One of these rookies will win a playoff game
Examining three rookies who will play big roles in the spring
We’re midway through December, more than a quarter of the way through the season, and I’m in love with this rookie class.
I’m especially impressed by the young bucks who are contributing to competitive teams. It’s much harder to earn minutes as a rookie when the team cares about winning; mistakes aren’t waved off as acceptable growing pains, and there’s usually more talent to compete with for playing time.
I wanted to take a peek at several rooks playing prominent roles on winning teams (sorry, Wemby!). If you’re wondering where Chet Holmgren is, I already wrote about him extensively a few weeks ago, and everything there is still valid. I do have another Thunder player on here!
But first, let’s start with the mustachioed wonder himself, Jaime Jaquez Jr.
Jaime Jaquez Jr., Miami Heat
27.7 min | 13.0p | 2.8a | 3.6r | 51% FG% | 40% 3P%
Jaquez sports an incredibly high basketball IQ and a well-rounded skillset that lend themselves beautifully to a Miami system that demands both. He has an origamist’s understanding of how one fold can change the entire shape of the court, even when there doesn’t seem to be room to maneuver. Watch as this cut from the corner into a crowded paint manufactures points out of thin air:
It helps that Jaquez can turn invisible. Here, RJ Barrett is looking right at him and still doesn’t see the coming cut:
Luckily for Miami fans, Coach Spoelstra sees Jaquez just fine. The Heat have increased his role as the season has gone on, and in December’s six games, he’s averaging 16 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 48% overall and 41% from deep. Although he mostly plays wing, Jaquez has dabbled as a point guard here and there, and it’s clear the Heat are grooming him to be more of an offensive initiator in future seasons.
It’s easy to see the potential. Like the best passers, Jaquez goes at his own pace. Sometimes, that’s surveying the defense with his back to the basket and picking out Miami’s cutters, whirring around like wind-up toys. Sometimes, that’s sprinting like sixth-circle hellhounds are after him to open up space for a nearly blind turnaround pass to a teammate:
The savvy to attack right as his defender helps on the drive, the swashbuckling swagger to throw the pass before he could confirm his teammate was still there. That is such a gorgeous play; please watch it again.
As a scorer, Jaquez does a surprising amount of his damage from the midrange. The Heat are as analytically inclined as anyone, but they’ve given Jaquez the green light to work the middle like a boxer spraying body shots. He has pristine footwork, the kind of clean you usually only see in operating rooms:
How many rookies have a two-footed jump-back from 13 feet in their bag? More to the point, how many are allowed to take that shot?
Jaquez’s role and minutes may change when Tyler Herro returns, but Spoelstra will find a way to keep him on the court. He’s been closing games for Miami in recent weeks, and he’s too good not to play.
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