After the Covid and contact tracing incidents that broke out on this Miami Heat team, opportunities occurred for many young players at the end of the roster. But the most intriguing player that has gotten minutes as of late is KZ Okpala.
He had a pretty big ask these past two games against Brooklyn, since he was asked to guard three of the league’s most prolific offensive players: Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving.
The individual defense he displayed looked to impress, since although many are aware of this ability, it’s not easy to get thrown into a situation unexpectedly and lock up opposing superstars.
I asked Goran Dragic after the loss against Brooklyn about KZ Okpala’s defensive presence out on the floor, which he responded, “He has a bright future in this league.”
The issue with his game is not about the things he currently has in his arsenal, but instead the things he may need to develop. Goran Dragic said, “I’ve seen tremendous growth from both sides of the floor…He just needs to keep working.”
The comment about development and growth always seems to come up from Erik Spoelstra as well, which may be the reason he’s not getting the amount of floor time that some may expect.
The big difference between Precious Achiuwa and KZ Okpala is that Precious knows his exact offensive role, and can do it consistently. And I believe that may be the level of uncertainty in KZ, since although he’s shown a capability to hit some catch and shoot threes, his place in the offense has some question marks.
Coach Spo said, “More times in practice he’s made this type of impression.” But if this great impression continues to be on display, why are KZ Okpala’s opportunities much smaller than some other players at the end of the roster?
As I’ve mentioned before, there are clearly some areas of his game that need improvement, such as defensive awareness to understand when to go for the double and when to stay on the man or getting an NBA level feel for offensive spacing.
The thing is that the only way to improve either one of those things is through playing time. And with Avery Bradley and Jimmy Butler returning this week, he may be sliding down the roster once again.
The slogan for KZ Okpala all along has been about him being unleashed, but not many expected his leash to be so short.
It’ll be interesting to see if KZ can make his way into the rotation by the end of the season, which has a chance at happening if contact tracing protocols continue to occur, which won’t be going away any time soon.
KZ Okpala has continually been labeled as a long term project, but not many expected “long” term to be this lengthy. But with so many players being on board with KZ as a player right now, it seems clear he will be a key part of this team down the line.
When? Well, only time will tell.