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Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: Jaime Jaquez Jr. has earned opportunities to play as a rookie

ORLANDO, Fla. — Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on Sunday praised Jaime Jaquez Jr. for his ability to step in this season and impact winning at a high level as a rookie.

Jaquez has emerged as a key player with the Heat, averaging 14 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.1 steals on 51.3% shooting from the field. He had started in seven straight games prior to suffering a groin injury on Jan. 14 and was the only player on the team to appear in every game.

The 18th pick earned the opportunity to be in the rotation from the start of the season after dazzling throughout training camp. He is fourth on the team in minutes per game (30.2) and even led all players in the league in fourth-quarter minutes prior to his injury (359.2).

Spoelstra said Jaquez has proven himself to be in the rotation.

He has had some big, impactful winning moments. That is the biggest thing: You’re not just gifting a young player minutes because you want to get him experience. With us, you have to earn it, and it has to impact the bottom line.

He has earned those opportunities from the coaching staff but, just as importantly, with the players in the locker room. He has an experience level born out of those productive NCAA runs (with UCLA). He knows how to compete.

Jaquez became the third player in franchise history to win Rookie of the Month multiple times after earning the award in November and December. He is fourth in rookie scoring and is one of six first-year players with a 30-point game.

The 22-year-old was among the most experienced players in the NBA draft last year after playing four years with the Bruins. He helped the team advance to the NCAA Tournament three times, including a spot in the Final Four in 2021.

Jaquez has rarely looked the part of a rookie and has helped contribute in various ways this season. His four-year run in college certainly helped prepare him for this opportunity, and the former All-American is taking advantage of it.

Story originally appeared on Rookie Wire