Jaime Jaquez Jr. is living up to the hype that has surrounded him since the Miami Heat selected him in the 2023 NBA Draft, and the rookie said his plan all along was to make an immediate impact in his first season.
Jaquez has been thriving coming off the bench for the Heat, who are 7-4 and riding a six-game winning streak.
“The job of a sixth man is to really ignite and bring a different energy,” Jaquez told the Sun Sentinel. “I think that’s true. I think that’s where I’m going right now. It’s kind of a direction I’m kind of going into. It feels great, just getting a rhythm with the guys in the second unit, knowing where I need to be.
“Getting a feel for playing with different lineups has been really great for me, just to learn. And, yeah, it’s been a lot of fun, feeling more comfortable every day. I’m still getting tips from all the guys and everyone is continuing to breathe confidence into me.”
The 22-year-old is averaging 9.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game playing almost 23 minutes per contest in his 11 appearances. More importantly, he is often on the court in the fourth quarter as the Heat try to close out games.
The formula has worked magnificently lately for Miami heading into its game against the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday. The recent run of prosperity comes after a four-game losing streak that was part of a 1-4 start to the season.
So far in November, Jaquez is averaging 11.3 points per game, with a season-high 20 points scored against the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 11. He contributed 17 points in a 111-105 win at the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday.
The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) product was the No. 18 overall pick in the 2023 draft and entered the league with a wealth of experience gained as a four-year player with the Bruins. Some NBA general managers cited him as the biggest steal of the draft, and he was seen as someone who could contribute to the Heat immediately.
“I’m just learning as I go,” he said. “This is the game I played my entire life. This is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I know when I got my chance, I was going to be ready. That’s why I did four years of college, to prepare for this, so I could be ready and confident in my ability.
“To go out there and make an impact right away, that was kind of my plan all along.”
A groin injury suffered during a preseason practice fortunately did not derail his progress. He has certainly stepped up for the Heat, who were looking for contributions from someone new after missing out on Damian Lillard, Jrue Holiday and Bradley Beal this past offseason.
At times mentioned as part of trade rumors, Jaquez has rewarded the Heat’s faith in him with the strong start to his NBA career. Miami seems to have settled on a productive rotation that should only get better with the expected return of Caleb Martin from a knee injury.
Adding Martin to the mix reportedly won’t affect Jaquez’s playing time as he’s established himself as someone head coach Erik Spoelstra and his teammates can count on less than a dozen games into his debut season.