Miami Heat’s KZ Okpala appreciates club, fans’ Expectations
The Miami Heat invested big in the futures market when it came to Chikezie ‘KZ’ Okpala in the 2019 NBA draft. Now it appears that there is an expectation of a return on an outlay yet to pay tangible dividends, report sun-sentinel.com.
“The way they push me means they care,” the 6-foot-8 forward out of Stanford said Wednesday, as the Heat continued training camp workouts at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Rarely have the Heat gone as all-in on a second-round pick as they did on June 20, 2019, dealing three future second-round picks to acquire the rights to Okpala, the No. 32 selection that night.
The net result was Okpala appearing in five games for the Heat last season, playing 26 minutes and scoring seven points. He missed most of the first half of the season with a strained left Achilles and then spent most of the second half with the Heat’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce. He then was sidelined for the season’s quarantine restart at Disney World due to what the Heat listed as personal reasons.
All the while, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra attempted to motivate with his words, as the Heat developmental staff pushed to maximize both effort and engagement.
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As Okpala, 21, spoke Wednesday, it became clear that a mandate had been issued for more, with the Heat taking the unique step at the outset of guaranteeing three full seasons on the forward’s initial contract.
“For me,” he said, “it’s going out every day in practice, training camp from day one, and just making sure my presence is felt every day. So that’s my job. And whatever else happens, I want the best for the team. So I’m just going to put my best foot forward every day, continue to grow, and approach every day as a professional. I think that’s the main thing for me.
“Even with these individual workouts every day, approaching everything as a professional, all the little things matter, be very detail-oriented. And worrying about myself and how I can engage better with my teammates. And whatever that equals is up to Coach, I’ve just got to worry about the things I can control.”
There were moments that created hope in the G League, averaging 11.7 points in 28.6 minutes per game in his 20 appearances for the Skyforce. But he also shot .368 from the field and .282 on 3-pointers.
“It has been unorthodox with what I’ve been dealt with,” he said of his uneven, limited game action to this stage. “But I’ve gained a lot of experience and I’ve learned a lot. Those learning experiences, you can’t take for granted. So I think I’m in a good situation and I’m thirsty as ever to play. So I think that chip on my shoulder right now is huge.”
The first-team All-Pac 12 selection in 2019 stressed that he has spent extensive time working on his 3-point shot. He said he believes his wingspan allows him to defend on switches, “and with the playmakers we have, I think I can really be someone who can score offcuts.”
As for the lithe build that offered little deterrence defensively and provided little force offensively, he said Wednesday, “I’m like 217 with 5.5 percent body fat. I’m in a good place right now. I think the main thing for me is just to be in great shape and be able to withstand everything.”
Out of all of that is the hope created from what the Heat did last season in turning to the game-ready youth of Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, and Duncan Robinson.
“Just talking to them, seeing how they move, seeing how they work every day, really was inspiring me, definitely,” Okpala said.
“I think I’m ready to play and I’ve learned a lot.”
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