Shaquille O’Neal shows love to Jaime Jaquez Jr. as one of his top young stars along with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, others

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Jordan Godfree-USA TODAY Sports

Former Miami Heat big man Shaquille O’Neal named Heat rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. as one of his top young stars in the NBA along with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Anthony Edwards, Trae Young, Victor Wembanyama, Alperen Sengun and Zion Williamson.

Jaquez was selected by the Heat with the No. 18 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft after playing four seasons of college basketball. He has appeared in every one of Miami’s 35 games so far this season and is averaging 13.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 50.8 percent from the field and 34.6 percent from behind the 3-point arc.

Only three rookies — Wembanyama, Chet Holmgren and Brandon Miller — are averaging more points per game than Jaquez in the 2023-24 season.

The 22-year-old put up 10 points, three rebounds, one assist and two steals while shooting 5-of-7 from the floor in Miami’s most recent game against the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 5.

Days before playing the Suns, Jaquez had perhaps the best playmaking game of his NBA career against the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 3. He dished out eight assists compared to only two turnovers and also chipped in 16 points in a game the Heat won by 14 points on the road.

The play of Jaquez has helped Miami stay afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff picture without Jimmy Butler, who has missed seven of the Heat’s last eight games due to calf and toe injuries. The Heat are 20-15 on the season, a record the Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers also share.

The Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers are the only five teams in the Eastern Conference standings with better records. The Heat would certainly love to do some damage in the near future and start to climb up the ranks in the conference.

Jaquez and the Heat’s next action will come against the Houston Rockets on Jan. 8 followed by a matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 10.

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Jesse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with extensive experience covering the NBA.