Injuries forced Gabe Vincent into basketball timeouts at UCSB, in the G League and in the NBA, but a pandemic may help him score some second-chance points with the Miami Heat.
Vincent, a G League star who has a two-way contract with Miami, will play all his games with the Heat this season. The NBA team kept the former Gaucho star under the special contract while announcing it will not sponsor a G League team this year because of COVID-19.
“The opportunity is obviously there” in Miami, the 6-foot-3 guard said.
Vincent, who made his season debut for the Heat in Wednesday’s victory over Milwaukee, is limited to 50 NBA games by the two-way contract. He would normally spend the rest of the year with the Sioux Falls SkyForce.
But Miami plans to make maximum use of those 50 games, playing Vincent for 15 prime-time minutes on Wednesday.
“With the offseason being shorter, games are going to be more back-to-back, so there may be more opportunity for substantial minutes,” he said. “With opportunity comes the chance to increase your space in the ranks.
“It’s going to be exciting to watch and exciting to be a part of, and I’m looking forward to it.”
He made the most of his chance on Wednesday. Miami, smarting from Tuesday’s 144-97 defeat to Milwaukee, summoned Vincent during the second quarter of Wednesday’s rematch. He promptly lobbed to Bam Adebayo for an alley-oop dunk and then assisted a three-pointer by Kelly Olynyk to cut the Bucks’ lead to 33-32.
Vincent had been mostly a scorer at UCSB, ranking ninth all-time at the school with 1,441 points. He also set a Gaucho record with 243 career three-pointers. He won the G League’s Most Improved Player Award last year after averaging 20.9 points with a league-best 4.2 three-pointers per game.
His big moment after getting summoned from Sioux Falls last year came when he made a trio of three-pointers during a 17.5-minute appearance at the Staples Center in a Feb. 5 game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Heat, however, worked him out as a point guard last summer when the NBA resumed play after its COVID-19 hiatus.
“Once I got there, I found myself handling the ball a lot more than I had anticipated,” Vincent said. “I found myself being primarily a point guard within the bubble.
“I think that was an emphasis, just working on that part of my game, continuing to raise my IQ in the game … It’s just working on all aspects of my game, but it’s definitely being more on the ball and being able to control the floor.”
His shooting prowess did come into play during the third quarter of Wednesday’s game when he hit a pair of threes to draw Miami to within 86-83. The Heat eventually pulled out a 119-108 victory.
Vincent, who had arthroscopic surgery on his knee before this season started, has sat out Miami’s last two games, including Monday’s contest against Oklahoma City.
“I’ve had some ups and downs,” he said. “It lingers. There are good days and bad days, but we’ll figure it out.”
He toughed it out at the end of last season but played in only one of Miami’s playoff games. The Heat advanced all the way to the NBA Finals before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. His biggest contributions came on the team’s scout team.
“When I wasn’t banged up, a lot of that was showing in practice, whether it was being Kemba Walker (of the Boston Celtics) for a day, or being someone else earlier in the bubble,” Vincent said. “Just picking up the pieces wherever I can. Just bringing good energy, being positive … All that stuff adds up.
“I’m just trying to do what I can to move the needle any bit at all.’
Vincent, who turned 24 last summer, has made use of his full-time exposure to the Heat by watching such veterans as 31-year-old Jimmy Butler and 34-year-old Goran Dragic.
“Definitely, the time in the bubble, our team got much closer,” he said. “I know UD (Udonis Haslem) mentioned a lot that we’re like a family and I think that’s still true.”
He has forged a particular bond with Dragic, who won the same Most Improved Award for his play during the 2014 NBA season as Vincent won in the 2020 G League.
“I hang out with Goran off the court at times and I look up to him in many different ways,” he said. “We stay in touch and communicate.
“I’m still learning from Goran just in terms of his game, his pace, the way he controls the floor, communicates with guys, the way he gets to the basket and finishes at his size.
“Goran has a lot to his game that’s a little bit different. He brings a little bit of that European style, obviously, and he’s really efficient. I’ve been learning a lot from Goran and I’ll continue to learn, and I love being around him.”
It’s been nearly a year since Vincent’s agent phoned to say that his contract had been purchased by Miami.
“I got the call around 7 a.m.,” he said. “It kind of woke me up out of my sleep. I’d say it was better than any coffee I ever had.”
But now he’s determined to make his NBA stay more than a cup of coffee.