Welcome to our offseason series “Immediate Impacts.” Most rookies don’t provide positive value to their teams right out of the gate. But as we saw last season with guys like Jalen Williams, Walker Kessler and Keegan Murray, some rookies can help their teams from Day 1. Over the next few months, we’ll break down ways that members of this incoming class can have that very impact.
If the Miami Heat and Damian Lillard don’t get their way, the Heat are going to be in a whole world of trouble.
Two of the team’s main ingredients to their improbable NBA Finals run – Gabe Vincent and Max Strus – have signed elsewhere this offseason, and the only thing they have done to replace them is bring back Josh Richardson (and re-sign the gray-bearded Kevin Love).
On top of that, Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler are another year older (and not in a good way), and the team needed some unprecedented 3-point shooting to pull off massive upsets against the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. As a general rule, unprecedented usually isn’t sustainable!
Simply put, if the Heat can’t land Lillard, they need someone to step up if they plan on replicating last season’s success. And a prime candidate to fill in some of the gaps for this team is the player everyone is including in the hypothetical Lillard trade package: 2023 first-round draft Jaime Jaquez Jr. But what can a player who was selected in the back half of the first round bring to a championship contender?
Let’s find out.
One thing that became abundantly clear early on in the Heat’s Finals matchup against the Denver Nuggets is how much bigger the frontline of the latter unit was. At 6-foot-7, Jaquez isn’t exactly a walking giant. But he does play really big for his size.
Last season, Jaquez was in the 64th percentile in defensive rebounding percentage (DR%) and 98th percentile in offensive rebounding percentage (OR%) in the nation, per AutoStats tracking data. That’s despite not playing the center position. In fact, he was the shortest player in the Pac-12 to finish in the top 10 in DR%, according to Ken Pom.
And, for the record, these weren’t the Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook type of rebounds. His teammates weren’t boxing out for him so he could grab the ball and push the pace in transition. He was doing the dirty work himself, nabbing rebounds among the trees like he was playing a game of jackpot.
(Sidebar: One of my favorite little tricks in Jaquez’s bag is that, even when he couldn’t get the rebound himself, he would make sure to tip it away from his opponent to give his teammate a chance to secure it, like this).
Jaquez will likely never be the tallest guy on the floor, but he doesn’t back down from anyone. He comes from the Lowry school of being an absolute pitbull, able to bang with even the most burly brutes in the post.
In this next clip, look at how hard he makes this possession for 2022-23 Naismith Player of the Year Finalist Drew Timme. First, he works to full front Timme in the post, making it so that delivering an entry pass inside to him would prove to be a treacherous endeavor.
After the pass eventually does make it through (Timme had to channel his inner Calvin Johnson), he quickly gets in front of Timme to contest his shot at the rim. Once Timme misses, Jaquez battles with him for the rebound and (of course) emerges victorious.
Jaquez gives the Heat a fighting chance against bigger teams like the Nuggets. But more importantly, his ability to rebound and defend above his weight class are indicators of his high-revving motor.
He’s by no means at the level of the uber-frenetic Jarred Vanderbilt, but whatever the next level is, he’s right there. He’s always moving around, and this shows in his steal rates – he was in the 91st percentile in the Pac-12 in this category last season.
Jaquez’s thirst for defensive playmaking makes him a perfect fit for the Heat’s ultra-aggressive defensive philosophy. Over the last three seasons, Miami has been in the top three in opponent turnover percentage.
Since they don’t boast a ton of size, they don’t have a ton of rim protection. So, to field a great defense without traditional rim protection, they prioritize things like steals, deflections and charges. After all, you don’t need to worry about contesting shots at the rim if there are never any shots to defend.
And Jaquez slots in nicely as another agent of chaos on that side of the ball.
On offense, the Heat (aka the Golden State Warriors of the Eastern Conference) run a system predicated on movement and shooting. And while Jaquez isn’t a lock to uphold the shooting portion of that agenda (he shot just 32.8% from 3 during his collegiate career), he sure knows how to move without the basketball.
That high motor that makes him such a great rebounder and defensive playmaker also makes him a wonderful cutter. Last year, he spent a lot of time with the ball in his hands (more on that in just a second), but when he wasn’t running the show, he was looking for ways to slice through pockets of space with the hopes of gaining entry to easy looks for the offense.
(Sidebar No. 2: Jaquez was also fantastic at keeping the energy in the ball. He excels in the art of quick decision-making, something that should lend itself well to the .5 rule many NBA teams observe.)
This last part specifically applies to the loss of Vincent, but next season, Miami is going to need some more on-ball creation. And Jaquez may be equipped to fill that void.
On the surface, Jaquez may seem like a chill surfer dude (you can’t tell me he doesn’t look like a character from Point Break). The kind of player who goes with the flow and takes what the defense gives him. But Jaquez is more than capable of being assertive (the exact opposite of chill) and creating for himself and others.
According to AutoStats data, Jaquez was in the 97th percentile in efficiency on possessions where he was the ball handler in ball-screen actions. He also handled a ton of volume as an isolationist and a driver – ranking in the 94th and 84th percentile in frequency of those two actions, respectively.
As an ‘older’ rookie (he will turn 23 in the middle of next season), Jaquez’s game is already more polished than some of his contemporaries we’ve already analyzed in this series (namely Dereck Lively II and Brandon Miller). That may put a limit on his long-term ceiling, but it also gives him a higher chance of making an immediate impact on the team he starts his career with.
If that team ends up being the Heat, his collegiate body of work suggests he’ll be just the type of two-way contributor they need to replace the championship components they said goodbye to in the offseason.
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out the first installment of “Immediate Impacts” on Jordan Hawkins, our second one on Brandin Podziemski, our third one on Dereck Lively II, and our fourth one on Brandon Miller.