Meet the Heat: KZ Okpala Has Tools on Tools

Miami Heat rookie KZ Okpala is raw, but his build and athleticism make him a project worth developing.

KZ Okpala cuts an imposing figure inside the Massimino Court at Keiser University during the Miami Heat's training camp.

His black Heat t-shirt is soaked and stuck to his 6-foot-9, 215-pound frame, which is all length, limbs—and possibilities.

"The physical potential is evident right from the get go—his quickness, his length, his aesthetics, his ability to defend multiple positions," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He can really move laterally. He has a lot more to learn, a lot more to get comfortable with. We're willing to be patient with him."

It's not like Miami has any other choice.

It knew what it was getting when it acquired the 32nd pick of this June's talent grab and spent it on the toolsy 20-year-old. As Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman noted at the time of the selection, "It's the idea of a near-6'10" forward who can face up and score that's appealing, but he'll need to make significant improvements for that idea to come to fruition."

Due to the Association's trade rules, Okpala's acquisition couldn't be finalized in time for him to get summer league run. So, he was denied a head start on what was already going to be a lengthy acclimation process.

And it shows. The Heat are throwing a ton his direction in a short amount of time. Spoelstra likened it to being put in front of a fire hose. Okpala sometimes appears like he's thinking the game through, not just reading and reacting to the situations.

This could take a while for the Heat to see a return on their investment, but Okapla is used to taking the long road—even if he joined the Lopez twins as the only Stanford players to leave for their NBA prior to their junior seasons.

"It's always been like that," Okpala told Heat Maven of his deer-in-headlights transition. "My freshman year in college, my freshman year in high school, I've always been overwhelmed, but then been able to tackle it."

Okpala was literally a late bloomer in high school, growing from 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-8 over the course of his prep career. He was a serviceable rotation player as a freshman at Stanford (10.0 points on 39.3 percent shooting, 3.7 rebounds) before emerging as a team leader and pro prospect as a sophomore (16.8 points on 46.3 percent shooting, 5.7 rebounds).

While that doesn't guarantee anything at this level, the track record highlights why the Heat like Okpala for more than his natural gifts. His willingness to work and commitment to the craft come right from the pages of the Heat Culture handbook.

"I'm not scared of the work, wherever it is," Okpala said. "It doesn't matter. I love to play basketball. It can be at the park, it can be in the Finals, I love to play basketball."

This could be a developmental season for the combo forward, and given the franchise's history with such endeavors, that could lead to a fascinating future.

Okapla boasts a near-7-foot-2 wingspan. Pat Riley described his athleticism as being in the Derrick Jones Jr. realm, though Okpala freely admits Jones "definitely" has the edge in aerial artistry. In some universe—maybe this one—there's a finished version of Okpala who's a walking mismatch on offense and a Swiss Army knife on defense.

Only time knows if the organization can bring that out of him, but it's easy to see why the Heat want to try.

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