The Miami Heat’s surprising 2019-20 season represented a developmental success story. Taken with the 14th overall pick, Bam Adebayo blossomed into an All-Star in his third season. Another late lottery pick, Tyler Herro, made the All-Rookie Second Team.
And two undrafted players, Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn, grew into starters. Derrick Jones Jr., another undrafted player, went from a player the Phoenix Suns waived into a solid defensive wing.
The losses of Jae Crowder and Jones Jr. in free agency last year opened an opportunity for 2019 second-round pick KZ Okpala, who spent most of his rookie season with the G League’s Sioux Falls Skyforce. And Heat executive Adam Simon said that he was happy with his progress.
In the 2020 NBA Draft, the Heat chose Precious Achiuwa with their first-round pick. Like Okpala, he also had an opportunity; Achiuwa started his NBA career as Adebayo’s backup.
It’s a safe bet that neither of them will see the court in the playoffs, except for blowouts.
Although Okpala and Achiuwa played well in the Heat’s regular season finale Sunday night at the Detroit Pistons, their overall seasons have disappointed. Achiuwa looked like a promising rookie early in the year — he made the Rising Stars team — but then the second half of the season happened.
The Heat badly needed Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon because Okpala and Achiuwa were not quality rotation players this year. (And because Moe Harkless and Meyers Leonard offered nothing.)
Yes, the two would have benefitted from a summer league and the chance to play in the G League. (The Heat opted against having the Skyforce participate this season.) But that doesn’t let the team off the hook.
The Heat shoe-horned the 6-foot-8 Achiuwa into a role far better suited for the 7-foot Dedmon. And though he showed some nice flashes defensively, Okpala spent a lot of time looking lost. It also didn’t help that he shot just 24 percent from 3. He didn’t surpass Avery Bradley in points scored for Miami until the season finale — while playing 200 more minutes.
With that first free throw, KZ passed Avery Bradley in points scored for the Heat this season (in 200+ more minutes). @hottakeharry told me https://t.co/MAeA9PCaQf— Danny Martinez (@DannyMartinez4) May 17, 2021
Maybe Okpala and Achiuwa will look better next season. Maybe they’ll go down as two misses for an otherwise stellar developmental program. It’s also important to highlight that Kendrick Nunn’s bounce back from an abysmal Bubble performance stands as one of the positive stories from this season. And Duncan Robinson made strides on defense and to diversify his offensive game.
i've been saying all year that Robinson isn't getting Joe Harris money bc he ... isn't as good as Harris. Worse defender, worse w the ball in his hands.— Nuh-KY-us Duncan (@NekiasNBA) May 12, 2021
But man has he made steps in just about every area.
The Heat still have a good developmental program. But Achiuwa and Okpala may never reach the vision the team had when they drafted them.