KZ Okpala: Understanding His NBA Role

It has been a rocky start to KZ Okpala’s NBA career. The expectations were high after Miami sent out three second round picks to acquire him in the 2019 NBA draft, and he has yet to have a featured role on this Heat team.

The first road block that came up frequently was the lack of true NBA experience. He was never really given a true chance out there on the floor, but after this past season when opportunities arose, it was obvious that wasn’t the issue.

The next conversation to be had was that the Summer League void really stunted his development. But after seeing him in action for his first Summer League the past few weeks, there are some clear takeaways about his future.

Usually when a player is heading into their third season and playing in Las Vegas, there’s separation between themselves and the next guy. There’s more overall comfort at this stage, an all-around understanding of the game and sets that will be run, and of course, being the first or second option enhances a lot of things.


The issue was that there was no padding between Okpala and the undrafted guys heading in, and frankly, being the first or second option on Summer League wasn’t really that possible with his unknown offensive game.

But with that said, how can Okpala find his offensive game?

For starters, the reason he gets harped on so often is due to Miami investing so much into a young kid with a proven strength at the NBA level: defensive pressure.

One-on-one basketball on the defensive end is exactly his game. He can press up on the ball from baseline to baseline, fight over screens at a high level, and never allows ball-handlers to create much separation. There’s no doubt in my mind that’s an elite skill for a guy that isn’t getting extended run.

But the issue is that stuff doesn’t matter if Okpala doesn’t know his offensive role. There’s a difference between offensive struggles, and just plainly not fitting on that end of the floor. Okpala has definitely attached to the latter.

He’s obviously not a guy that can really stretch the floor, meaning when he stations himself in the corner, the spacing just absolutely plummets since his guy becomes a freelancing tagger and doubler. The thing he has gone to most as a scorer is attacking the basket, and that just doesn’t seem to be an effective attribute of his in the short-term or long-term.

Okpala doesn’t have great touch around the rim, which means he can high elbow his way to the basket, if the offensive foul isn’t called, and it just puts him in a very awkward position. So, how can this stuff be avoided?

Well, it all comes down to a simple deep ball jumper.

It really isn’t that simple, but that’s the place he will need to trend if he wants to be an effective player in this league. And by the way, this isn’t just because he went 4 of 5 from beyond the arc in his final Summer League game, even though that just proves it’s in there somewhere.

Even if he’s not super comfortable in a spot-up role, that’s where he will most likely be utilized moving forward as he continues to work on his game offensively. A consistent corner three ball shifts the way Miami can use him as a plug and play guy.

If his defender can just stay semi-glued to him when he spaces himself in the corner, combined with some defensive dominance that he always seems to bring on the perimeter, that’s a guy the Heat can use right now.

No dribbles. No attacking. No dribble penetration.

Just play off the catch, fire away when open, and work on the defensive reads a bit more to limit turnovers and predictability. He enjoys cutting through the middle of the floor with the ball in his hands, but the issue is that defenders just front their man on the perimeter.

His eyes tell the whole story when trotting through the lane, since it’s clear he is looking for the kick-out and not thinking about scoring. As we all know, Okpala is a project for Miami, but at least they have an idea what his offensive future can look like.

Catch and shoot. Catch and shoot. Catch and shoot.

Being a 3 and D player is the way for him to truly thrive in this league, and that’s a build the Miami Heat are very familiar with. Simplifying his game will be most important for him at this stage, and well, that’s as simple as it gets from a role perspective.

Okpala has the blueprint, and it’s up to him to gain a role on this team if he really wants it.


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