Heat’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. establishing himself as one of NBA’s top rookies: ‘He’s got game, man’

Jaime Jaquez Jr. was hoping to be drafted by the Miami Heat before he was actually drafted by the Heat with the 18th overall pick in June.

“A lot of reasons,” Jaquez said when asked why he wanted to land with the Heat. “I think when it comes to basketball, just being under Pat Riley and coach Spo (Erik Spoelstra), I don’t think you could ask for two better guys when it comes to basketball to play under and learn from. So that was a big reason.

“I also didn’t want to stay in L.A. for all my life. I wanted to get out and be somewhere new, kind of challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone. So coming to Miami was a spot that I always really loved. I had been here before a couple times and I just loved the city, loved everything about it. So I just really wanted to come here.”

Jaquez, 22, got what he wanted and so did the Heat.

Through the first month of the season, Jaquez (6-6 and 225 pounds) has established himself as one of the NBA’s top rookies after a four-year college career at UCLA. He entered Saturday night’s matchup against the Indiana Pacers averaging 12 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 steals in 26.6 minutes per game while shooting an efficient 52.9 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 87.5 percent from the foul line and proving to be a solid team defender in primarily a bench role.

Among NBA rookies this season, Jaquez ranks sixth in points per game (12), ninth in rebounds per game (3.9), eighth in assists per game (2.5), third in steals per game (1.1) and sixth in minutes per game (26.6).

Also, Jaquez and Oklahoma City’s Chet Holmgren are the only two rookies in the league averaging double-digit points while shooting better than 50 percent from the field this season. No Heat rookie has done that in their first NBA season.

“He’s playing winning basketball,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Jaquez, who can play as a guard and forward. “He’s able to complement a lot of different lineups. He’s eating up everything right now and he’s a smart player. So he picks up things quickly. But the biggest thing is he’s a competitor, he’s a mature player and those type of characteristics can fit in with what we’re trying to do.”

This has all helped lift Jaquez into an even bigger role than the one he started the season in five weeks ago, averaging 16 points, 4.6 rebounds, three assists and one steal in 32.4 minutes per game while shooting 53.8 percent from the field and 46.2 percent on threes in the Heat’s last 11 games entering Saturday’s contest against the Pacers.

Jaquez has also already logged 159 fourth-quarter minutes this season, which is the second-most among Heat players behind only Josh Richardson and second-most among all NBA rookies behind only Washington’s Bilal Coulibaly. Jaquez has played the entire fourth quarter in eight games this season, which is the second-most among Heat players behind only Richardson.

Miami Heat Jaime Jaquez Jr. (11) reacts to dunking on Indiana Pacers forward Bruce Brown (11) during the second half of an NBA game at Kaseya Center in Miami, Florida, on Thursday, November 30, 2023.
Miami Heat Jaime Jaquez Jr. (11) reacts to dunking on Indiana Pacers forward Bruce Brown (11) during the second half of an NBA game at Kaseya Center in Miami, Florida, on Thursday, November 30, 2023.

“He’s got game, man,” Heat reserve Caleb Martin said of Jaquez. “He’s got a mature style of game and I think that in order for us to utilize that, he’s got to be in situations like that.

“He’s a quick learner. He’s a rookie, but he’s a little bit of an older guy. So you can kind of tell his game is more mature. And personality wise, he fits right in, too. So he’s easy to teach. He wants to learn. He’s a student of the game and he’s going to continue to get better.”

Jaquez’s unique ability to make an impact with or without the ball in his hands paired with his effectiveness in the mid-post has even drawn comparisons to the Heat’s best player Jimmy Butler. Jaquez said during the pre-draft process that Butler is one of his favorite NBA players.

“I had never seen him play before he got here, so I didn’t really know what to expect,” Richardson said of Jaquez. “But he’s super mature. He has a good pace about him. He gets to the mid-post and he plays almost like a baby Jimmy. He’s got all those pump fakes, he’s got the pace, he’s got the little bumps and everything and he’s 6-7 doing all of that. So I think the sky is the limit for him.”

Even Butler, a six-time All-Star and five-time All-NBA selection, notices the similarities.

“Without a doubt,” Butler said when asked if he sees a little bit of himself in Jaquez. “It’s good to see and it’s cool because he’s super young. I picked up that type of stuff when I was 28, 29. So he has so much room to get better and he’s so confident. He’s always working on his game and he wants to make the right play every time.”

Jaquez’s play has also started to draw outside recognition, as former NBA player JJ Redick said recently on his podcast “The Old Man & the Three” that “Jaime Jaquez Jr., outside of Chet Holmgren and [Victor] Wembanyama, has been the best rookie to me in the NBA this year.”

Former NBA player and ESPN NBA analyst Tim Legler made an appearance on Redick’s podcast and also praised Jaquez, saying: “What I notice with his passing is he’s this rare player that can make a cut when whoever, say Jimmy Butler or Bam [Adebayo] or whoever has the ball on the short iso area on the wing and now there’s traffic coming their way, he’ll make the weak-side cut. But he understands that on the cut prior to the ball coming in his direction, he already knows what the rotation is going to be and where his pass is going to go. That’s very unusual for a young player. ... It’s just such a high-level of basketball thinking and that became apparent to me right away watching him. Then you got the 50-40-80 splits that he’s shooting right now, which is incredibly unusual for a first-year guard because everything is happening, you have less time to process every situation, particularly your shooting.”

Jaquez is only one month into his first NBA regular season. He’ll be a different player two weeks from now than he is today, and likely a better one.

“I think there’s always room to learn, always room to improve,” Jaquez said. “We’ve played around 20 games. It’s a lot, but it’s not a lot compared to 82 games. I’m just constantly trying to learn and get better, watch a lot of film and see where I can find my spots to affect the game.”

And off the court, Jaquez is feeling more comfortable in Miami with each day that passes. This is his first extended stretch away from home after growing up and going to college in the Los Angeles area.

“Very different, especially coming from L.A. to here, it’s two different vibes,” Jaquez said of his transition to Miami. “But I’m starting to really love it here and it’s been great.”

Miami is starting to love Jaquez, too.