The Miami Heat took a rare international turn at Thursday night’s NBA draft with the selection of Serbian forward Nikola Jovic at No. 27.
The move to the 6-foot-11 outside-shooting big man came as somewhat of a surprise, with leading collegiate prospects such as Ohio State forward EJ Liddell, Kentucky guard TyTy Washington and Tennessee guard Kennedy Chandler still on board.
“We just think this kid’s a burgeoning talent that you couldn’t pass up at 27,” Heat President Pat Riley said shortly after selecting Jovic, who was born in England before moving to Serbia. “He’s played against some really good teams. He’s played against some really good players. He’s been coached very well. ”
Jovic, 19, began his basketball career late, after first excelling in water polo.
“This is a very unique player,” Riley said. “He’s been playing with men for a long time, very competitive.”
While Jovic, who is listed at 227 pounds, still needs to fill out, he would arrive as an NBA-level 3-point shooter.
Riley said the selection was made with a developmental approach in mind.
“All of our scouts have been to Europe over the last couple of years and have seen him developing,” Riley said.
Jovic said he already has a familiarity with the Heat, at FTX Arena during the Heat’s playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers.
“The atmosphere there was crazy,” he said. “The first impression was great.”
As was his impression of those who are now his teammates.
“They have a lot of veterans,” he said, “so I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from them.”
Of his NBA-ready skills, he said, “for sure my shot and passing skills and my basketball IQ.”
He added, “I’ve improved on defense a lot.”
He appreciates, though, the need for growth.
“I need to be more physical,” he said. “With practice, with lifting, it will be coming.”
The Heat are currently somewhat limited at power forward, with PJ Tucker, Markieff Morris and Caleb Martin all impending free agents. That apparently factored into retaining the selection.
“I’d rather get the player now,” Riley said. “We have a team [that] we don’t know in free agency what’s going to happen. ”
According to the NBA’s draft guide: “Nikola Jovic is a talented young shot maker whose ability to score from all over the floor has stood out at times as he’s transitioned to the professional level full time with Mega Mozzart (Serbia).”
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That analysis continued:
“Scoring in bunches some nights with promising footwork, touch, and instincts, Jovic was prolific in spurts offensively. . . . While he has room to get stronger, more comfortable using his frame against smaller defenders, and steadier with the ball to help him create higher percentage shots, his ability to score with touch from all over the floor and pass on the move at his size is certainly intriguing.
“Competing on the defensive end with more urgency as the year wore on, Jovic still has room to develop both on and off the ball. While he showed some instincts on the glass and chipping in as a rim protector in spurts, his consistency remains a work in progress. ”
It is the first time the Heat exited the first round with an international prospect who did not have collegiate experience since Estonian forward Martin Muursepp was acquired with the No. 25 pick in 1996, in Riley’s first draft with the Heat.
“If the player can play, I don’t care where he comes from,” Riley said, noting his success with Vlade Divac back in his days with the Los Angeles Lakers. “I’ve got a long history of players from Serbia that I’ve been involved with.”
Of bypassing several notable collegiate prospects, Riley said many of those selections would have been “duplicates of what we had.”
The 2022-23 NBA salary-cap hit for next season for the No. 27 pick will be $ 2.2 million.