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Heat's Gabe Vincent playing his best basketball at the perfect time

Heat's Gabe Vincent playing his best basketball at the perfect time

Bam Adebayo remembers the moment he started looking at Gabe Vincent differently.

“Man, [it was] when he torched us in the Olympics, in the exhibition game facing Nigeria,” Adebayo recalled. “He came out with that type of energy, that type of voracity and that type of anger. I felt like from there, ‘He's one of us.’”

In the game Adebayo referenced, Vincent scored 21 points, drilled 6-of-8 threes and clinched Nigeria's exhibition win over Team USA with a pair of clutch free throws in the final seconds. Vincent decided to wear Nnamdi (his middle name) on the back of his jersey, describing it as “an alter ego of sorts; I almost become a different person.” 

Now, back on one of basketball’s biggest stages, Nnamdi has resurfaced. 

Vincent played a huge role in Miami’s win over the Denver Nuggets in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, as he finished with 23 points, 4 threes, 3 assists and 2 steals on uber-efficient 66.7/66.7/100 shooting splits. Through two Finals games, Vincent is averaging 21 points, 4.5 threes, 4.0 assists and a steal, while shooting 57.7% from the field, 56.3% from three and 100% from the free-throw line.

He's had a number incredible performances during these playoffs, including 29 points, 6 threes, 3 assists, 1 steal and 1 block on 78.6/66.7/100 shooting in a Game 3 win over the Boston Celtics, a 22-point, 6-assist, 4-three outing to eliminate the Milwaukee Bucks, and back-to-back 20-point, 5-assist games against the New York Knicks.

“We love Nnamdi. We really do,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “If you don't know that [moniker], the national media, because you're not following us, please look that up.

"Nnamdi, he's a special guy. He really is.”

By now, you have certainly heard that Vincent went undrafted in 2018. He spent the first two years of his pro career playing for the Stockton Kings of the NBA G League, and he earned the G League’s Most Improved Player award after averaging 21.1 points, 4.2 threes, 3.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 steals, while shooting 40.6% from deep. 

Miami gave him an opportunity during the 2019-20 season, signing him to a two-way contract. The Heat saw potential in him, but they wanted him to transition from shooting guard to point guard. He put in a ton of work, winning over the coaching staff and his teammates.

“He was with us in the bubble as a two-way guy. He took on, I think, the toughest role change for a young player,” Spoelstra explained. “He was a gunslinger 2-guard [and] we wanted to develop him into a combo guard, somebody that could organize us, be an irritant defensively, tough, learn how to facilitate and run a team. I think that's the toughest thing to do in this league: turn a 2 into a 1. He openly just embraced that.

"He struggled at times with that because you're trying to reinvent yourself. Instead of saying, ‘This is too tough, let me be me,’ he's really grown the last three years. He's just an incredible, winning player. This year, he's been a starter for us. He's been great. [When] he's off the bench, he's been great. He's like a lot of our guys, the competitive spirit. You get challenged like we're getting challenged in this series, you hope it brings out the best in you. And that's what it's doing with him...

“People severely overestimate what you can get accomplished in a day, and they grossly underestimate what you can get accomplished in a matter of months [or] years when nobody is paying attention. And he's the epitome of that.”

Looking back on his transition from shooting guard to point guard, Vincent admits that it was tough and credits his support system for helping him with the change.

“It definitely wasn't easy,” Vincent said. “The staff was great with me whether it was [watching] film or getting in the gym and my teammates have been phenomenal, coaching me up, telling me to be more aggressive when I'm questioning it or trying to think, ‘Should I pass first?’ And our stars, Jimmy, Kyle [Lowry], Bam, they have been in my ear and telling me just to play basketball. They trust my IQ of the game, and they want me just to go out there and play hard.”

Spoelstra isn’t the only one who loves Nnamdi; he has a lot of fans in Miami’s locker room too.

“He's carving a space for himself,” Adebayo said of Vincent. “[He’s proving] undrafted players can start in the Finals and be productive. It doesn't mean anything that he's undrafted.”

“I see it every day… I know how comfortable he is,” Jimmy Butler said. “I know the level of confidence that we have in him and that he has in himself to go out there and run the offense at any point in time, first through fourth quarter, maybe even overtime. And we live with the decisions and the shots that he makes and takes. He's our starting point guard for a reason.”

Entering the postseason, nobody thought the Heat could go on a Finals run. They are a Cinderella story, proving all of their doubters wrong and doing the unthinkable – just like Miami’s undrafted players (Vincent, Caleb Martin, Max Strus, Duncan Robinson, Udonis Haslem, Haywood Highsmith and Omer Yurtseven) have done by becoming key pieces in recent years.

“This season has been interesting. We've had highs, we've had lows,” Vincent said. “Obviously, we've made a push from the eight seed to the Finals. We've showed a lot of resilience, a lot of persistence, a lot of belief in one another.”

As Vincent mentioned, this Heat team is extremely resilient. Throughout these playoffs, the Heat have won seven games after trailing by 10 or more points, which is tied for the most comeback victories by a team in a single postseason.

“It's just part of our DNA, for one,” Vincent said. “Everyone on this team has battled through adversity in some manner and been knocked down and had to get back up. And number two, we have a lot of experience in these close games. So when it comes down to the wire, we are strangely comfortable… I think [Spo] loves these moments as well. He loves the competition. I think this is similar to other guys on our team. I think this is when we get the best version of Spo.”

Regardless of the deficit, Miami never thinks they are out of a game. Their confidence never wavers.

“I think you grow confidence in anything you're doing with the amount of work you put in, whether it's cooking or golf or basketball,” Vincent said. “I think we all put a lot of hours and time in and extra reps and shots so that when the time comes, you have faith and have confidence because of the work you have instilled. This group especially has put in a lot of work on the court [and] off the court, battling together. We're definitely a confident group.”

Vincent’s breakout couldn’t have come at a better time – not only because he’s helped propel Miami within three wins of a championship but because Vincent will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. 

Vincent earned just $1,815,677 this season, which ranked 397th among all NBA players. Now, after his terrific postseason, the 26-year-old is poised for a big payday. 

An NBA scout recently told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald that Vincent's next deal could pay him around $10-11 million annually.

"I've gone from thinking this guy is a good $3 million backup to [thinking he's] a $10 million, $11 million player; he's worth that in today's NBA," the scout said. "The guy has produced when it counts, and that's what teams are looking for. He has risen to the occasion.

"He's up and down at times with his shooting, but he's a clutch shooter, and that means something. He has got cojones. He's never afraid of the moment. You get high effort defensively. Decent playmaker, has toughness. To me, his value correlates a lot to his scoring."

As Adebayo said recently: “I feel like a lot of people are going to know who Gabe Vincent is.”

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