Leaving the 2023 NBA Draft, the Miami Heat used their only pick on Jaime Jaquez Jr., out of UCLA, with their No. 18 pick. It was seen by many as a match made in heaven for both parties, and his Summer League debut 10 days later made it look even 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, making three of his seven triples. Jaquez reeled in several highlight-reel dunks, including this poster over Lakers two-way center Colin Castleton in the second quarter.
Although his summer league stint ended abruptly after a bruised shoulder in Miami’s next game 48 hours later against Keegan Murray and the Sacramento Kings. Jaquez played just 16 minutes and had 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 the Heat drafted him where they did in terms of this building’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 playing style is a practical spitting image of superstar forward Jimmy Butler, who carries a reputation as a rugged, tenacious workhorse. Guess what? #HEATCulture™ enjoy to.
At this point, it’s virtually meaningless to suggest what this Heat roster could look like in a week, let alone three months. But for the most part, we have a good understanding of how influential super prospect Victor Wembanyama can be for the Spurs and Scoot Henderson can be for the Portland Trail Blazers, among others.
Assuming Jaquez stays wearing Scarlett Red in South Beach, could he be one of the NBA’s most impactful rookies taken outside of the lottery?
Let’s throw a handful of darts and examine a few notable contenders below!
Keyonte George, G, Jazz (Drafted No. 16): Even though Whitmore won the Summer League MVP for the Las Vegas second-place Rockets, you could say George was the NBA’s most impressive rookie over the past two weeks — perhaps relative to expectation. His decision-making exceeded all expectations, in my opinion, 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 scorer at three levels – he flashed his explosiveness off the bounce several 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—myself included—exclaimed throughout Summer League, as Whitmore’s smooth, effortless burst and athleticism literally jumped 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, he took it with confidence. Whitmore’s ability to get to the cup – especially in the open court where he looked unstoppable – in addition to his defense were two of the 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 agility with the rock and defensive prowess at 6-foot-8 (7-foot-1 wingspan) stood out. Dallas helped bolster 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 may be a 6-foot-10, 250-pounder, but he looked a lot more fleet of foot for someone 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 had a lightning quick and smooth release off the catch, he backed off smaller defenders like they were legit mice and looked rock solid on and off the ball defensively. However, there are plenty of questions surrounding the wing rotation in Los Angeles, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Brown gets minutes sooner than we expect.
Leonard Miller, K, Timberwolves (33): The summer league left many questioning how Miller, who averaged 18-11 with the G-League Ignite last season, fell to the second round. He averaged 15.4 points and 8.0 rebounds and shot 44.6 percent from the floor and 36.8 percent from distance in five games. The Wolves, albeit a small sample, used his multi-positional versatility to their advantage. Miller was also more well-rounded offensively, and if he can continue to develop his shot, his potential as a two-way wing is promising.
Kobe Bufkin, G, Hawks (15): Bufkin struggled mightily with his shot, 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’ll figure it out over time, just like 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) — Admittedly, I was lower on Hood-Schifino heading into the draft, but his passing menu was as diverse as advertised and his creation on the ball was on point in Summer League. He is also a promising defensive guard.
Kris Murray, F, Blazers (23) — Well, there will be plenty of opportunity to walk around Portland this season. Murray, who was another older, experienced customer, has the tools to make an impact in year one.
Marcus Sasser, G, Pistons (25) — The Pistons have plenty of guards, but Sasser’s skill set intrigues me along with Cade Cunningham and Ausar Thompson.
Nick Smith Jr., G, Hornets (27) – Smith is a former five-star recruit who battled knee injuries at Arkansas but was a pure bucket-getter in Sin City. Can he hold his own defensively though?
Julian Strawther, G, Nuggets — Strawther visibly plays his tail off every second he’s on the floor. His shot looked cleaner as the Summer League got older, which will continue to be a point of development, but he also did good things as a playmaker. He’s a Mike Malone type of player.
Colby Jones, G, Kings (34) – Maybe doesn’t 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 around Giannis Antetokounmpo’s shooting game, and the only thing missing from Jackson’s game is a reliable shot. What can Adrian Griffin cook?
Hunter Tyson, G, Nuggets (37) — Um, did you see his summer league game against Miami? Honestly, that’s all you need to see.
Jordan Walsh, F, Celtics (38) – His offense was further along than I expected heading into Vegas, and we know his multi-positional defense is there. Can he crack Joe Mazzulla’s famous top-8/9 as a rookie? Time will tell.
Predicting (especially by me) who will or won’t crack a rotation three months out, let alone who makes an impact in said rotation due to numerous factors, is foolhardy. Hence the fun of the exercise!
Again, assuming Jaquez stays at 305, there’s absolutely a world where he cracks back-end Erik Spoelstra’s 9/10-man rotation as a rookie in the first month or two. His emotion and aggressiveness on both ends over 38 Summer League minutes made the possibility even more realistic, even if 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 cannot be officially traded until July 31. But if they don’t, he’ll likely be asked to fill a complementary role alongside Lillard, Josh Richardson and its other players on the roster.