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Nikola Jovic left Heat impressed after productive season: 'I often have to remind myself that Niko is 20'

Anthony Chiang, Miami Herald on

Published in Basketball

MIAMI — For perspective on how productive this season was for Miami Heat forward Nikola Jovic, remember that he was logging more minutes in the G League than in the NBA in November and December.

By the end of Jovic’s second NBA season, the 20-year-old started more regular-season games for the Heat than any other player his age or younger in franchise history. Jovic, who started his final 26 appearances of the regular season, started 38 games for the Heat this regular season before starting in each of the Heat’s five playoff games this season.

Among the 10 players in franchise history who have started a regular-season game for the Heat at age 20 or younger, the only ones who started 15 or more games in a season are Jovic (36 starts this season), Bam Adebayo (19 starts in 2017-18), Michael Beasley (19 starts in 2008-09), Daequan Cook (19 starts in 2007-08) and Justise Winslow (15 starts in 2016-17).

The only players in franchise history who have started a playoff game for the Heat at age 20 or younger are Jovic, Tyler Herro and Winslow.

“It means a lot,” Jovic said of becoming a full-time Heat starter in his second NBA season. “I’m happy they gave me a chance. I worked hard for it.”

The question is did Jovic do enough as the starting power forward this season to enter training camp in October as the front-runner for another starting role with the Heat next season?

 

Jovic, who played in just four of the Heat’s first 30 games this season after beginning the schedule completely out of the team’s rotation, flashed his impressive combination of size and skill at 6-foot-10 and 205 pounds after becoming a starter. He averaged 9.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 22.2 minutes per game while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 39 percent on 4.5 three-point attempts per game during his string of 26 straight starts to close the regular season.

“I often have to remind myself that Niko is 20,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But he’s getting better, he’s getting better by each month.”

On the offensive end, Jovic’s outside shooting turned into an asset as part of a Heat starting lineup that needs floor spacers around the leading duo of Adebayo and Jimmy Butler. Jovic became one of the Heat’s best spot-up shooters after being promoted to the starting lineup, shooting 39.2 percent on 3.9 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts per game during his run of 26 straight starts to close the regular season.

Jovic’s passing and knack for pushing the pace were also helpful for a Heat team that played at the second-slowest pace in the NBA this regular season.

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