Another year, another player, the Heat turned into an amazing piece that came out of seemingly nowhere. In the NBA, when you have a pick outside of the lottery, you’re not necessarily looking for a star. You’re looking for role players, guys with huge upsides who aren’t fully ready for an NBA-level grind yet. Sometimes you get lucky and find a Giannis Antetokounmpo but that’s an extreme outlier. However, time and time again the Heat continue to hit on these picks, and it speaks to a larger notion of the Heat organization over the past decade.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. was at UCLA this time last year. Listed at six-foot-six, 220 pounds, Jaquez was a senior and put up a respectable 14.7 points per game, and 8.2 rebounds, along with 1.5 steals. Jaime Jaquez would get 1st team All-Pac-12 honors, Pac-12 Player of the Year, and 2nd team All-American according to Basketball Reference. From dknetwork, he was looked at as a late-first, early second-round pick because he played more like a big at UCLA and didn’t have much explosiveness to his game. His athleticism wasn’t very admirable to scouts then. The Heat decided to take a small reach on the kid, taking him 18th overall in this past year's NBA Draft. Then, he decided to take off and become a fan favorite to NBA fans almost out of the gate.
Currently averaging 14 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.7 assists, Jaquez has established himself as one of the best rookies in the sport. He’d have games on center stage showcasing himself. From ESPN, against the Philadelphia 76ers on Christmas, without star forward Jimmy Butler, Jaime Jaquez Jr. put up 31 points and ten boards, leading the Heat to a 119 to 113 win. Along with this, he was named Rookie of the Month for December, putting up 16.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.7 assists, as stated in NBA.com. He has been a very consistent player for Miami and is loved by their fans. Given the nickname “Juan Wick” for his goatee and long hair.
The rookie from UCLA has been stellar, but his rise goes far beyond this year, and far beyond even his control. “Heat Culture” has been a staple quote amongst NBA fans and seems to have a real effect on the players. As stated by Sporting News, Heat owner Pat Riley created the statement and believed it to its core. Hiring a coach like Erik Spoelstra, a man who always pushes players to their limits to get the best out of them, was perfect for his vision. Someone who’s not afraid to get into it with star players because he wants them to be better. The Heat in recent years have been a team of overcoming odds and outworking teams to win. Getting to the finals in both 2020 and 2023, both years where no one suspected them to make it. Role-players from the Heat seem to decline a little when they choose to leave Miami, as they lost the staff and surroundings that pushed them. Here’s a look at some of the benefactors of “Heat Culture”.
From Basketball Reference, Gabe Vincent is a small guard who went undrafted in 2018 after a four-year career at UC Santa Barbara. Vincent was a key contributor to the 2023 finals run, putting up a nice 13 points per game and being a huge reason, the Heat made the finals. Teams caught notice and the Lakers thought he would be a key cog into their finals push and signed him to a hefty 3-year, 33-million-dollar contract. Then suddenly, without warning, it felt like he took a step back, only playing five games so far with the Lakers due to being outplayed by other guards, and only putting up five points a contest.
Caleb Martin, an undersized forward from NC State and Nevada, was with the Hornets for the first few years of his career. He was okay for what he was but topped out at six points a game. Then, with the Heat, it jumped to a steady nine and now 10.5 this season. However, his crowning moment was this past postseason in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals. Up against the Celtics, Caleb Martin was the true hero of the game. Putting up 26 points and averaging 18.2 a game to help the Heat move onto the NBA Finals from Sports Illustrated. He stayed and played his role and stepped up in the biggest moments when he wasn’t seen as anything coming into the league. He stayed with Miami and now is continuing to benefit from his surroundings.
From his Wikipedia, another undrafted commodity who played division three ball at Williams College, before transferring to Michigan. During that year, he led the Big Ten in three-point percentage his first year and had a solid three-year tenure for the Wolverines. He signed with Miami and became the only player from Williams to ever play in an NBA game. He set various three-point records with the Heat and earned himself the largest contract for an undrafted player at the time, with a five-year, 90-million-dollar contract in the summer of 2021. He struggled a bit after signing the contract. However, in the playoffs this past season, he came back to the fold as another key contributor to the Heat’s final run. According to Basketball Reference again, he put up nine points and 44 percent from deep. He’s back to form this year, another player who stayed with the Heat and reaped the benefits.
Going back in time a bit on this one, Hassan Whiteside made his debut in the 2010-2011 season for the Kings. He did not leave much of an impact and spent a few years in Lebanon and the D-League. The Heat took a chance on him in 2014 and made them not regret that decision. He put up 11.8 points and 10 boards, while also nabbing 2.6 blocks. He carried that production over for four more seasons, putting up his best performance in 2017 with 17 points, 14.1 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks. However, he became a problem internally and in the front office. He’d sign a deal with Portland, then fazed out of the league only three years later. A great talent that was unfolded by his own hubris.
The Heat have been the pinnacle of getting the best out of their players and staff to create a truly alluring team. They will continue to win games with guys left for dead due to their status, or concerns, only for them to blossom under one of the best organizations in the NBA. Expect the Heat will pull another player out of thin air sometime in the future.