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The Miami Heat Have A Special Rookie

Miami Heat Jaime Jaquez
(Chris Carlson / Associated Press)

 The Miami Heat seem just to know things that other teams do not when it comes to player development and finding diamonds in the rough.  In his rookie year, Jaime Jaquez Jr. has been acting more like a seasoned veteran than a first-year player in the NBA. 

Drafted 18th overall by the Miami Heat in the 2023 NBA Draft, Jaquez joined a franchise that has become known for extracting the most from their players thanks to General Manager Pat Riley and Head Coach Erik Spoelstra.

Originally from Camarillo, CA, Jaquez idolized the late great Kobe Bryant. Growing up less than one hour away from the infamous Staples Center made catching Lakers games easy. In an interview with Shandel Richardson, Jaquez discussed how he modeled his game after the Lakers legend. 

“I watched a lot of Kobe Bryant,” Jaquez said. “His footwork is impeccable. You saw what he did in the mid-post era.” 

Throughout his basketball career, it is clear that Jaquez has become a basketball sponge. Absorbing skills and moves from various players has allowed him to create his own unique skill set, which has become difficult to gameplan for because of his adaptability. 


Something Bruin?

Before getting drafted, Jaquez attended The University of California Los Angeles for four years, where he played for Head Coach Mike Cronin and the Bruins of UCLA. Recently, there has been a trend for college basketball players to play for at least one year. Doing this can help the player become a pro player faster, but is that always a good thing? For Jaquez, it was precisely what he needed. In an interview with Michael Scotto from HoopsHype, Jaquez doubles down on staying for four years at UCLA. 

“I think it’s that I was able to play in valued games like the NCAA tournament,” Jaquez said, “I think that stuff from college translates…especially with the NCAA and doing things to help impact winning,”  

For Jaquez, it’s clear that the extra time to develop and hone his game has been worth it. His transition from collegiate athlete to professional athlete has looked easier than it truly is. 


Dunk Contest Participant

To make Jaquez’s rookie campaign even more interesting, he was selected to participate in the 2024 NBA Dunk Contest along with Mac McClung, Jaylen Brown, and Jacob Toppin. McClung would end up winning the contest, but Jaquez would pull off some memorable dunks of his own. In his first attempt, Jaquez cleared Shaquille O’Neal, one of the greatest Centers to play the game. Before the dunk contest, Jaquez was on Podcast P with Paul George, discussing preparations for the competition. 

“Taking a lot of inspiration from a lot of different places,” Jaquez said. “Everybody can do crazy dunks, so you gotta put your own little twist on things,” 

Although he did not win, Jaquez certainly left his mark during his rookie season, which was full of highlights and entertaining moments. 


Heat Role Call

Coming off of a finals loss, Miami had to shake the roster up slightly. Players like Max Strus and Gabe Vincent, who had carved out significant roles, found homes on new teams. Additionally, players like Thomas Bryant and Terry Rozier have been brought in to help round out Miami’s roster. This has opened the door for players like Jaquez and Nikola Jovic to expand their game and find their roles on this revamped Heat offense. 

It can be challenging for first-year players to transition to the professional level, but Jaquez seems more than capable of making the adjustment. His style of play has translated exceptionally well. 


Strong Rookie Class 

This year’s rookie draft class is looking particularly strong. First-overall pick Victor Wembanyama has been a force on both ends of the floor for the  San Antonio Spurs- averaging 20.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks per game. Additionally, Oklahoma City’s Chet Holmgrem is also playing exceptionally well in his rookie campaign, averaging 17.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game. Jaquez has had himself a strong rookie season thus far. Operating as Miami’s sixth man, JJJ is averaging 12.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game. These players are simply the top of a deep pool full of young and talented players. 

So, it seems Miami has done it again. Finding lightning in the bottle when it comes to the NBA Draft is no simple science, but Miami might have the formula figured out with the amount of success they have generated from their picks and undrafted prospects. 

With the rest of the season on the horizon, the Heat will certainly rely on Jaquez to continue his strong rookie season during a season they hope to contend. Jaquez will look to do more of the same as he continues to make impact plays down the stretch.

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