Nikola Jovic has been named to the Serbian team for the upcoming 2023 FIBA World Cup, and Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he is very encouraged about what the experience has done for his young player so far.
“This is exactly the type of summer and offseason that he needed,” Spoelstra said. “To be able to play, to be able to participate in all of our summer league practices and play in those summer league games against high-level competition. And we didn’t know necessarily how the Serbian team would shake out and it’s turned out to be marvelous for him. He’s getting a great opportunity.
“They had about a 2.5-three week training camp with the exhibition games included. He’s been able to play in all of those games. We were able to send our staff out and see a week of his training camp. And then we’re in the same place right now. He’s only about five miles away. With traffic, that could end up being about 45 minutes but we are definitely getting together while we’re out here.”
The 20-year-old played 15 games for the Heat last season as a rookie after he was a first-round pick (No. 27 overall) in the 2022 NBA Draft. He averaged 5.5 points per game during the regular season before appearing in seven playoff games as Miami made it all the way to the 2023 NBA Finals, where it lost to the Denver Nuggets.
Jovic could have a more expanded role this season as the Heat have lost Gabe Vincent (free agency), Max Strus (sign-and-trade) and Victor Oladipo (trade) during the offseason. The forward has impressed with Serbia during its exhibition games leading up to the tournament, including making some highlight-reel plays.
However, he also has been mentioned in trade rumors surrounding Miami’s pursuit of Damian Lillard from the Portland Trail Blazers, leading him to publicly say he hopes he is able to stay with the Heat. He also has mentioned the valuable lessons he has been able to learn from teammate Jimmy Butler.
Miami reportedly is willing to offer a package of multiple first-round picks, expiring contracts, a young player like Jovic, Tyler Herro going to a third team for assets and possibly more for Lillard. But talks seem to be at a standstill and show no signs of resuming anytime soon.
Jovic is not the only young Heat player who has drawn positive attention this summer. Jamaree Bouyea impressed teammate Orlando Robinson with a strong Summer League performance, and Jaime Jaquez Jr. reportedly could have an immediate role after he was a first-round pick (No. 18 overall) in the 2023 NBA Draft.
In addition, Herro looked good in his first action since a hand injury ended his season during the playoffs.
Spoelstra also will have a role at the FIBA World Cup, which begins Friday and runs through Sept. 10, as an assistant coach for Team USA. But as soon as that competition is over, the Heat head coach will get back to figuring out where Jovic and some others could fit into their plans for this season.