Rookies Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro were opening night starters this season. Chris Silva, who was originally on a two-way contract with the Miami Heat, played backup center early in the season and had his deal converted into a standard contract. (Of course, Silva later fell out of the rotation.)
But KZ Okpala, who was selected with the 32nd pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and immediately traded to Miami? He’s spent most of this season with the Sioux Falls Skyforce. In fact, Okpala only played non-garbage time minutes with the Heat in a game at the Sacramento Kings Feb. 7 — when the team had traded James Johnson and Dion Waiters, and Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill hadn’t arrived yet.
Heat executive Adam Simon is happy with what he’s seen, though.
NEW: Miami Heat executive updates development of 3 young players. And lots of news today on status of season, potential resumption date. And one thing NBAPA has discussed: https://t.co/43uNgus5UF— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) May 29, 2020
The following is an excerpt from Barry Jackson’s article.
“Once mid-January came around, we saw the strides. He was feeling more comfortable with the ball in his hands. The game was slowing down for him. The greatest things he was doing were on the defensive end, making an impact guarding multiple positions. At times, he was switched onto [centers], guarding both forward positions, being versatile, doing a great job on the glass. All those things were positives.”
Simon later talked about Okpala’s progress on offense in Jackson’s article.
Besides running the floor well, “he’s a good midrange shooter,” Simon said. “He’s extending out to three-point shooting [range] and has been getting better at that. He’s being more selective. What he’s good at is understanding mismatches. He’s got a good handle; if he’s defended by a slower player, he can use his handle to defeat them off the dribble. Against smaller defenders, he can use his size to shoot over guys. That’s his best strength offensively — he’s good attacking and getting in position to shoot over guys.”
We’ve highlighted Okpala’s 22-point, 14-rebound night in January here. While it’s a safe bet that Okpala won’t get playing time when the NBA restarts the season, he may find himself ready to contribute during his second season. After all, Duncan Robinson catapulted from a seldom-used two-way player in his rookie season to a starter this year.