Jordan Mickey hadn’t felt the thrill of hitting a game-winning shot since high school.
Mickey drained a three-pointer with a second remaining that clinched a 117-115 Heat win over the Wizards on Wednesday night.
Although the heroics came in a preseason game that didn’t count, Mickey isn’t wasting any opportunity to prove his value to his new team.
“We’re all competitors so you always want to take every game seriously,” Mickey said. “You never know when you’ll get an opportunity in this game.”
Mickey, 23, said his last game-winner came while playing high school ball in Dallas at Prime Prep Academy his senior year.
Consistent long-range shooting from Mickey would be an added bonus.
Where the 6-8, 235-pound forward really could bring value to the Heat is in a defensive role blocking shots.
“It’s kind of what got me here, defense, shot blocking and rebounding,” Mickey said. “I want to continue to grow on that. That’s what got me noticed and I’m going to keep on doing that and hopefully I can get a spot on the floor eventually and it’ll take me somewhere.”
Mickey, who is entering his third season in the NBA after two years with the Boston Celtics, led the SEC in blocks at LSU where he played two seasons before being drafted in the second round of the 2016 draft. He also ranked second in field goal percentage in college.
“Jordan has probably been our leading shot blocker in training camp and that’s including a guy that led the league in shot blocking,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s been very consistent steady. He doesn’t get too high or too low. He’s just trying to get better.”
Mickey hasn’t had much of an opportunity to demonstrate those skills in the NBA, playing in only 41 games over two seasons with the Celtics and averaging only 1.4 points and 0.4 blocks per game during that span.
But while playing for the Celtics’ G League squad, Mickey averaged 20.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.75 blocks in 12 starts last year.
Mickey gained some limited playoff experience in Boston as well, and was already familiar with one of his former teammates, newly-acquired Heat forward Kelly Olynyk.
“Mick’s got great timing on the defensive end,” Olynyk said after a recent practice. “He can rebound the basketball and really over the past couple of years, I’ve seen him develop an outside shot. He can stretch the ball to the [three-point line], mid-range jumpers and put the ball on the floor with one dribble. He’s really expanded his game and deserves to be in this league.”
With a guaranteed contract, Mickey figures to land a spot on the opening night roster as a deep reserve, but could see his minutes increase if injuries occur such as it did Wednesday when Okaro White went down with a shoulder strain.
Mickey played 19 minutes and finished with 12 points, six rebounds and a block on 5-of-6 shooting from the field and went 2-of-3 from three including the game-winner for a plus/minus of (+15) against the Wizards.
That versatility could give the Heat a player that could provide depth at the 3 and the 4 or even at center in smaller lineups.
“It’s all part of the process,” Mickey said. “I’m the new guy here. I kind of went through the same thing in Boston. It’s nothing new. You have to start from the bottom and work your way up. I’m just out here playing hard and trying to impress the coaches.”
Mickey isn’t the first pro athlete in his family or basketball standout.
His brother, James Wright, Jr., was a wide receiver at LSU that was later drafted and played two seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals.
His father, James, Sr., played for Abilene Christian University in the mid-1980s and was recently inducted in that school’s Hall of Fame.
In addition to speaking highly of his skills in practice, Spoelstra praised Mickey’s positive attitude since joining his new team.
“He’s been bringing so much life, just positive energy to the rest of the guys, waiting for his opportunity,” Spoelstra said. “He didn’t get down or frustrated and then he has a great moment like this. If you’re clear in the mind and you’re pure, these kinds of moments happen for you.”