Heat drafted Jaime Jaquez Jr. as a ready-now prospect; so he’s ready, now

There are times when Jaime Jaquez Jr. can’t help but smile when told about the maturity and experience he plays with. It’s probably because the Miami Heat’s first-round pick is mature and experienced.

As a 22-year-old with four seasons and 134 games of collegiate experience at UCLA, Jaquez is unlike any Heat draft pick in recent memory.

Jaime’s not a regular rookie,” center Bam Adebayo said, as the Heat turned their attention to Friday night’s game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.

Certainly not like what the Heat in recent years have gone for in the draft.

In 2022, the first-round selection was Nikola Jovic, a 19-year-old who had just broken into the upper tier of European play.

In 2020, the first-round pick was Precious Achiuwa, a 20-year old with a single season at Memphis State.

In 2019, Tyler Herro, one and done at Kentucky, was drafted at age 19.

In 2017, Adebayo, also one and done at Kentucky, also was drafted at age 19.

And in 2015, Justise Winslow, after his lone season at Duke, was drafted at the age of 19.

In fact, when it comes to first-round picks taken by the Heat of an age similar to Jaquez, you have to go back to Wayne Simien in 2005, when the 22-year-old forward was selected after four seasons and 106 games at Kansas. And before that, go back to current Heat assistant coach Caron Butler, who went in the 2002 first round to the Heat at age 22 after 63 games at Connecticut.

So after Jaquez provided meaningful minutes in Wednesday night’s season-opening victory over the Detroit Pistons, Adebayo said it was all about the seasoning.

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“He’s been in big games before,” Adebayo said. “He’s been in those games where he’s needed to be a leader, he’s needed to be the one option. And that’s through all those years in college.

“Me and Tyler came here at 19, one year of college, and got to figure it out. I feel like he’s come into the league ready. He’s building on his moment.”

With the Heat aware at the draft that Gabe Vincent and Max Strus likely were departing in free agency, the focus was on plug and play with the No. 18 pick.

“He has an ‘it’ quality,” coach Erik Spoelstra said, “whatever that ‘it’ is, but where he’ll make the appropriate play. It’s not necessarily like a lot of young players who either they’re going too fast or they’re only looking to score.

“You can see his footwork. You can see his poise. And skill level all across the board, off the dribble, cuts, and things of that nature.”

While a preseason groin injury has Jaquez on a minutes restriction, the flashes are trending in a positive direction.

“He’s got some ‘go,’ that’s for sure,” forward Jimmy Butler said. “He gets right to it in the mid-post, takes the right shots, kicks the ball out incredibly well. This might be his rookie year, but he’s played basketball in a winning manner for so long that he’s doing it on this level now. So as the game slows down for him, as it will, he’ll just continue to get better.”

Having had to learn on the job, Herro said he appreciates Jaquez arriving ready and able.

“He’s played in multiple big games, Final Fours, Tournament games,” Herro said. “This is not the biggest game he’s played in. So he’s definitely ready to grow, as you’ve seen. He’s already comfortable, but trying to make him feel as comfortable as possible.”

All of which leaves Jaquez appreciative of the confidence instilled by Spoelstra.

“I was very glad that he trusts me to make the right plays at all times,” he said. “A lot of those sets were very familiar at UCLA, most in the exact same position.

“I just feel comfortable. It’s basketball at the end of the day. It’s something I’ve been playing my whole life.”

Still, even with the age and experience, it doesn’t mean there also weren’t butterflies on Wednesday night.

“Even before the game,” Jaquez said, “Tyler came up to me, like, ‘Hey, whatever happens, just play your game. Play how you play.’ And so it gave me a lot of confidence to just go out there and do what I do.”