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Heat culture arrives for the NBA Playoffs with Udonis Haslem and KZ Okpala (?)

Okpala isn’t in the rotation, but can bully ball get him there next season?

NBA: Miami Heat at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

One night after Udonis Haslem got tossed in his cameo for the Miami Heat, KZ Okpala followed with a flagrant 2 foul of his own. Of course Twitter didn’t let the irony of Okpala mentioned in the same breath as Haslem slide.

“UD and KZ ejected in the same week? That culture is heating up at the right time before the playoffs”

“For people that missed it, Okpala was on a break and then throw an elbow into the defender’s face. Flagrant 2 lol”

“I mean… didn’t look too natural lmao”

Besides that dust-up this tweet noted Okpala had his moments in the Pistons’ game. Notably his 3-point shooting, or lack thereof, was clearly absent.

“#KZSZN was on full display in Detroit”

Okpala has the physical tools to succeed in the NBA, but his court awareness holds him back to a significant degree as this quote notes.

“Okpala frequently used his first step to produce some impressive drives. Often they were drives into three defenders in a collapsed floor.”

A scouting report from 2019 explains his tendency to put the ball on the floor in greater detail. The hope for Heat fans is Okpala can use his natural instincts in a more constructive way. Better NBA defenders will devour him if he tries the same tactics he used in the AAU.

“In space, he displays a solid handle and the ability to regularly beat his man off the dribble, but he does tend to drive with his head down, limiting his vision. In traffic, he frequently gets stuck, is loose with the ball, and takes a number of difficult shots.”

The author notes Okpala has an edge in both height and length he fails to fully utilize in his transition to life as a professional basketball player.

“At the college level, he could comfortably take 3-point shots nearly anytime he desired due to his height advantage and because opponents were willing to give him those outside shots, too. Instead, however, he would typically opt to take his man off the dribble, using a quick first step, crossover combinations, and spin moves.”

The report isn’t done yet slamming Okpala’s misuse of his physical gifts.

“On the defensive end, Okpala rated below average statistically this season, allowing .88 points per possession (PPP), which ranked at the 44th percentile. A lack of awareness appears to be his biggest issue, and he struggles as a team defender (rotating, switching, and dealing with screens). However, his combination of lateral movement and length is very impressive at times. He shows the ability to stay in front of athletic wings and guards, and also displays great recovery speed, both of which bode well for him at the next level.”

Going into his third season time is starting to run out on whether Okpala can “get it” on the NBA level. Against the Detroit Pistons his compulsion to run over less talented players with his physicality was in full view to varying degrees of success. The question is whether he can grasp the more subtle, mental part of staying in the NBA next season and thereafter.

In his last game Okpala showed he doesn’t fear contact, but embraces it. The same holds true for Precious Achiuwa and Max Strus. None of these three players have demonstrated they belong in playoff rotations thus far. Yet they may get some minutes in post-season games as needed due to their physical play.

Of course the comparison of Okpala to Haslem is totally done tongue-in-cheek since they reside in different NBA universes. Haslem has walked the walk for decades. Okpala’s tenure in the NBA itself is on shaky ground. Okpala has been given every chance to prove he’s a 3-and-D player without much success. Now perhaps his obsession with getting to the rim can be maximized by developing those necessary skills.