Jamie Jaquez Jr. excelling as sixth man and closer for Heat as rookie

MIAMI — The role required an adjustment. Fortunately, Jaime Jaquez Jr. is a quick study.

So one month into his NBA career, the Miami Heat first-round pick in June has found a comfort zone as NBA sixth man.

He doesn’t start. But in each of the four games leading into Thursday night’s matchup against the Brooklyn Nets at Kasey Center, Jaquez has played every fourth-quarter minute, all 48 of them.

“The job of a sixth man is to really ignite and bring a different energy. I think that’s true,” Jaquez told the Sun Sentinel. “I think that’s where I’m going right now. It’s kind of a direction I’m kind of going into. It feels great, just getting a rhythm with the guys in the second unit, knowing where I need to be.

“Getting a feel for playing with different lineups has been really great for me, just to learn. And, yeah, it’s been a lot of fun, feeling more comfortable every day. I’m still getting tips from all the guys and everyone is continuing to breathe confidence into me.”

At the opening tip, the No. 18 selection out of UCLA finds himself reading the game. Then he is summoned by coach Erik Spoelstra — and reacts.

“You get to read and understand the game before you get in,” he said. “Because as a starter, you’re kind of just thrown into the fire and it’s sometimes difficult to set a tone. So in the second unit. it’s your job to be able to read the game and understand what’s needed and what you can do to try to impact winning.”

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And yet at the close, he has found himself in a grouping with featured starters Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, the trust from Spoelstra evident.

“It’s not just the trust that he’s building with the coaching staff, which he has done,” Spoelstra said. “It’s the reliability, the ability to compete at a high level but still do it with a brain. He’s attentive to the details.

“He’s earned the trust of his teammates, which I think is the most important thing, and in particular the veteran players. You do that by competing tough and being emotionally, mentally reliable. Those are tough things to do in this league, particularly for a young player.”

And yet there he stands, at closing time, with almost every Heat game this season decided in the closing ticks.

Jaquez, 22, said it is a matter of staying within himself, appreciating that Butler and Adebayo lead.

“Just little things, don’t turn it over, make the right play,” he said. “Play the right way is the biggest thing to earn trust from the coach. Try to fit in your role as best as you can. That’s just all I try to do.”

The simplicity has led to the success, and appreciation.

“I’m just learning as I go,” he said. “This is the game I played my entire life. This is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I know when I got my chance, I was going to be ready. That’s why I did four years of college, to prepare for this, so I could be ready and confident in my ability.

“To go out there and make an impact right away, that was kind of my plan all along.”

Spoelstra certainly seems sold.

“The grit, the perseverance, the mental and the emotional stability, he’s learning things, but he typically doesn’t make the same mistake twice,” Spoelstra said. “So these experiences in the fourth quarter are like exponential, 10X opportunities for him.”

After Tuesday night’s victory in Charlotte that extended the Heat winning streak to six, it led Spoelstra to circle back, somewhat, to his pregame comments about Jaquez.

“He’s earned the trust of the staff, but more importantly he’s earned the trust of his teammates,” he said. “They feel comfortable with him out there and he knows how to fit in. And defensively, he can do a lot of different things, which fits into our system.”