Fans of the Miami Heat’s developmental program got to see an appetizing performance from several of the Heat’s young players in Friday night’s preseason finale at the Toronto Raptors. KZ Okpala, a player Miami traded three second-round picks for in a 2019 draft-night trade, started and scored 24 points to lead the Heat to a 117-105 victory.
Erik Spoelstra started Moe Harkless with four of Miami’s developmental projects — Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Okpala and Bam Adebayo. Herro, Robinson and Adebayo have all proven just how good they are, but Okpala hardly played in his rookie season. Still, some Heat fans have been enamored with Okpala’s potential as a 3-and-D wing. If Friday night is any indication, Okpala could be that valuable player.
The former Stanford standout drained three 3-pointers in the first quarter and defended everyone from Pascal Siakam to Fred Van Vleet in the early going. Okpala went on to hit another three 3s and mixed up his game with some nice drives to the basket.
Okpala’s night was especially encouraging because Harkless again showed himself to be a foul magnet, committing five fouls in just 17 minutes after fouling out of Monday’s game. Harkless also missed all four of his 3-point attempts.
Another developmental project who got a long look was Max Strus, who looked much better tonight than he did in Miami’s preseason opener Monday night against the New Orleans Pelicans. Like Okpala, Strus also knocked down six 3s on the night and drew comparisons to Duncan Robinson on Twitter with his rapid release and deep range. He finished with 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting on the night.
Strus has hit all three of his treys, including this one from Duncan range. pic.twitter.com/fEkiNNTekM— Joseph Beguiristain (@JoeBeguiristain) December 19, 2020
Strus went into tonight’s game competing with BJ Johnson for Miami’s lone remaining two-way roster spot. Johnson played just eight minutes tonight, and it seems like Strus has secured that spot. He also took a charge early in the fourth quarter, something the Heat coaching staff is sure to love.
Strus going off right now. Drawn charge, dunk and another deep trey. pic.twitter.com/fdQQiUJofY— Joseph Beguiristain (@JoeBeguiristain) December 19, 2020
And if that wasn’t enough for Heat fans who were eager to see the players next in the developmental pipeline, Precious Achiuwa registered a double-double of 13 points and 15 rebounds on the night. He played the Adebayo-like role initiating the dribble hand-off on this play before diving to the basket for a nice lob pass from Goran Dragic.
So far the differences in how the Heat use Bam and how the Heat are using Precious are relatively imperceptible (within reason). pic.twitter.com/xYZGE2LNIs— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) December 19, 2020
But he also showed some good jump-shooting potential on this play, when he takes the ball up-court before nailing a step-back. Plays like these signal that Adebayo and Achiuwa may be able to play together at some point. It may not be this season, but the tandem could become dangerous for opposing teams.
Although Adebayo didn’t score his first bucket until midway through the second quarter, he was much more aggressive to start the third quarter and finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes. Kelly Olynyk added 13 points of his own, while Herro chipped in 10.
For the second straight preseason game, the Heat gave Jimmy Butler the night off due to rest. Kendrick Nunn, Avery Bradley and Gabe Vincent all also sat out the game with an assortment of injuries.