It was no coincidence that Miami’s second round draft pick KZ Okpala went through a similar rookie season as second year player Duncan Robinson.
Duncan went through his rookie year with a two-way contract, spending most of his time getting ready for the Sioux Falls Skyforce team. He put up an intriguing stat line of 21 points a game, along with close to 5 threes per game as well.
Chet Kammerer even told the Sun Sentinel, “We purposely didn’t bring him in,” which is exactly what I’ve been saying Miami has been doing with KZ Okpala all along.
Although KZ wasn’t putting up 21 a game in the G-League, he was filling up the stat sheet quite nicely. He averaged 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists, but what jumped out most was his 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks a game.
Something I’ve noticed with the G-League is that it always seems to spotlight a player’s strength, like Duncan hitting 5 threes a game. And KZ’s spotlight has clearly been on the defensive side of the ball.
Obviously his length and quickness to guard guys out on the perimeter is just a God-given talent, but his tenacity and energy on defense just screams Heat culture.
And it’s hard to truly talk about a player’s defensive abilities until he’s guarding players in the actual league, but he seemed to showcase that talent when he got inserted into the game against Sacramento early in the season.
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The first thing that stood out from his defensive abilities that night was how quick he can move his feet. They played a lot of zone in that game with him at the top of it, and he just never stopped moving. And you may say that the word length is overstated at times with players, but KZ definitely used it to his advantage. Kings players had major trouble trying to get good shots off over his contests.
The only downfall that was shown in that game was foul trouble. He makes it such a priority to put as much effort as possible on that side of the ball, that he begins to reach which forces the whistle to get blown. Some of it may have had something to do with the fact that he had a small frame, but it’s clear he’s continued to add muscle and change his body.
With Derrick Jones Jr possibly leaving in free agency, it’s the perfect opportunity for KZ to step up into a new role in Miami’s rotation. Miami always seems to put the ultimate amount of trust in their players, which is why they started Duncan Robinson and Erik Spoelstra made comments prior to the season that he’s the best shooter in the NBA.
I believe they show KZ that same exact trust by giving him an increased amount of minutes on the first game of the season.
Once again, it’s not a coincidence that they gave KZ a year to work himself in like Duncan did, it’s just their process.
There’s also a reason that Miami seems reluctant to include KZ Okpala in trade packages for solid players. It’s because Pat Riley and the Heat front office see something in him, and that speaks major volume.