Heat’s Jaquez poised to put unique stamp on All-Star contest, ‘dunking nowadays, it’s like water, it’s everywhere’

Even when it looked easy, Jaime Jaquez Jr. recognized otherwise.

Because of that, it makes the Miami Heat wing all the more appreciative of this impending showcase during All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis, first in the Rising Stars showcase for first- and second-year players on Friday night, then in the Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star Saturday.

At the start, there could not have been a better start for Jaquez, with the No. 18 pick in last June’s NBA draft out of UCLA the NBA’s Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month the first two months of the season.

And then a groin strain that sidelined him for six games.

And then five consecutive games limited to single-digit scoring.

It was a welcome-to-the-NBA turn that could have deflated.

Instead, it motivated.

“I mean,” Jaquez said during a quiet moment in the Heat locker room, “I think everyone has moments like this, not just rookies, but throughout your career. I’ve even had times like these in college, where you feel great, everything’s great, and then you get out there and you just get lost in everything else.
“So it just was trying to get back to playing my game and having fun and enjoying basketball.”

Which is what this weekend is all about, with Jaquez poised to soak it all in, as he has through all the (mostly) ups and (limited) downs through the first half of this Heat season that now is on an eight-day break.

“People are going to love you at your highest, and when you get low, people are going to start to criticize and say a bunch of things, so I try to stay mentally pretty straight on, not get too high, not get too low,” he said. “And for the most part, that’s worked for me my entire career – try not to listen to the good things and try not to listen to the bad, as well, and just focus on the team and my coaches and my teammates and how we can get wins in games.

“And as long as I’m being productive in that way, I’m fine with that.”

It is a professionalism that not only has resonated within the Heat locker room but also around the league.

That recently had him as a featured guest on the Podcast P of Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George, a previous competitor in the All-Star Saturday dunk contest and a participant in Sunday’s All-Star Game.

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It led to a lively back and forth.

“Obviously, I mean taking a lot of inspiration from a lot of different places,” Jaquez said of Saturday’s dunk competition that also will feature Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown, New York Knicks forward Jacob Toppin and G League guard Mac McClung, last year’s contest winner. “But at the same time, I kind of really want it to be myself and rely on my own creativity and bring something that people haven’t really seen before, ’cause I mean, dunking nowadays, it’s like water, it’s everywhere, everybody can do crazy dunks.

“So you got to put your own little twist on things and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

With “twist” being the operative word.

“It’s about creativity and having good tricks,” he said. “An in-game dunk is one thing, but a dunk contest is another. It’s about being creative and having good tricks.”

If there were any lingering questions about Jaquez’s bounce, they were answered with his emphatic putback dunk that helped put away Wednesday night’s 109-104 road victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.

With something perhaps even more dramatic – if not necessarily as meaningful – to potentially follow Saturday.

“I think I got one dunk that you guys are going to be surprised to see,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work behind the scenes being put into the creativity of all this. I never realized how serious this process was going to be.”

But, more than anything, he said, “I’m just banking on the adrenaline.”

And, perhaps, taking advantage of his flowing locks.

“They’re going to have it in slow motion,” he said with a laugh.

Dunk contest rules

– Four players will compete in the two-round competition.

– There will be five judges, including former Heat guard Gary Payton and former Broward prep star Mitch Richmond. For each dunk, a score from 40 to 50 will be given by each judge. The average of the five judges’ scores will be the individual dunk score.

– For each scored dunk in both rounds, each dunker will be given 90 seconds plus one additional try to complete one dunk and will be limited to three attempts.

– Made dunks cannot be replaced, even if the dunker has remaining attempts.

– Format: Two scored dunks per player in each round. The two dunkers with the highest composite scores advance to the final round.