ASK IRA: Will playoff push prove limiting for Heat’s Jaime Jaquez Jr., Nikola Jovic?

Q: Nikola Jovic has disappeared and Jaime Jaquez Jr. is not playing nearly as much as before. Why have we quit on our developmental path? – Steve.

A: With Jaime Jaquez Jr., the numbers being down from when he was playing in the 30s is a factor of those minutes having come as a starter, when Jimmy Butler was out. Plus, Josh Richardson is playing better at the moment and Terry Rozier has been added, which also limited the minutes (with Terry clocking more minutes than Kyle Lowry). As for Nikola Jovic, he had his turn, the return on the investment was uneven, and now it is go-time on the schedule. But when it comes to the notion of the Heat quitting on their developmental program, make sure you don’t say that to anyone around 601 Biscayne. The drill work remains relentless with Nikola and ongoing with Jaime.

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Q: Last season ended with a 2-7 playoff run after an admirable, but circumstantial streak to arrive at the conference finals. Erik Spoelstra, Bam Adebayo and Playoff Jimmy Butler are formidable, but Jimmy has run out of gas before the finish line his entire Heat life. This group needs major help, but in the current NBA they are just not a true competitor? – Jim, Columbia, S.C.

A: And they also weren’t viewed at this stage as “a true competitor” last year, and then advanced all the way to the NBA Finals. And as far as Jimmy Butler having run out of gas in the playoffs with the Heat, I would note that in 2020 it was more a case of the Heat running out of bodies, when Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic were hurt in the NBA Finals against the Lakers. When the Heat fail in the playoffs, that’s when you consider a rebuild, similar to after the failure in the 2021 opening round against the Bucks (with Kyle Lowry then helping them get to the next two Eastern Conference finals). Drawing judgements on the Heat in February can be a dangerous game.

Q: With Udonis Haslem having retired, do you think this year’s team lacks toughness? – Brian.

A: Only if by lacking toughness you mean lacking size and height. When you are smallish, it is difficult to muscle up, a concession the Heat seemingly have been willing to make by starting Haywood Highsmith and then Caleb Martin at power forward alongside Bam Adebayo. And let’s not overstate Udonis Haslem as the muscle of the operation in recent years, when he hardly played. This is who the Heat have been for a while.