When the Miami Heat selected a 6-foot-11, 223-pound Serbian in the first round of the draft, the initial questions were how it would translate to today’s NBA.
After a pair of practices in advance of the team’s summer league opener Saturday, a few answers were offered Friday by Nikola Jovic.
First, the 19-year-old said he believes he has earned a passing grade in communications as he works with Heat assistant coach Malik Allen, who is guiding the team’s summer roster.
“It’s just I’ve never been coached by a coach who doesn’t speak Serbian,” said Jovic, who was born in England but spent his formative basketball years in Serbia. “Everyone around speaks English, but there is a lot of new plays. I don’t have a problem with that. I learn them easily. I don’t think I have a problem with learning them. I need to concentrate a little bit more because it’s a different language.
“But I think Coach is doing a great thing with us and explaining everything to me. So I think right now I’m being really, really good with it.”
Despite a frame that will require some NBA hardening, Jovic said it is the speed, more than the strength, that has left him at somewhat of a loss during his initial scrimmages.
“I would say strength-wise it’s about the same,” he said after the Heat practiced Friday at the Chase Center, home of the Golden State Warriors. “But pace is higher, for sure. These guys are a lot faster. So that’s the only thing that is really different. Everything else is kind of the same.
“Our team is really, really physical. All the guys are really good. I think I’ve been pushed by the whole team. But I think everybody’s pushing each other.”
When initially introduced after being selected at No. 27, Jovic said he viewed himself as a skilled guard. But he said he continues to find his way in that regard.
“I think right now they’re still looking to see where I’m the best at,” he said. “I’m still trying to find a perfect fit for me. So it’s going to take a little bit of time.
“Some of the games I’ll show what I can do and they’ll know exactly where to put me. So right now, we’re just experimenting a little bit.”
The Heat open their three-game schedule at the California Classic in San Francisco at 5 p.m. Eastern on Saturday against a similar team of draft picks, rookies, free agents and young prospects from the Los Angeles Lakers, with the game televised on ESPN2.
“He’s got a good feel for the game offensively,” Allen said. “And defensively he does well. He’s learning. But when you talk to him, you don’t get the sense that it’s totally foreign, what you’re trying to teach him, which is a really positive sign.
“He’s got a good personality, good spirit. He is competitive. He’s young, but it’s good when you have that competitive spirit, obviously, just because you think he’s going to keep getting better.”
So far, Allen said, it’s been an encouraging partnership, one that will endure, with Jovic’s rookie-scale deal that starts at $2.2 million leaving him under guaranteed contract for at least two seasons and as many as four.
“He doesn’t force anything,” said Allen, who coaches the Heat’s big men during the regular season. “Anytime you need to move the ball, he’s got a good feel of just moving the ball. He can put the ball on the floor and attack, which is encouraging for a young guy. He’s not afraid to put the ball on the floor and try to get to the rim, take contact.
“And he’s gonna have the ability to shoot it. And he’s a really good kid. He’s what you expect out of a 19-year-old. He’s ambitious, but he’s youthful.”
The Heat on Friday released their three-game home preseason schedule.
Exhibitions at FTX Arena are scheduled for Oct. 4 against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Oct. 10 against the Houston Rockets and Oct. 12 against the New Orleans Pelicans, with all three games to start at 7:30 p.m.
The Heat also are expected to play three road exhibitions, with that portion of the schedule to be released at a later date.
The Heat’s ticket release noted, “Tickets purchased through July 7 are eligible for the State of Florida’s 2022 Freedom Week Sales Tax Holiday. All qualifying purchases will have the tax refunded by Ticketmaster.”