Going into last season, KZ Okpala had an opportunity to make a mark. Jae Crowder and Derrick Jones Jr. both left in free agency, giving the 2019 second-round pick the opportunity to play. The Miami Heat’s official Twitter account even picked up on fan interest in Okpala’s potential.
It didn’t work out according to plan.
Even with Moe Harkless possibly going down as the worst free agent signing in Heat history, Okpala couldn’t get consistent minutes. He shot just 24 percent from 3 his second season, an abysmal figure for a player who projected to turn into a solid 3-and-D wing. He didn’t surpass Avery Bradley in points scored until the season finale — while playing 200 more minutes.
Now entering his third season, Okpala again has an opportunity. Although the Heat have added P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris, Andre Iguodala and Trevor Ariza left. Tucker and Morris figure to defend opposing power forwards, giving Okpala the chance to come off the bench and check opposing wings. Okpala may not play much — especially if Victor Oladipo comes back healthy — but it’s great to have a competent wing defender play 10-15 minutes off the bench during the regular season.
In his summer league debut — Okpala’s draft-day trade in 2019 wasn’t finalized until summer league was underway, and the pandemic prevented any chance of a 2020 summer league — the 6-foot-8 forward shot 2-of-8 from 3 and 5-of-18 overall against the Denver Nuggets. On the plus side, he grabbed 11 rebounds.
Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald reported that, “the organization still believes Okpala has the potential to be a quality rotation player mainly because of his unique defensive versatility at 6-8 and 215 pounds.”
I hope Okpala’s ready. If not, the Heat may have to make a trade or a signing midseason to fill that role.