September 30, 2020

How The Veteran Miami Heat Grew To Rely On Rookie Tyler Herro

The Miami Heat are not a young team.

This season, they ranked as the sixth-oldest roster in the league, and their current rotation features four players in their 30s in Jae Crowder (30), Jimmy Butler (31), Goran Dragic (34) and Andre Iguodala (36). They employ the league’s oldest — and toughest — player Udonis Haslem, the second longest-tenured coach in the league Erik Spoelstra, and the longest-tenured executive in Pat Riley, who joined the Heat back in 1995.

This is an organization where players earn their standing and playing time, which makes it even more remarkable that Tyler Herro, the Kentucky product who went 13th overall in the draft, burst onto the scene in the bubble as the team’s third-leading scorer in the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s simply startling to see such valuable production coming from such an unlikely source. It's incredibly rare to see a 20-year-old rookie playing so well, let alone getting playing time in the pressure cooker that is the NBA playoffs.

Out of the Lakers, Clippers, Mavericks, Bucks and Rockets, here is a list of players who made meaningful contributions at 22-years-old and under:

Luka Doncic.

That’s the entire list. Doncic is a generational talent who has multiple MVPs in his future. Herro, who comes off the bench, is not in the same situation.

But before we dive into how Herro has exploded for the Heat, it’s vital to understand their roster composition without Herro. Miami is deep and versatile. Butler is their star. Jimmy Buckets, as some like to call him, is more than just getting, well, buckets. He can tackle any role whether that's guarding the opponent’s most dangerous offensive player, acting as a de-facto point guard, and committing to the grunt work of rebounding, slashing, setting screens and playing help defense. Butler has been rock-solid in the playoffs, and while scoring isn’t everything, his 20.8 points per game are relatively low for a superstar. 

Then there’s Bam Adebayo, who embodies Heat culture as much as anybody. Players shoot 2.5% worse from their averages when Bam is guarding them in the playoffs. He’s one of the rare players in the league who can legitimately lock up all five positions on defense. Out of the remaining four teams, Bam leads all players in screen assists per game at 10.9. 

And don't forget about Dragic, who has been a revelation in the playoffs. He’s led the team in scoring against Boston and has been everything Miami could have asked of him.

The rest of Miami’s playoff rotation is composed of gritty rotational players who play their roles well but don’t have the scoring prowess to break out. Duncan Robinson is a lights-out 3-point shooter, but he can be run off the line. Jae Crowder is similar. Andre Iguodala is still a wily defender and cunning passer, but his days as an offensive force are behind him. Kendrick Nunn and Kelly Olynyk have had scoring bursts before, but their inconsistent defense has left them out of the rotation in recent games.

Which brings us to our Herro. When Butler isn’t scoring at superstar levels, that leaves a gaping hole to fill in terms of wing scoring. As a result, the former Wildcat has stepped up to the plate and emerged as one of the great young players in the league. It might seem like Herro got his superpowers out of nowhere, sure, but he’s been consistent throughout his rookie year. 

After a strong summer, Herro was trusted out of the gates. In the first month of the season, he averaged 32 minutes while scoring 16 points per game. Over the course of the first few months of the season, Herro’s minutes and points stayed steady, as he proved to be a solid floor spacer off the bench. But Herro's more than just a floor spacer; he has a swagger to him that has come in handy during tense moments. Not many NBA players, let alone a first-year player, are taking this shot.

Like most rookies — and any good origin story for a super Herro, really — things hit a bump in the road for the self-proclaimed bucket. He sustained an ankle injury that kept him sidelined and less than 100% before the season was suspended. With all the time off to heal his ankle and work on his game, Herro has been a beast in the bubble.

Herro has scored double-digit points in every playoff game. He’s in the 77th percentile as a spot-up shooter among all bubble playoff players. He’s scoring an uber-efficient 1.18 points per possession coming off handoffs, good for 88th percentile in the playoffs. 

This is not normal for a rookie. His confidence is higher than Tesla’s stock gains on a good day. How many players do you know who are staring down Marcus Smart, one of the most intimidating defenders in the league, and draining a three in his face during the 4th quarter of a playoff game?

Herro isn’t just draining 3-pointers though. He’s displayed some spicy dribble-drive moves, including this euro-step beauty:

Against Boston, Herro played the third-most minutes for the Heat, offering his valuable scoring and playing his role in the corners of Miami’s vaunted zone. Over the course of the series, Herro, along with Crowder, Butler, Dragic and Bam, have stomped the Celtics by 20 points per 100 possessions, scoring and defending at the best rate in the league.

For the Heat, a long-standing organization with veteran leaders, the baby-faced Herro has breathed a new, dangerous life into a squad that is four wins away from an NBA title. 

And the Heat will need (a) Herro to beat LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers

Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration