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Will Nikola Jovic’s FIBA Success Make Him a Trail Blazers Trade Target?

The young Serbian is shining during FIBA, but what does that mean for the Blazers?

NBA: Miami Heat at Portland Trail Blazers Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Damian Lillard’s request to take his talents to the Miami Heat isn’t panning out like he’d probably hoped. Right now, the seven-time All Star could very well start the 2023-24 season as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. So far the Blazers have judged a potential Heat package as subpar for the price of giving up a Top 75 player of all time.

One of the assets mooted in said Heat package could be second year forward Nikola Jovic — not to be confused with another Nikola who recently led the Denver Nuggets to a title.

Jovic was taken with the 27th pick in 2022, playing 15 rookie games and averaging 13.6 minutes, 5.5 points, 22.9 percent from three, 2.1 boards, 0.7 assists and 0.5 steals. The-20-year-old also played 13 minutes over seven games of Miami’s playoff run to the NBA Finals.

Last season, the 6’10 Jovic played 54 percent of his minutes at power forward and 46 percent at center. He ranked 18th among bigs when scoring around the rim at 78 percent and 15th in steals, thieving the ball on 1.6 percent of opposition plays. Not an awful rookie campaign but nothing particularly notable.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

World Cup Jovic

Over the past three weeks, Jovic has represented Serbia at the 2023 FIBA World Cup. Next Serbia takes on Germany in the Final. That’s an amazing effort for a nation missing Nikola Jokic, with Jovic and Atlanta Hawks wing Bogdan Bogdanovic being the only two active NBA players on the roster.

Through the tournament, Jovic has averaged 10.2 points on 45.2 percent from three, 76.7 percent from two, 2.3 boards, and 2.9 assists. Highlights included 25 points against South Sudan where he went 9 of 9 from the field, including 5 of 5 from beyond the three point line, 2 rebounds and 3 assists. He also put up 17 points against Puerto Rico on 6 of 9 from the field, including 3 of 5 from three, to go with 3 rebounds and 4 assists.

What does it mean?

Jovic’s FIBA World Cup performance has been impressive. His shooting splits for a big man have been particularly intriguing.

The Blazers need big men who can score. Jovic is young, he’s got three more years on his rookie deal and is under team control for at least another four. He plays in the frontcourt, which for the Blazers is a big tick. The “oops, all guards” thing isn’t sustainable and will probably result in Anfernee Simons being moved at either the deadline or next offseason.

But before we call up Pat Riley and say yes to a deal including Jovic, we need to stop and think for a second.

While Luka Doncic represented Slovenia, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led Canada, Josh Giddey powered Australia, Rudy Gobert played for France and Franz Wagner has played for Germany, there have been some key omissions from the FIBA tournament.

The best Americans did not represent Team USA. Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t in Greek colors. Joel Embiid wasn’t in a French or Cameroonian jersey. Jokic didn’t join Serbia’s squad and Team Canada was missing Jokic's Nuggets teammate Jamal Murray. Kristaps Porzingis didn’t play for Latvia and Domantas Sabonis was absent from Lithuania’s team.

Have a look at the two nations Jovic had impressive box scores against. While both South Sudan and Puerto Rico have produced NBA players in the past, none are currently active — South Sudanese forward and former Blazer Wenyen Gabriel is yet to find a home for the 2023-24 season.

A total of 55 NBA players represented 32 teams fielding 12 names each during the tournament. That’s 55 of 384 players or 14 percent of World Cup competitors currently playing in the best league on the planet.

I’m not trying to trash the tournament, it’s been great, but the level and skill on offer wasn’t what you might see in the NBA.

The best Miami Heat deal

In a hypothetical scenario where Riley and the Heat are open to parting with every asset not named Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo, a Miami package still isn’t rolling my socks ups and down.

Remember, this is a team that was a couple of minutes from missing last season’s NBA Playoffs during their second Play-In game. And they’ve since lost their starting backcourt in Gabe Vincent and Max Strus.

I'm not taking away from the Heat's impressive playoff run but there are existing issues with this roster.

If they decided to include Jovic, rookie Jaime Jaquez and the three firsts the Heat can offer (including the removal on protections on the pick owed to the Oklahoma City Thunder).

If they’re prepared to part with pick swaps in 2025 and 2027 and somehow get a decent pick and a nice young player for Tyler Herro from a third team.

It’s still not enough.

Why? Because we’re talking about Damian Lillard. A player who not only stars on the court, but also off.

Heat fans might say they’re giving up too much in the above scenario, but there’s nuance here. Over the past 21 years, the Heat have missed the NBA Playoffs a grand total of five times with the only top 10 picks being Michael Beasley in 2008 and Dwyane Wade in 2003 — 15 and 20 years ago respectively.

The Heat have this uncanny knack of attracting free agents and turning undrafted guys into NBA rotation players.

Jovic and Jaquez are nice young players but I can’t see them being more than bench rotation names on good teams and that’s just not good enough for Damian Lillard.


The standoff between Joe Cronin and Pat Riley continues with neither side looking ready to relent. Putting my objective hat on, I appreciate the perspectives of both sides. The Blazers need a decent return for Lillard and Miami shouldn’t have to bid against itself, especially given they are the point guard’s only preferred destination.

Jovic’s World Cup play has been something to take note of but it’s not going to turn my head to the point where he's the most alluring asset in the deal. We need to consider the circumstances of his impressive World Cup play and how that might translate back in the NBA.

The young Serbian has the talent to stick in this league, which is fine. Unfortunately, for Miami, fine isn’t enough for Damian Lillard.