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Can Jaime Jaquez Jr. be one of the NBA's most impactful non-lottery rookies in 2023-24?
There's definitely a world where he could be. Let's examine further!
Exiting the 2023 NBA Draft, the Miami Heat used their only selection on Jaime Jaquez Jr., out of UCLA, with their No. 18 pick. It was viewed by many as a match made in heaven for both parties, and his Summer League debut 10 days later made it look better.
The reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year recorded 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting in his first California Classic contest against the Los Angeles Lakers, canning three of his seven triples. Jaquez sprung for multiple highlight-reel dunks, including this poster over Lakers two-way center Colin Castleton in the second quarter.
Though his Summer League stint ended abruptly following a bruised shoulder in Miami’s next game 48 hours later against Keegan Murray and the Sacramento Kings. Jaquez only played 16 minutes, tallying four points on 1-of-6 shooting with a pair of assists, a rebound and a steal.
Jaquez was considered one of the more NBA-ready prospects in this draft. Surprise, surprise—that’s one of the many reasons why the Heat drafted him where they did relative to this build’s pedigree. He averaged 17.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals as a senior on 54.3 percent shooting.
His (offensive) repertoire and playstyle are a practical spitting image of superstar forward Jimmy Butler, carrying a reputation as a sturdy, tenacious workhorse. Guess what? #HEATCulture™ relishes that.
At this point, it’s practically pointless to suggest what this Heat roster could look like a week from now, let alone in three months. But for the most part, we have a good grasp on how impactful super prospect Victor Wembanyama could be to the Spurs and Scoot Henderson could be to the Portland Trail Blazers, among others.
Assuming Jaquez remains donning Scarlett Red in South Beach, could he be one of the NBA’s most impactful rookies drafted outside of the lottery?
Let’s throw a handful of darts and examine a few notable candides below!
Keyonte George, G, Jazz (Drafted No. 16): Even though Whitmore won Summer League MVP for the Las Vegas runner-up Rockets, you could make a case that George was the NBA’s most impressive rookie over the last two weeks—perhaps relative to expectation. His decision-making surpassed every expectation, in my view, averaging 18.7 points and 5.3 assists on 45.7 percent shooting with a 60.0 true-shooting percentage. George looked like a capable three-level scorer—flashing his explosiveness off-the-bounce multiple times—a reputable table-setter and looked good defensively. He appears to be a guard who can step in and compete for a rotation spot on Day 1.
Cam Whitmore, G/F, Rockets (20): Medical concerns? What medical concerns? That’s what many—including myself—exclaimed throughout Summer League when Whitmore’s smooth, effortless burst and athleticism quite literally leaped off the screen. He averaged 19.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.5 steals in six Vegas games, and while his outside shot is still coming along, he was taking it confidently. Whitmore’s ability to get to the cup—especially in the open court, where he looked unstoppable—in addition to his defense were two most impressive things to me.
Olivier-Maxence Prosper, F, Mavericks (24): Prosper was one of my favorite prospects heading into the draft and he showed why during his time in Vegas. While he struggled shooting from deep, his fluidity with the rock and defensive acumen at 6-foot-8 (7-foot-1 wingspan) stood out. Dallas helped shore up its wing defense with Prosper and Grant Williams in the long-run, but I think the former can be a back-end rotation player at some point this season.
Kobe Brown, F, Clippers (30): Brown might be a 6-foot-10, 250-pound big, but he looked far more fleet of foot for someone of his size. Brown, 23, averaged 15.2 points and 7.0 rebounds on 57.9 percent true-shooting, in addition to 1.8 steals and 1.0 blocks. The athletic big featured a lightning-quick and smooth release off the catch, he backed down smaller defenders like they were legitimate mice and looked rock solid on- and off-ball defensively. There is plenty of question surrounding the wing rotation in Los Angeles, however, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Brown gets minutes sooner than we expect.
Leonard Miller, F, Timberwolves (33): The Summer League left many questioning how Miller, who averaged 18-11 with G-League Ignite last season, fell to the second round. He averaged 15.4 points and 8.0 rebounds, shooting 44.6 percent from the floor and 36.8 percent from distance in five games. The Wolves, albeit a small sample, used his multipositional versatility to their advantage. Miller was also more well-rounded offensively and if he can continue developing his shot, his potential as a two-way wing is promising.
Others I’m holding stock in:
Kobe Bufkin, G, Hawks (15): Bufkin struggled mightily with his shotmaking, but still averaged 14.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists. I’m not sure he’ll get many on-ball reps as a rookie behind Atlanta’s collection of ball-dominant guards, but I think he figures it out over time, similar to how he did as a late bloomer at Michigan. Remember, he played two years in college and is still only 19-years-old.
Jalen Hood-Schifino, G, Lakers (17) — I was admittedly lower on Hood-Schifino heading into the draft, but his passing menu was as diverse as advertised, and his on-ball creation was on point in Summer League. He’s a promising defensive guard, too.
Kris Murray, F, Blazers (23) — Well, there’s going to be plenty of opportunity to go around in Portland this season. Murray, who was another older, seasoned prospect, has the tools to make an impact in year one.
Marcus Sasser, G, Pistons (25) — The Pistons have plenty of guards, but Sasser’s skillset intruiges me alongside Cade Cunningham and Ausar Thompson.
Nick Smith Jr., G, Hornets (27) — Smith’s a former five-star recruit who battled knee injuries at Arkansas, but was a pure bucket-getter in Sin City. Can he hold up defensively, however?
Julian Strawther, G, Nuggets — Strawther visibly plays his tail off every second he’s on the floor. His shot looked cleaner as Summer League aged, which will continue to be a point of development, but he also did good things a playmaker. He’s a Mike Malone-type player.
Colby Jones, G, Kings (34) — May not do one thing at an incredibly elite level but has a relatively high-floor in every part of his game.
Andre Jackson Jr., G/F, Bucks (36) — The Bucks have traditionally found success surrounding Giannis Antetokounmpo with shooters, and the only thing missing in Jackson’s game is a reliable shot. What can Adrian Griffin cook?
Hunter Tyson, G, Nuggets (37) — Uh, did you watch his Summer League game against Miami? Frankly, that’s all you need to watch.
Jordan Walsh, F, Celtics (38) — His offense was further along than I anticipated heading into Vegas, and we know his multipositional defense is there. Can he crack Joe Mazzulla’s famed top-8/9 as a rookie? Time will tell.
Predicting (especially by me) who or will not crack a rotation three months out, let alone who is impactful in said rotation due to numerous factors, is a fool’s errand. Hence, the fun of the exercise!
Again, assuming that Jaquez remains in the 305, there’s absolutely a world where he cracks the back-end Erik Spoelstra’s 9/10-man rotation as a rookie in the first month or two. His feel and aggressiveness on both ends in 38 Summer League minutes made the possibility all the more realistic, even though it’s a small sample and, yes, it’s just Summer League.
The Heat lost Max Strus to the Cleveland Cavaliers and could lose more in a Damian Lillard trade—including Jaquez, who can’t officially be traded until July 31. But if they don’t, he will likely be asked to fill a complementary role alongside Lillard, Josh Richardson and its other players on the roster.