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Nikola Jovic, Jamal Cain shine in Heat’s 109-80 preseason win vs Nets

Miami may have unearthed gems with a pair of rookies.

Miami Heat v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Heat fans were treated to seeing the trio of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Kyle Lowry in action for the first time in the 35th season in franchise history during the Miami Heat’s one-sided 109-80 preseason victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday.

What else was seen was a Miami team who could have defeated an Eastern Conference foe in the regular season with the kind of effort they received from the entire roster, even with Tyler Herro, Caleb Martin, Victor Oladipo, Gabe Vincent, and Omer Yurtseven all inactive.

That’s because of a couple of the young standouts on the Heat’s developmental program that shared the spotlight, proving once again that even as Miami loses role players on the team, they find ways to replace them through internal development:

Jamal Cain and first-round draft pick Nikola Jovic particularly stand out.

Jovic, who entered preseason coming off a disappointing Summer League performance, had his most significant outing in a Heat jersey. He displayed a quick-trigger 3-pointer which at 6-foot-8 can be a dangerous weapon. A handful of his shots came off quality ball movement. An example of that is popping out after setting screens:

Eventually opposing sides will take away his shot, which is why it will be important for him to develop a penetration game to attack close-outs:

He displayed a knack for playmaking in Serbia, which is where being 6-foot-8 also comes in handy. It’s a bad choice to give him space not only because he can quickly pull-up for a J but also make passes like this, to which Cain was a happy receiver:

For the kind of movement-savvy offense that Erik Spoelstra likes to run in the regular season, he can carve out a role, especially playing next to guys like Bam and Jimmy who operate best when attacking the paint.

If he can continue to make strides on the other end, rotation minutes would be warranted.

There were instances where the Nets’ second and third stringers scored with ease against him at the rim. That could be a work in progress for a while. Although there are positive glimpses of his defensive anticipation and ability to disrupt passing lanes.

The latter allows him to shine in another area he excelled at while playing Serbia: transition.

Miami scored 1.14 points per possession last regular season in transition, which tied with Washington for 5th in the NBA. The issue was the Heat ranked in the bottom half of transition frequency (14.9%). Jovic could increase the volume while maintaining the efficiency.

I reckon the Heat will give Jovic more run in their three remaining tune-ups. That should give an even better idea of what helpful traits Jovic already has and how much time we should anticipate he’ll need to develop the others.

Until then, he has a high school test to get ready for. Literally.

Cain had himself quite the game. He played exactly like what you’d expect from a prototypical, non-star level, 2, 3, or 4-positioned role player. He contributed on the scoreboard while taking few dribbles, made his presence felt defensively, displayed some shooting touch, and had the type of athleticism that can account for one or two-game changing possessions in a half.

This sequence is quite impressive. It starts off showing Cain in the “in-between” of two floor-spreaders in the weakside corner. Just when it seems like he’s committed to the opponent on the wing, that 6-foot-9 and a half wingspan and leaping ability allow him to catch Kevin Durant’s pass skip pass to the corner while the ball is mid-flight.

After giving up the leather to Max Strus on the break, he’s the first Heat player down the court, positioning himself under the rim, which he’s rewarded for.

These are the types of plays role players make that endear them to the stars on the team:

Here’s another beauty.

Cain denies the post-entry pass to Durant by fronting him, in which case, the passer would be tempted to throw the entry a little higher and forward instead.

As Durant attempts to retrieve the entry pass, Cain races from behind to poke it away, save it from going out of bounds, keep it alive, then dish it to Strus to start the offense on the break rather than off an in-bound, which opens opportunities for cross-matches and force the Nets to get back on D rather than walk back down.

That’s not all. He then is the first Miami player again to race down the court, spotting in the corner. He catches Durant with his eyes turned while the play unfolds, leaving an opening in the paint. Cain cuts hard and gets the easy two at the rim.

It’s uncertain if Cain can carve a consistent role with the Heat in the regular season given he’d be competing for minutes against Caleb Martin, Haywood Highsmith (another promising young player), Duncan Robinson (who had a nice outing today), Strus, and maybe even Oladipo.

But there’s no denying the intrigue of that combination of athleticism, height (6-foot-7), wingspan, and a desire to be helpful to winning, while remaining low-maintenance on offense. At the very least, Cain will have an interesting campaign to follow with the Heat’s G-League affiliate, Sioux Falls.

There’s also going to be a chance for him to get a call-up during the season in case he doesn’t make the final roster with upcoming missed games due to injuries or covid.

The Heat like Cain. He seems to have that dog in him that the franchise looks for in recruits. Adebayo is a huge fan:

Between him and Jovic, those are two more guys to add to Miami’s ever-growing list of intriguing prospects.