Victor Wembanyama rightfully was the headliner in the 2023 NBA Draft. The media fanfare is glued to him during every turn, and even NBA royalty showered constant praise. In the bright lights, many incredible prospects disappeared somewhere. However, as the NBA season has rolled on, the fandom is realizing that they are witnessing a deep draft class. One of those talents, Jaime Jaquez Jr., made a lot of noise early on.
Has the Miami Heat Found a Gem in Jaime Jaquez Jr.?
The Heat’s Injury Woes
The Miami Heat has been in tricky territory recently. Tyler Herro has caught the injury bug once again after another electric start to the season. His absence hurt their overall depth, and Jimmy Butler also picked up an injury. Due to that, the Heat dropped to 10-7 on the season. While this is by no means a shambolic return, their rhythm goes nowhere when Butler is injured or misses a few key shots. Therefore, the team needed fuel from their bench. They received paltry play from much of the bench last season. However, things are swinging in different directions. This team knows how to hone the fresh talent, after all. Since Kyle Lowry has declined as an offensive threat and has become just a defensive piece, the team needs a scoring injection.
The Rookie Steps Up
In the modern era, teams usually prefer athletes in their early 20s. The tendency to pick these youngsters comes from the so-called potential. Therefore, four-year college players typically don’t become lottery picks. This was the case with Jaquez Jr., who went 18th in the draft in July. Fast forward to November, and he is among the top six rookies in points per game. He is averaging around 11 points and has stepped up his game in November after his minutes’ restriction was lifted following a groin injury. He has scored in the 15-22 points range lately, which is a huge boost to a team missing one of their sharpshooters. The resurgence of Duncan Robinson, who is averaging 14.5 points, has bolstered the guard depth. And since the injury to Robinson, the burden has increased on the rookie. However, he has been up to any challenge thrown at him. Heat fans must remember his incredible game-clinching three-pointer against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Do Teams Often Overlook Four-Year College Talents?
Jaquez Jr. is not the first four-year college player to make huge inroads. Fred VanVleet has also become an All-Star talent, having gone through a four-year college regiment. However, unlike Jaquez Jr., the Rockets guard went undrafted in 2016. VanVleet’s case mirrors that of Austin Reaves, who also went undrafted after a lengthy college career. Overlooking experienced college players has been a regular trend since the last decade. It is not surprising that the Heat guard was selected out of the lottery despite averaging 17.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game during his final year at UCLA. He has proven that college experience and working under rigid coaching systems can help prepare for the endless NBA grind. It is also a message for the NBA teams that prefer players who made their way after a thorough NCAA grind.
Will Jaquez Jr. Lift the Heat to Another Level?
Yes, missing out on Damian Lillard must hurt Butler and co. But on the bright side, the team can find inspiration from last season and their 2020 quest. They made the Finals without the so-called superstar power. They are a prime example of a team coached at the highest level. Yes, there is an over-dependency on perpetual superstar performer Jimmy Buckets, but how can we bypass the contributions of Bam Adebayo as the high-octane two-way phenom? The incredible center is a major reason the team has been a perennial title contender. It is much more than the stats when it comes to the 2024 Olympics-bound athlete.
Jaquez Jr. has walked into a hoops culture, which will aid his growth. We are already seeing signs of top-notch play, but the road is just beginning. On the other hand, coach Erik Spoelstra will hope that the guard helps them seize at least 48 wins or so. And considering Jaquez Jr.’s experience, he may help find them the light. Will these two weave a historic chapter in his first year? The Heat Nation must be optimistic about their chances.