The Miami Heat selected Memphis forward Precious Achiuwa with the No. 20 pick in Wednesday night’s NBA draft, giving coach Erik Spoelstra another youthful piece to inject into a mix that advanced to last season’s NBA Finals.
The selection of the athletic 6-foot-9 rim-running athlete was part of the NBA’s virtual draft, with Commissioner Adam Silver announcing the picks from ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., studios, an ongoing part of the league’s coronavirus contingencies that included finishing last season in a quarantine bubble at Disney World.
Based on the NBA rookie salary scale, Achiuwa is eligible for as much as a $2.6 million salary in 2020-21, under Heat contract control for up to four seasons.
In Achiuwa, the Heat land an athletic big man who began his lone season at Memphis at power forward but then was moved to center, when eventual No. 2 overall pick Jonathan Wiseman was ruled ineligible. The native of Nigeria adds length to the front line and a quality finisher at the rim.
The move gives the Heat another athletic, rangy big man along with emerging center Bam Adebayo, who also is of Nigerian ancestry. Achiuwa averaged 15.8 points and 10.8 rebounds last season playing under former Heat guard Penny Hardaway. He shot 49 percent from the field but lack the range Spoelstra prefers alongside Adebayo.
Among those taken directly ahead of the Heat’s selection were North Carolina guard Cole Anthony by the Orlando Magic at No. 15, Washington forward Isaiah Stewart by the Detroit Pistons at No. 16, Serbian big man Aleksej Pokusevski by the Oklahoma City Thunder taking at No. 17, Arizona forward Josh Green by the Dallas Mavericks at No. 18, and Saddiq Bey by the Pistons at No. 19.
The Heat bypassed Kentucky guard Tyrese Maxey in favor of Achiuwa, with Maxey then selected at No. 21 by the Philadelphia 76ers. The Heat had selected Kentucky players with their previous two first-round selections, Adebayo in 2017 and Tyler Herro in 2019.
Also bypassed by the Heat were Arizona forward Zeke Nnaji, who went to the Denver Nuggets at No. 22; Argentine guard Leandro Bolmaro, who went to the New York Knicks at No. 23; guard R.J. Hampton, who went to the Nuggets at No. 24; and Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickly, who went to the Thunder at No. 25.
The Heat were required, by rule, to exercise the pick, with their 2021 unprotected first-round pick held by the Thunder. Teams are not allowed to trade successive future first-round selections.
The Heat also could be without their 2023 first-round pick, with that lottery-protected selection also owned by the Thunder.
For the Heat, there now is the quick turnaround to Friday’s 6 p.m. start of NBA free agency, where decisions will have to be made with Goran Dragic, Jae Crowder, Derrick Jones Jr., Meyers Leonard, Solomon Hill and Udonis Haslem. Haslem said last week he plans to return for an 18th Heat season.
The league’s personnel calendar became congested this year because of the four-month shutdown on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic and then the NBA’s decision to start the 2020-21 season on Dec. 22.
In addition to the free-agency negotiation window opening Friday and the signing period beginning 12:01 a.m. Sunday, players will be required to report back to their teams’ cities in a week in advance of the start of training camp the first week of December.
That timetable not only eliminates a summer-league type of initiation for Thursday’s draft picks, but also the extra time to work at team facilities in advance of training camp.
While Thursday represented another opportunity to inject youth into the team’s mix, the Heat already have a developmental pipeline that includes 2019 second-round pick KZ Okpala, 2019-20 two-way players Kyle Alexander and Gabe Vincent, as well as emerging youthful talents Herro, Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson, Adebayo and Chris Silva.
Going into Thursday, the Heat’s previous two first-round picks were selected out of Kentucky, Adebayo at No. 14 in 2017 and Herro at No. 13 in 2019.
Recent players selected at No. 20 included Philadelphia 76ers guard Matisse Thybulle last year, Brooklyn Nets guard Caris LeVert in 2016, Dallas Mavericks guard Delon Wright in 2015 and Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier in 2012.
The previous time the Heat held the No. 20 pick, they selected DePaul guard Kevin Edwards in the team’s first draft in 1988.