over here working with us. The practice every day, competing, the physicality of it, getting in the weight room. And all those things are part of player development that we do very well here.”

The rookie had a turbulent Summer League experience. He missed the Heat’s last four matchups due to a quad contusion but averaged five rebounds and 8.5 points, shooting 13-of-31 (41.9%) from the field and 6-of-14 (42.9%) beyond the arc in the four games he played. Most of those positive stats came from his 25-point, nine-rebound performance in the Heat’s win over the Golden State Warriors’ summer team July 5.

Since the summer, Jović said he realized he needs to “work on everything,” adding that NBA players are “on another level.” After mostly serving as a perimeter player in Serbia, Miami looks to utilize him as a power forward. So strength has been a priority over the last several weeks, Jović said. He’s currently listed at 6-foot-11-inches and 225 pounds.

“Because I’m big, I’m gonna play with big guys,” he said. “Putting on muscle is integral to him becoming the player he and the Heat feel he needs to in order to best help the team.”

Head coach Erik Spoelstra said these last few months have been about getting Jović accustomed to life in the NBA and the routine that comes with.

“It’s laying the foundation,” Spoelstra said. “He has a lot of work to do. We all love his spirit. He comes in with a positive attitude every day to work and assimilate a little bit better. He’s spent a lot of time on his body. He’s also spending a lot of time on his fundamentals, and then he gets fed through a fire hose of the team schematics. But he’s been responding well. I’m not trying to evaluate him right now. I’m just trying to get him comfortable with the routine and the expectations of how we do things.”

Adjusting to life in the U.S. has offered up different challenges. Heading into training camp, Jović said he’d been ubering everywhere (so no need to jog miles through the snow – or even Miami monsoons – for the rookie, unlike the often mentioned story of Milwaukee’s 2013 European draft pick Giannis Antetokounmpo). He did secure a Florida driver’s license, though, after passing the online test Sept. 24, he said. Next up: securing a car.

Aside from basketball, soccer is the Serbian’s favorite sport. He hasn’t been able to attend an Inter Miami game, but he did visit loanDepot Park to throw the first pitch in the Marlins game against the Chicago Cubs Sept. 20. He also served as the elder-than-usual “play ball” boy. Jović and pitcher Jesús Luzardo swapped jerseys, and Jović stuck around to watch the game (which ended in a 2-1 loss).

He’s also starting to get into American football – in the right place and at a convenient time. The Miami Dolphins excite him, he said reflecting on their 21-19 stunner over the Buffalo Bills.

“Everything you see in the movies, it’s Miami,” he said, musing over his new home. “It’s just different, you know? All the celebrities are here, nice weather. You have the sea, the ocean and stuff. You have everything.”

If Jović’s career with the Miami Heat were a movie, then this season would be the opening credits. It’s a story the franchise sees as full of potential. Time will tell how he fares with his silver screen setup.