A day after it was reported that Miami Heat rookie Nikola Jovic would be headed back to South Florida to have his back examined after having back spasms for the last few weeks, the team announced Tuesday evening that Jovic will be sidelined for the next four weeks with a stress reaction in his lower back and won’t be re-evaluated until after those four weeks.
INJURY UPDATE: Nikola Jovic (lower back stress reaction) will be sidelined for 4 weeks and then re-evaluated.— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) January 4, 2023
The former No. 27 overall pick has bounced between the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Miami’s G-League team, and Miami this season and was with Sioux Falls before this latest diagnosis. He has not played any NBA action since Dec. 28 and has played just five games with the Heat since Nov. 25, having played double-digit minutes in just two of those games.
In 15 games this season, Jovic has averaged 5.5 points and 2.1 rebounds in 13.6 minutes per game. He has struggled to put the ball through the nylon, shooting just 40.6 percent from the floor and 22.9 percent from 3-point range over that span. He’s knocking down nearly 95 percent of his free throws, but the caveat is that he’s only taken 19 in 204 minutes; he sports a free-throw rate just above league average at 27.5 percent, but he wasn’t getting up enough shots to make that figure appear respectable enough.
In five games in the G-League showcase, Jovic averaged 7.6 points on 25.5 percent (14-of-55) shooting and 14.3 percent (4-of-28) from 3-point range. The back spasms could’ve played a big part in that. He only played one regular season G-League game against the Ontario Clippers on New Year’s Eve, when he had just four points, three boards, one assist and two blocks in 26 minutes. He shot just 2-of-8 from the floor and 0-of-5 from 3-point range. That was before reportedly suffering from back spasms yet again the following day.
It’s safe to say that Jovic needed as many reps as possible at the time. He was hardpushed to find them at the NBA level. He’s flashed his guard skills with his court-vision, ballhandling and passing ability — a rare, but useful blend for a 19-year-old 6-foot-11 big to have. He’s also been a passable defender — given his frail frame playing a completely new role — but still has plenty of strides to make in that department and wasn’t getting enough playing time to build on his skillset in an NBA setting.
But now unfortunately for him, he won’t be able to get any of those reps for the next month, which means he would be missing at least 16 games for the Heat and 14 for the Skyforce. Though back injuries are tricky and very difficult to just smoothly recover from, no matter how old, strong or tough. Just ask Michael Porter Jr.
This is speculatory, but it’s all the more possible he misses closer at least 6-to-8 weeks than just four weeks, especially since the first re-evaluation period is after four weeks. My guess is Miami wants to be extra delicate with its 19-year-old rookie to prevent any additional and unnecessary wear-and-tear that could perhaps exacerbate any back issues in the short- and long-term. But I’m not a doctor, nor making the decisions, so I might be slightly — or completely — off-base.
Nevertheless, this is another injury to the Heat frontcourt, who already has Omer Yurtseven (ankle) out for an extended period of time, while Dewayne Dedmon (foot) has not played the last six games with a foot injury, even though he’s listed as questionable in the team’s most recent injury report (at the time of publishing) for Wednesday against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Orlando Robinson has stepped up beautifully in his absence — playing arguably better than Dedmon has all season from an impact standpoint — in a limited sample. But Jovic’s injury thins out the depth even more, and you can’t help but wonder if the frontcourt injuries makes Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg even more desperate to pull the trigger on a move for a frontcourt piece at next month’s trade deadline. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
This is a breaking news story. Stay tuned for updates.