Heat coach Erik Spoelstra liked what he saw immediately when he saw Jordan Mickey on film this offseason.
Mickey, a 23-year-old, 6-8 power forward out of Dallas, hadn’t played much in the NBA, appearing in only 41 games in two seasons for the Boston Celtics.
But the potential was there.
And it’s starting to show at a time when the Heat desperately needs depth on its roster.
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With the Heat down to nine available players on Monday night, Mickey played significant minutes off the bench for the third consecutive game, scoring nine points and collecting a career-high 10 rebounds.
“Our scouting department really liked him,” Spoelstra said after Monday’s 110-104 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. “When they brought his name to me, watched film, I liked him. And in training camp and in preseason he really showed a lot of this, particularly in practice. Since then, what he’s shown is a work ethic and a competitive, professional character behind the scenes.”
Mickey, the 33rd overall pick in the 2015 draft by the Boston Celtics, led the nation in blocked shots per game his sophomore season at LSU.
He signed a one-year guaranteed $1.5 million deal with the Heat in August with a $1.6 million team option for next season.
Mickey started two games after Hassan Whiteside suffered his initial knee bone bruise on Oct. 18, but didn’t exceed 15 minutes on the court either time.
Mickey played in only four of the Heat’s next 24 games — mostly meaningless minutes at the end of blowout wins or losses.
But over the past three games as injuries to starters have mounted for the Heat, Mickey has been a valuable asset off the bench with Whiteside still out and power forward options Justise Winslow and James Johnson also sidelined.
“You got to always be ready … you have to always continue working on your game no matter if you’re playing or not,” Mickey said after the Heat’s shootaround Monday afternoon. “You never know what’s going to happen and when you’ll get your opportunity.”
Mickey has averaged 8.7 points and 7.3 rebounds in 22.2 minutes over the past three games while shooting 57.9 percent from the field.
“It’s not easy not playing for weeks,” Spoelstra said. “But you can get better if you’re dedicated, diligent, always working with [Heat assistant] Coach [Juwan] Howard. I really like the minutes that he’s given us. He brings you something defensively with his rebounding and shot blocking ability. And offensively, he continues to get better. We don’t want to put a ceiling on him. He’s really improving in a lot of those offensive areas.”
In addition to Howard’s guidance, Mickey credited both Johnson and Udonis Haslem as positive influences during his first few months with the Heat.
“James Johnson always tells me stay ready,” Mickey said. “He gives me confidence. He tells me if I was anywhere else I’d probably be playing. But I’m here on a good time and I get to learn quite a bit. Udonis always tells me, ‘Keep going, young fella, you’re only 23. You have a long way to go.”