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How Has KZ Okpala Progressed Over Time?

After diving into Precious Achiuwa in the first piece of this new series, it’s necessary to follow that up with another young Miami Heat prospect, and asset, KZ Okpala.

Many people’s expectations were high coming into the season regarding Okpala, mostly due to the known fact that Miami was so high on him in the draft, that they would’ve selected him with their lottery pick if Tyler Herro was already taken. That statement raises a player’s perception, and well, here we are heading into his third season and he’s yet to have a consistent role.

The circumstances feed into this a bit, since as I’ve reiterated many times, the lack of a full off-season and Summer League impacted him majorly. Something I’ll dive a little deeper into down the line is that there’s only one thing that can lead to an evolving Okpala: playing time. This team is in win now mode which makes things slightly difficult, but spot minutes just won’t cut it for a guy with that type of play-style.

The hope is that this year’s Summer League can propel that development a bit, but only time will tell.

Anyway, let’s take a look back at some of Okpala’s moments this season, highlighting his immediate strengths and the improvements that will majorly need to follow quickly…

Strengths:

Good Length = Good Defense

No surprise here: KZ Okpala’s strengths begin with some defensive notations. The first thing that jumps off the screen when going back and watching his possessions on that end of the floor is his length. He thrived in the 2-2-1 press and 2-3 zone, since he has an ability to muck up passing lanes time and time again.

Speaking of the press, this clip shows Okpala recovering on the broken down press and swatting away the floater, since well, he’s very active and knows how to utilize his lengthy wingspan. The issue is that it sometimes gets him in trouble, which I will discuss in the weakness section.

The thing about this quality is that it screams potential. As much as we will connect Okpala and the word inexperience throughout this piece, that is something that just can’t be taught.

The reason that I don’t like highlighting this element too much, is that many people use it to the extent that it negates his other abilities on defense, which is why I will point that out now…

Length Isn’t His Only Defensive Tool

His defensive success does not solely derive from a good physical frame. When I wanted to showcase this in this article, I said to myself, “When was this ability showcased most this season?” And well, this Brooklyn game sums it up perfectly.

There weren’t many games in the regular season that the Brooklyn Nets’ big 3 all played on the same night, but they did when Okpala was filling in for Jimmy Butler in the starting lineup. Erik Spoelstra always discusses throwing players in the fire, and that’s exactly what this was for him.

Switching from one of the league’s best scorers ever, onto one of the league’s best ball-handlers ever, while sprinkling in some time on Kevin Durant who is just a freak of nature. And yet, he held his own throughout this game.

The first thing that stands out here on this play is defensive IQ, even though at times his defensive decision making becomes a real downfall. He stays locked in on James Harden, not wanting to switch onto a rolling Jeff Green. He recovers and flows into a switch onto Kyrie Irving, doing a great job of stay complacent before the jumper, leading to a brick off the rim.

It’s not all about the length with him, since his foot speed and lateral quickness on that end of the floor is a real gift. He just needs some things polished up, and once again, floor time is the only thing that will do it.

Freedom Off the Dribble

Now, the final strength that stood out from this season occurred on the offensive end. Much like Achiuwa, he would just try to do the right things whenever he got out on the floor, meaning he played tense and not to his absolute ability.

But he also had flashes like this, where he would showcase his ability to get downhill, which was quite impressive. Trust me, this wasn’t the only moment. There were so many plays this season where he would put his head down and allow his skill-set to take control and it led to some great things. His offensive package is not broad, but he does have a very promising off the dribble attribute that can very well be expanded.

For one, he covers an unbelievable amount of ground when he attacks, since his long strides and slow pace around the rim lead to an unorthodox, yet effective, combination. Mentioning the phrase “slow pace” may seem a bit odd when referring to Okpala, since the young and inexperienced label always equals fast pace and out of control.

The thing is that he is out of control in many spots, well, except when he is going to the rim. That’s because it’s a comfort area, and he hasn’t been in many well fitted spots this season, which I’ll dive into down the line.

Weaknesses:

Over Aggression Leads to Over Fouling

The weakness section with these young guys is very important due to it being the beginning of the off-season. The goal is to come back around by training camp with these few things polished up a bit, and let’s start it off with his only defensive downfall.

This two play sequence is not the only time foul trouble has been an issue for Okpala. In his second season, he recorded more personal fouls than assists, turnovers, steals, and blocks combined.

Yeah, that’s something that must be cleaned up.

The reasoning for that is he takes pride on that end of the floor, and wants to create opportunities in transition. To that point, he has been overly aggressive on defense every chance that he’s gotten, reaching in at the wrong time, falling for pump-fakes rather easily, and getting off his feet no matter the circumstance.

As mentioned earlier, his potential on that end of the floor is unreal, but that one element is currently holding him back from being fully effective. That’s something that is instilled into him, which is why it’ll be interesting to see how he chooses to alter it.

Not Looking at the Rim

The side to side browsing with the ball in hand is a discussion that I’ve had about Bam Adebayo a little too much throughout the season. Only this instance is not the same as that.

Many want Adebayo to takeoff as a scorer, but the reason he’s doing it is that his play-making is so elite that he tries to get others in their spots. Okpala’s reasoning is just going through the motions a bit to get the ball out of his hands.

This play above ended in a good result after he handed it off to Gabe Vincent, but that’s not important. The essential part to note is that this trot through the middle of the floor became a normal occurrence when he got out on the court this season, and that just can’t be the case.

These inadvertent movements led to awful spacing at many points this year, which makes it so hard to play him next to other guys such as Precious Achiuwa or Andre Iguodala, since the opposing team just doubles ball-handlers the entire time.

It’s another moment that we will refer back to comfort, due to these non-aggressive examples just show that his play-style wasn’t translating to the offense. Or was he just not being put into the right spots?

His Role

This point isn’t as much on Okpala as it is on the team. His offensive role basically became corner spacer as the season progressed, which is less than ideal. Yes, he can make the occasional three, but that is not where he will thrive in the short term or the long term.

Combine that thought process with a guy who is not shy about taking those shots whenever he’s out there and you have a complete mess. He had some moments where the shots were falling, but there just weren’t many that make you think that’s where he should be placed.

As stated earlier, he has shown an outstanding ability to get to the rim whenever he is confident and in a rhythm, which makes me think he will be placed into that role in Summer League purposely, so he can shift back into the team space cleanly.

What’s Next?

The interesting part about KZ Okpala is that the question, “What’s next,” is very well unknown. The term unknown is a perfect description of Okpala in his first two season with the team. After his rookie year, many were awaiting a breakout sophomore season that clearly never really occurred. Now that mindset seems to be carrying over to year three.

As I’ve been saying, this Summer League experience will be absolutely crucial for his future in this league. The reason I said “in this league” and not “with the Heat” is due to him being an asset that could be used at any moment. We saw at the trade deadline that teams perceive Okpala as a very enticing young prospect, while Miami seems to be searching for win now guys.

When I asked Okpala about his biggest focus this off-season to improve on, excluding polishing up his all-around game, he still decided to say that his whole package will be the focus. Although that may seem a bit unrealistic, I believe that is the exact thing he will need to do moving forward.

I believe he is still trying to find himself as a player, which means diving into every facet of his game is necessary. These next few months will be some of the most important of Okpala’s young career, and only time will tell how he decides to utilize them.

 

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5 Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Cavaliers

The Miami Heat expanded their win streak to 5 in a row with a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Bam Adebayo returned, while Jimmy Butler still dominated to lead Miami throughout. And now, they will be playing yet again in less than 24 hours on this back to back. Anyway, here are five takeaways from this game. Well, four takeaways from this game and a trade possibility….

#1: Sprinkling in extra defensive schemes, including traps, zone, and the press.

I’ve done a lot of breakdowns on Miami’s defense over this past winning stretch, mostly since it’s really been an intriguing aspect. Not just because they’re playing solid defense and landing number one in defensive rating over the last stretch, but because of the way in which they are doing it. Forget about individual defenders, since they continued this without Bam Adebayo, utilizing not so great individual defenders in a team scheme. In tonight’s game, Miami really went hard on high traps out of the pick and roll, forcing Cleveland to make that extra pass. Now, at times it may not have looked as effective as it could be, since shots were clanking off the rim right to Cleveland’s lengthy bigs, leading to their offensive rebounds and paint points. But these continued altering schemes will be crucial against good teams, especially when the offense isn’t clicking.

#2: Duncan Robinson benefiting from offensive cutting.

The off-ball cutting has been yet another aspect that I’ve dove into quite frequently, but it must be discussed once again. I’ve mentioned the team benefiting from these actions nightly, but there were some individual benefits tonight. For starters, the first play of the game was a Duncan Robinson back-door cut for an easy layup, which led to extra spacing on the three following the early timeout. They got some favorable switches in the first quarter, which led to Robinson being patient when receiving the ball, forcing the opposing big to make a decision. Another thing this led to for Robinson was a pick and roll flow. It’s been clear that some PnR sets will fully maximize his offensive abilities with Adebayo, which is exactly what he did throughout, but didn’t shine as bright due to constant turnovers in the first half.

#3: KZ Okpala over Precious Achiuwa once again.

KZ Okpala got his name called off the bench for Miami tonight, which shouldn’t be surprising since Precious Achiuwa found himself behind Chris Silva with Adebayo out. Okpala gave Miami a pretty impressive defensive game yet again, while still trying to find himself on the offensive side of the ball. But the interesting part about this topic is Achiuwa not being utilized in this game specifically, due to the Cavaliers bigs dominating against Miami’s small lineups. This doesn’t mean he should be playing over somebody in particular, but it does seem like the type of game where you expand to a 10 man rotation, especially to preserve some guys for this back to back. The counter to that point would be maximizing speed for their advanced defensive scheme with trapping and intense zone play, but it’s still a bit odd that some trust in Achiuwa has faded away slightly.

#4: A short Andre Iguodala stint early was one of his best first half spurts of season.

When comparing Andre Iguodala’s early spurt to others throughout the season, it’s important to note that this was the best first half stretch he’s had this far. The reason for that is because he’s had some very important moments down the stretch this season that shouldn’t be overlooked. But tonight’s was so impressive due to the impact on both ends of the floor. He knocked down both of his three point attempts, while immediately sinking back into a 2-2-1 press, then down to a half-court 2-3 zone. Once again, Miami winning by a good amount allowed Iguodala to watch from the sideline mostly, since they will be playing in 24 hours against the Memphis Grizzlies. These Iggy flashes are the moments that will truly come up big in a playoff game, which is why I’m mentioning this.

#5: A Trevor Ariza addition to this two-way Heat team?

Although tonight’s match-up may not make you think another small 4 is necessary, due to Cleveland’s centers dominating the boards and paint throughout, it just expands the way Miami likes to play at the current stage. Kevin O’Connor reported the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder are in discussions, which would send Trevor Ariza to Miami. Now, some may evaluate him as a guy past his time of impact, but this would just sound so similar to the trade of last year to add some wings for the post-season. Another two-way guy, who Erik Spoelstra would love, since he’s the type of player he can “plug and play” in many spots. As I’ve mentioned many times, sometimes a tiny spark is more important than the player you’re attaining, especially in a situation where you’re not giving up assets of value. Although KZ Okpala may not love this move after finally finding a spot in the rotation, it’s the perfect move when evaluating a low risk, high reward trade for the post-season, who wouldn’t have a huge role to fill.

5 Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Magic

The Miami Heat escaped yet another rough offensive night against the Orlando Magic, expanding their win streak to four in a row. Another all-around Jimmy Butler performance led to this outcome, after a 29 point night, sealing it with a steal and a layup with 4 seconds left. Anyway, here are five takeaways from this game…

#1: Miami’s peak defensive potential on display throughout.

If there’s been any wonder lately how Miami has stayed at that number one spot in defensive rating, this Heat game solidified that. Miami has been exceptionally good at hitting passing lanes, rotating close to perfectly, and altering between different defensive schemes. By that I mean Erik Spoelstra’s continued adjustments throughout a game, rotating between man to man, 2-3 zone, and a 2-2-1 full court press. Obviously it’s a soft press since Tyler Herro was heading it with Andre Iguodala, but it still forces the opposing offense to play at a speed that they are not used to. Kelly Olynyk must be mentioned in this defensive discussion as well, since he’s made major leaps with lateral quickness, rim protection for spurts, and mostly denying post entry passes, which is a huge improvement for this team’s current success.

#2: The Kelly Olynyk-Jimmy Butler offensive duo being schemed by Coach Spoelstra.

As I’ve discussed endlessly since Bam Adebayo went out, Kelly Olynyk has seen a decent sized change in his offensive role. The offense is running through him for a lot of the game, which means they’re handing him the keys as a primary play-maker. This has led to Coach Spo running many more sets for these two together, including off-ball screens for Butler leading to lobs, as well as Butler finding Olynyk in alternate spots on the floor. The reason this is so intriguing is because Adebayo can be utilized in a different way when he returns as well, which can alter Miami’s major offensive issues. If this can force Adebayo into a slightly larger scoring role, instead of worrying about setting others up, it may be the one piece to put this whole puzzle together.

#3: A longer leash for KZ Okpala leading to a positive outcome.

While I’m discussing defense a bit, it seems necessary to throw KZ Okpala into the discussion. His defensive attributes have never been questioned, but it’s actually been about over using them at times leading to foul trouble and defensive breakdowns. But well, that wasn’t the case today, since he was in the right spots throughout the game consistently. The offense is the part that should be discussed though, since there were even more flashes in tonight’s first half. As much as made threes may excite some, the off the dribble attack is what will truly keep him in the rotation for good. That slight hesitance still seems to be holding him back a bit, but once that is overcome completely, that full potential will be reached.

#4: Jimmy Butler steps up in the third quarter, trying to counter Nikola Vucevic’s takeover.

Nikola Vucevic was not only a main topic for the portion of the night, but mainly in the third quarter. He couldn’t miss from deep during this stretch, expanding the Magic’s lead little by little. And since Miami’s offense just can’t get into any type of flow for a good portion of the game, it was time for Jimmy Butler to step up in that moment like usual. Three point shooting clearly wasn’t the strength of the night for Miami, which led to constant penetration from Butler to put in his work around the rim. It’s pretty obvious that he can choose his moments to score at will when he wants, but the issue is that others must balance that timely takeover with scoring of their own. And too many droughts seem to come up throughout in their half-court offense, mainly when Butler is off the floor.

#5: Tyler Herro: Reverting back a bit, showcasing some indecisiveness early. 

Tyler Herro must be discussed in general following this game, since he hasn’t done much lately to mention. But now, he’s showcasing previous habits, which is the flipping switch between positive flashes and unnecessary decisions. Although the numbers may not look bad when evaluating the box score, he had moments throughout that aren’t explained through a stat-sheet. There are too many instances with indecisive movements or the tough choice between shooting or passing. Although it seemed as if he may have been past that, it seems like he’s reverting back slightly. Now, that’s not a hard thing to touch up, since he just needs that natural Herro confidence once again, where he doesn’t worry about that previous miss or that last turnover. Duncan Robinson has made that adjustment, and it’s made the difference. But as seen late in the game tonight, Herro stepped up when needed to not only boost this team, but boost his self confidence.

5 Takeaways from Heat’s Victory Over Pelicans

The Miami Heat finished off the first half of the regular season with a win over the New Orleans Pelicans, getting them to .500 before the All-Star break. A late-game Jimmy Butler takeover led to Miami pulling away, and an Andre Iguodala slam sealed it under a minute to go. So, here are five takeaways from this game…

#1: The Kelly Olynyk show early on.

As I’ve discussed many times in the past, Kelly Olynyk finds himself on one of these takeaway pieces once every few games, since he always has that one breakout game where he can’t miss. And well, that game was tonight. The scoring obviously must be noted first, since he exploded early on, scoring 13 points in the first quarter while the entire Pelicans team scored 15. As I noted before the game, Olynyk was going to have an advantage on the perimeter against the Pelicans’ drop coverage, especially since Steven Adams was dropping. And as expected, he had plenty of open opportunities to begin the game. Instead of discussing his scoring tonight, his passing must be mentioned as well. With Bam Adebayo out, they missed the facilitator in the middle of the offense who can hit back-door cutters in stride, but Olynyk became that guy quickly with high arcing passes time and time again for Miami’s offensive flow.

#2: A smooth running offense is the Jimmy Butler effect.

Coach Erik Spoelstra mentioned after Miami’s strong first quarter that the spacing was looking good. And the reason for that was Jimmy Butler, plain and simple. The last game against the Atlanta Hawks proved that offense can’t flow without a downhill presence and their primary play-maker, in Butler, which bounced back as soon as the ball was tipped. Other than his effortless 11 points in the first half, his 7 assists in that span speak major volume. Miami began to get into their drive and kicks once again, which allowed even more open threes for guys like Olynyk, due to the drop coverage collapsing completely on Butler when attacking. The offense was running quite smoothly on a night without Bam Adebayo, which pretty much proves the amount of impact Butler can have just by his presence.

#3: Precious Achiuwa getting thrown in the fire off the bench, blending in quite perfectly.

It’s not easy to be a starter from middle school to high school to college, then get thrown into the NBA without a Summer League and get placed into a bench role. But well, that’s been the situation for Precious Achiuwa this season, and the adaptation he’s made to that role continues to be very impressive. As soon as he enters the game, his presence is felt as a constant energy and rim runner, while putting major emphasis on runner since he never stops moving. Another thing is that he is totally locked in on his individual job as a screener and roller, while never straying off into other areas in a fast paced game, which most young players tend to do. That point right there highlights his mindset and focus to understand who he is as a player and what benefits the team, and that continued bench role benefits this Heat team majorly.

#4: The natural KZ Okpala roller coaster game.

There’s a lot to dive into when discussing the young career of KZ Okpala. He’s had a few stints throughout the season, and the same negatives and positives continue to pop out. On the negative side of things, the lack of playing time has led to his hesitance in the offense. Almost every time he receives the ball, he doesn’t even almost look toward the rim to try and score. Now, that has a lot to do with just trying to fit in, instead of playing in a free and natural way. But although he may think that unselfish play will lead to increased playing time, it may be the complete opposite. That takes us to the positives in his game, which always come when he avoids that hesitance. The third quarter showed that when he came out immediately and shot a contested three, which although it missed, it’s clear coaches or players got in his ear about it. That led to a very impressive side-step three in the corner, and a nice up and under layup in a solid spurt on both ends, which showcases an expected roller coaster on a nightly basis when he takes the floor.

#5: The non-Butler minutes a worry without Adebayo, which leads to more Dragic.

Non-Jimmy Butler minutes and Goran Dragic pretty much go hand in hand. He’s always been the trusted guy to keep his unit afloat while Butler takes a breather, which is what he did early in the fourth tonight once again. Three-pointer to mid-range jumper to getting to the free throw line. He’s a guy that has been incredibly good at finding mismatches, which is even easier to do against this Pelicans team. On a night that Tyler Herro struggled again, Dragic was going to be needed to get downhill and generate offense, and he did just that. Crafty pump-fakes and footwork around the rim when the defense collapsed, occurred possession after possession. There’s only so much that he can do in those non-Butler spurts, but it’s very promising to continue to see him step up in those spots, then handing the keys back over to Butler to close. And well, he took the keys and drove this team all the way home.

KZ Okpala “Has a Bright Future in this League,” But What Is Next?

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.

5 Takeaways from Heat’s Loss to Nets

The Miami Heat were in an absolute battle with the Brooklyn Nets in Saturday night’s matchup, but fell short in a disappointing loss. Bam Adebayo was clearly the story of the night, but it’s much more than just a one night explosion. It’s mostly about what is to come in his game moving forward. Either way, here are five takeaways from the game….

#1: Bam Adebayo comes out aggressive early, showcasing his year to year growth.

It feels like everyone of these takeaway pieces as of late include advanced aggression in Bam Adebayo’s game. But instead of harping on his offensive initiative early, including a buzzer beating three before halftime, it’s necessary to look at these performances in the big picture. When Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro return, it’s when it’ll be much more intriguing to evaluate his offensive game. Bam has done more than enough for this team over this long stretch, and it’s very promising to see him improving game-by-game. It’s not just about the length of shots increasing more and more. It’s more about the confidence that he’s taking these shots day-by-day.

#2: Shot attempts and turnovers not problematic early for Miami, but shot makes were.

The usual issues with this Heat team that are discussed are headlined by turnovers and lack of shot attempts, which go hand in hand. But those weren’t the true downfalls for this Heat team tonight. Instead, shot makes was the area that Miami was lacking, since the role players continued to struggle with three point shooting. This is another positive aspect for Bam Adebayo, since shooting elevates his abilities tremendously. And on these poor shooting nights, he continues to shine. There’s nothing really schematic to discuss when referring to lack of shot makes, especially when two of the primary contributors are out. Some players have struggled in their elevated roles throughout this unique stretch of games, while the hope is everything comes together with a healthy roster.

#3: The Kendrick Nunn ups and downs.

Kendrick Nunn needs to be noticed in tonight’s game as well, even after being discussed the last few games. For one, the first thing that has been in question with Kendrick is consistency, so getting a look at his game over a stretch of games is important. There’s no way to tell if this type of play is sustainable for a long time, but he clearly has the capability of making an impact on this current team. His role will change when Tyler Herro and Jimmy Butler return, but that will only benefit him as a player. His scoring is the primary part of his game, but the other areas of his game continue to be showcased. A tighter handle, quicker decision making, better defensive possessions. Those are the areas that lock up a spot in the rotation, so it’ll be interesting to see how he responds moving forward.

#4: KZ Okpala gets some minutes and has positive flashes.

After a Moe Harkless injury in the first half that caused him being out for the remainder of the game, KZ Okpala started the second half. He showed a bunch of positive flashes on the defensive end, one being an incredible block as he dropped down low. He can showcase those types of things, as well as his one-on-one defensive abilities, but the only downfall seems to be a certain level of understanding and decision making on defense. And that’s expected with the amount of floor time he has gotten in his career, and the only way for it to improve is floor time. He also can impact offensively when needed, which he looks very comfortable with the corner three. If he can polish up his offensive game with the ball in his hands, he will have a much bigger opportunity.

#5: Big picture evaluations must be looked upon.

Looking at things big picture is necessary in the current situation Miami is enduring, and that doesn’t mean creating excuses. It’s just being realistic. For one, as discussed previously, Bam Adebayo is making more than a simple leap. He’s becoming the player that he’s very capable of being. The reason big picture comes into play is because he’s doing this without Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro. If he can sustain this into that stretch when the roster is fully healthy, it elevates the team tremendously. Duncan Robinson is another player to look into full picture since he went from being one of the priorities on opposing scouting reports, to basically becoming the actual number one player on the scouting report. Teams won’t be able to fulfill that total elimination when Miami’s guys return.

5 Takeaways from Miami’s Loss to Detroit

The Miami Heat faced the Detroit Pistons on Saturday night, which was a game that the Heat were expected to win, even without Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro. Although Miami led at the half, the Pistons exploded in the second half to beat Miami. Here are five takeaways from this game…

#1: KZ Okpala is unleashed early on.

Well, KZ Okpala got the start tonight, and it went as great as any Heat fan may have hoped. He scored 10 first quarter points in demanding fashion. The three point shot looked good, he was active on the offensive boards, and looked great off the dribble. His confidence with the ball in his hands stood out, which had to be something the coaching staff discussed with him heading into the game. He’s a player that needs to play with self confidence on offense, since he has everything in there, but it just needs to be put together. He was also all over the place defensively, constantly moving but showed to be impressive with one-on-one assignments. Once Miami gets their entire team healthy, that second unit may include KZ Okpala moving forward.

#2: Turnovers still impacting this team negatively.

Thirteen first half turnovers definitely weren’t ideal, with most coming throughout the first quarter. They were spread out pretty evenly across the team, and I feel they had more to do with forcing passes than carelessness. It usually happens out on the perimeter, when a guy picks up their dribble and they try to find their primary ball handler. These issues cause Miami to have less shot attempts, which is the last thing you would want on this team. They shot 59% from the field in the first half, and only led by 4 against the Detroit Pistons. Once those issues begin to be leveled, everything else will begin to fall in place.

#3: Bam Adebayo looks impressive offensively in the first half.

Bam Adebayo scoring 18 first half points after missing some time with Covid protocols is pretty impressive. He was 6 for 7 from the field, and 6 for 6 from the free throw line. Not only is a scoring Bam Adebayo great to see, but an efficient Bam Adebayo was even better. The jumper looked as good as it’s ever been, which many will point to his and-1 baseline jumper before the halftime buzzer. As many have alluded to in the past, he has an elite offensive ability in his package. It just comes down to when he decides to use it. And on a night where Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro were out, it showed great awareness on his part to step up, but obviously it wasn’t enough.

#4: Bad looking third quarter shines light on other Miami Heat players.

It got to a point in the third quarter where Miami just didn’t look good on either end of the floor. There are obviously defensive holes on this team, but the offensive struggles were the real issue in the third. Miami had terrible spacing, and just couldn’t get anything going. And well, that all transpired as Bam Adebayo took a breather on the sideline. Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro not playing also contributes to the struggle on that end, but you’d think lineups with Goran Dragic and Duncan Robinson could spark something. It obviously has a lot to do with Miami just having an off night offensively, but it also shades light on Miami’s main staples. Jimmy Butler is clearly needed, but more importantly it isn’t sustainable to have Bam off the floor when Jimmy’s out.

#5: Duncan Robinson shot attempts must increase, especially in spots where offense is choppy.

If there was any takeaway from this game, it would have to be the shot attempts from Duncan Robinson. Although the stat line may not make you think he needs to get more up, it was clearly necessary in the game flow. Obviously he’s getting absolutely blanketed at every moment of the game, but a contested Duncan three holds more value than many player’s open threes. There always seems to be spots in the game where you think to yourself, where is Duncan Robinson? His gravity alone should continually be harped on, since it is important, but it doesn’t hold as much value when the entire offense can’t get going. I’ve discussed Duncan expanding his game a bit more, but I believe it’s more about increasing the volume of his own strength.

Opportunities Creating for Players Across the NBA, Especially for Miami

There’s never been an NBA season with more opportunities for players at the bottom of the roster than this year.

As we continue to see stuff occurring in the NBA with positive Covid tests and contact tracings, it’s clear every player will be utilized for every team going forward.

The big question coming in for this Miami Heat team was the rotation decisions. And although it seems as if Coach Erik Spoelstra has his 9 man rotation set for now, things can change at any time. Especially when discussing the youth at the end of the roster.

Coach Spo talked about Kendrick Nunn’s continued persistence a few days ago, mentioning him staying ready for any opportunity, “which will come again.”

There have been mixed emotions surrounding Kendrick Nunn from the bubble to now, since his role has taken a huge dip. But when these unfortunate circumstances occur involving the virus on a team, you have to feel comfortable with your 10th or 11th guy being a starter in the year prior in one of the most effective starting lineups.

Added opportunities are not only forming for Kendrick Nunn though. The biggest chance at an increase in role will be for KZ Okpala.

Many can break down the reasoning for Okpala’s lack of playing time this season, but his biggest necessity right now is just floor time. He has every attribute you would want in a lengthy and athletic wing, but as Spoelstra alluded to in the past, it’s about putting it all together. And quality reps at the NBA level is the fastest way for improvement.

There may be a game going forward where Miami only has 8 players available, and if KZ Okpala is one of them, that can be his big chance to break into the rotation.

KZ Okpala’s journey up to this point has been quite the roller coaster. But one thing that has stayed steady is the public belief in his skillset between fans and the Miami Heat organization.

Now, this is also where Miami’s two-way guys can come into play. Gabe Vincent and Max Strus have both shown flashes of offensive firepower through their shooting.

When Coach Spo touched on Miami’s G-League team not going to Orlando, he said, “Our two way guys Max and Gabe are getting a great deal of work. Those are bonuses to staying here with us.”

They’ve been going through the same reps as the starters over the past few weeks, so if it comes down to it, they will be ready as well to prove themselves.

The point is that, although the current situation in the NBA is unfortunate, players will be getting opportunities that would not be possible in a normal NBA season.

It’s hopeful that not only the players on the Miami Heat get cleared and stay healthy, but the rest of the teams in the NBA as well. But with the current situation involving the Miami Heat, some guys may get their time to shine if the league decides to push through.

This period of time will be something this Heat team looks back on in a few months, since I have a feeling the rotation looks a lot different by the end of the season, just by in-house adjustments.

Could the KZ Okpala Unleashing Happen Now? I Believe So

KZ Okpala is one of the most intriguing players on this Heat team, mostly since everybody seems to be fascinated with the unknown. But we kind of do know what he’s capable of, after his big time scoring display in the preseason.

Many have been wondering when he will get his chance to shine in this rotation, and I believe that opportunity comes now.

Miami will be facing the Milwaukee Bucks in a back to back home-stand starting tomorrow night, and it seems as if there is no better time for him to get some run. And here’s why.

For starters, there hasn’t been an update on the injury status of Jimmy Butler, and since it’s a back to back, I’d expect him to sit out at least one of those games.

That obviously means there’s an opening at the wing position, which makes me think he could get thrown in off the bench for some spark minutes.

And even if Jimmy Butler played both games, I believe we see some minutes for him. Back to backs are always when the depth comes alive, especially with a turnaround as quick as the Miami Heat just went through.

Also, this is the first bundled up set of games that the Miami Heat are going into. And as I’ve mentioned quite a lot, it’s a circumstance where Erik Spoelstra can strive with his creativity.

That includes changing the rotation from one night to the next, by possibly inserting KZ Okpala.

There are tons of reasons why this back to back against Milwaukee seems to be Okpala’s first real NBA opportunity with something to prove.

And if the coaching staff wants to get another good look at him, why not throw him out there against one of the best players in today’s NBA, in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Losing Jae Crowder in the off-season hurts the ability to overpower Giannis with physical bodies. But if KZ emerges by playoff time, he may be a key piece to stopping the league’s MVP.

Opportunities come pretty quickly on this Heat team right now. Just ask rookie Precious Achiuwa.

If KZ gets his chance over the next two days, there’s a possibility he may earn his spot for good.

Could KZ Okpala be the Starter on Opening Night?

It is not a coincidence that there’s a similar process that the Miami Heat put certain players through to make sure they’re ready.

Playing in the G-League throughout their rookie year, going back and forth from the Heat roster to G-League, uncertainty if they will crack the rotation, and then as Duncan Robinson did it, starting by opening night.

If we just saw this play out last season, what makes you think the same thing won’t happen again?

For starters, there is clearly not a lock at that power forward position, especially with the questions regarding Moe Harkless.

As of right now, Moe is interchangeable, and as some have mentioned, he’s a place holder. And even if Moe does get the starting spot, he probably won’t be on the floor for long after a few reach in fouls.

But even forgetting the role of Harkless, KZ looked to prove himself and more in last night’s preseason performance against the Raptors.

One thing I mentioned all week regarding KZ is that he just needed confidence. He seemed a bit scared on Monday and passed up a ton of good looks, which is why I said he’d come out with a purpose last night after watching film.

Scoring 24 points and knocking down 6 threes on 60% shooting from beyond the arc should not be taken lightly. That is an incredible stat line, especially for someone who hasn’t seen much floor time at the NBA level.

And as much as everybody will continue to harp on his offensive play, his defensive presence should not be overlooked.

He clearly doesn’t back down from a challenge, as Erik Spoelstra said, since he started the game guarding Paschal Siakam, and even switched over to Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet at times.

There were nonstop discussions last season about finding that perimeter defender to plug some holes, and he was at the end of their bench the whole time. The scouting department knew he had it in him for quite some time, which is why they should get a ton of credit once again following that performance.

But was that performance good enough to propel him to the starting power forward position?

Well, just remember, Moe Harkless was completely healthy last night. I know it is preseason but there’s a reason he got plugged in there yesterday.

Duncan Robinson jumped into the starting lineup when there wasn’t even a clear opening.

And it seems as if things are opening perfectly for KZ Okpala right now.

The starting position is up in the air, so don’t be surprised if he’s starting in the season opener on Wednesday.