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Okaro White’s “Heart of a Champion” style comes from DPOY Kawhi Leonard

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When asked about his style, White said guarding multiple positions defines his role for the Miami Heat.

NBA: Miami Heat at Brooklyn Nets Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat did a Friday Facts question and answer session with Okaro White last Jan. 20. White revealed his true passion in basketball was defense.

Which player do you most style your game after?

As far as game style-wise, I try to guard most positions. This guy, he’s a younger guy, but he does it really well, he’s one of the best in the NBA. Kawhi Leonard, the way he guards multiple positions.

For Okaro, the passion to become a Defensive Player of the Year warms Alonzo Mourning’s heart. The video below shows Leonard’s value goes beyond passively standing in the corner for 3-point attempts, to mixing it up stopping elite NBA superstars.

Dion Waiters dramatic game winner over the Golden State Warriors gets the attention, but the key for the win was holding Kevin Durant to 1 for 8 on his 3-point attempts, with a plus/minus of -9. White had a +2 in 11 minutes of action, with important minutes in the fourth quarter..

Okaro has a knack for spotting open men on the court, especially in covering them on defense, from his football days as a quaterback and free safety.

White played basketball and football, and ran track while growing up, but his best sport was football, where he played at the quarterback and free safety positions.

The ball handling skills of Okaro remain a work in progress, to say the least. Where he does shine though is anticipating plays before they develop. Like in football, finding the open man on offense, or smothering him on defense is key in the NBA. An open man in football leads to a costly touchdown, whereas an open man in the NBA costs 2 or 3 points per attempt.

His stats don't impress, but the team started winning with him on board. I guess a reason may be his defensive mentality and ability to block shots anywhere on the court. Against the Brooklyn Nets Okaro showed how undersized centers more than make up for their height disadvantage with quickness and verticality. In Brook Lopez block, White caught it in mid-air for outlet pass: amazing dexterity.

All the NBA rookies physically gifted. What will separate them later in their careers is their ability to create open looks for themselves or their teammates, and, on defense, stopping opponents from getting easy baskets: anticipation. Notice Kawhi Leonard’s brilliance in knowing exactly when to strip the ball or seeing passes before they are thrown to get an interception.

Contesting a shot after it’s launched looks good, but then the team winds taking the ball out of the net. White's choice to copy Leonard's style could bring the entire Heat's performance on defense up a notch to the Eastern Conference Finals. Forecasters don’t give Miami a chance for that, but the Atlanta Hawks also feel disrespected and find inspiration from the Heat’s finish last season.

[Kent] Bazemore said the Hawks will draw inspiration from last year’s Miami Heat team — a team that was decimated by injuries, a team that wasn’t expected to do much other than slide deeper into the lottery after an 11-30 start — that ended the season on a 30-11 run with no All-Stars on the roster.

“That’s an inspiration for us,” Bazemore said. “That’s a team we’ll probably talk about a lot this season: how they just outplayed everybody. They played harder, they dove on the floor and set screens and did all the small things that gave them a chance at the end of the day.”

“Don't ever underestimate the heart of a champion”

Rudy Tomjanovich
Houston Rockets, 1994-95