Nearly 14 months ago — 420 days, to be exact — Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro had one of the most spectacular playoff performances for a rookie in NBA history. He tallied 37 points in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics — the most ever by a rookie in conference finals history.
Contrary to popular belief, outside of his one spectacular performance, Herro wasn’t some can’t-miss-star-in-the-making in the bubble, like some perceived him to be. He wasn’t bad, either: Outside of his 37-point performance, Herro averaged 14.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game with 41.4/36.4/86.0 shooting splits (53.6 true shooting percentage) in the other 20 playoff games. He was an offensive jolt off the bench — a role perfectly suited to him as a rookie.
Fast forward to year two, where the then-20-year-old underwent a pandemic-shortened 71-day offseason. With towering expectations surrounding him — which, again, mainly centered on one playoff game — Herro didn’t live up to it, despite recording a respectable 15.1 points per game on 54.3 true shooting.
At the start of the 2020-21 season, he was tasked with more responsibility and was thrusted into a lead playmaking role. The struggles he encountered were ultimately learning experiences that are currently fashioning his playmaking success, but the results were still jarring at the time.
Now, with the departures of Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn coupled with Victor Oladipo’s offseason recovery from season-ending quadriceps surgery, Herro’s creation burden — regardless of who he was on the floor with — was only going to grow.
And the results haven’t disappointed — in fact, they’ve superseded expectations (my own included), at least to start. He’s thriving.
On Monday, Herro and the Jimmy Butler-less, Bam Adebayo-less Heat shined in Oklahoma City — downing the Thunder 103-90. The Heat knocked down 18 triples, its second-highest mark of the season. Herro, who accounted for five of them, tallied 26 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Monday was a slice of the complete pie we’ve seen Herro bake this season. Without Butler and Adebayo, he received even more on-ball reps — in an array of lineup groupings — as the Heat’s primary initiator and main scoring threat, leading the team in shot attempts (18) and usage rate (30.5 percent).
In 14 games (three starts), he’s posting averages of 21.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 33.6 minutes per game, shooting 46.1 percent from the floor, 39.4 percent from 3-point range and 86.8 percent from the charity stripe. Per Stathead, his 306 points are tied for the fifth-most through a player’s first 14 games of a single season (with a maximum of three starts) in the 3-point era ( 1979-80):
- Ricky Pierce (1990-91) - 342
- John Drew (1983-84) - 314
- Ricky Pierce (1989-90) - 311
- Lou Williams (2019-20) - 310
- Thurl Bailey (1988-89) - 306
- Tyler Herro (2021-22) - 306
Including his 26-point outing on Monday, Herro’s tallied 10 20-point performances with five 3-pointers thrice this season.
The third-year guard has fit in perfectly with Butler and Adebayo — who are more focused on scoring with the addition of Miami’s shiny new point guard Kyle Lowry. Like a State Farm agent, Lowry’s assisted in initiating Miami’s offense and setting up everyone in their spots to cater to their strengths.
Herro and Lowry have already manufactured strong chemistry with the ability to play off each other. When the aforementioned duo shares the floor together, they’re out-scoring opponents by 5.5 points per 100 possessions (73rd percentile) and have sported a 114.1 offensive rating (86th percentile), per Cleaning the Glass.
“I love playing with [Kyle Lowry],” Herro said after Miami’s season-opening 137-95 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. “The way that Kyle gets everyone to their spots, how he’s a leader — he just understands the game at a level that not many people do. Being able to play with him, learn from him and being able to play next to him is amazing for me.”
Lowry’s play has boosted the play of Herro and everyone else around him, as expected. Herro’s 21.9 points ranks second behind Butler’s 23.6 points per game — and it doesn’t seem he’ll be slowing down anytime soon. His maturation as an NBA player — especially as a mid-range threat, pull-up shooter and playmaking ability — should be one to behold. He isn’t the only player to take a substantial leap in their third year, but it’s worth noting that not many outside the Heat circle expected this from the 21-year-old budding guard.
The Heat’s shot profile has been different through the first 14 games compared to how it’s been in the previous couple of seasons, albeit a small sample.
According to Cleaning the Glass, they ranked No. 21 in mid-range frequency from all areas (27.3 percent) and No. 18 in long 2s frequency (9.5 percent) — after placing No. 17 and No. 14 in those areas in 2019-20, respectively.
This season, the Heat have taken 35.2 percent of its shots from mid-range — the seventh-highest frequency in the Association — and 12.2 percent from long 2s, 12th-highest in the league.
Miami — or anybody across the Association, for that matter — hasn’t been uber-efficient from the mid-range; the Nets, the league’s most efficient mid-range team, has made 47.0 percent of such shots, nearly two percentage points higher than the next-best member (Jazz; 45.3 percent). The Heat rank No. 12 at 41.8 percent.
A lot of that stems from Herro’s willingness to take-and-make the mid-range attempts — combining an array of crossovers, step-backs, floaters and fadeaways to penalize (drop) defenses.
From an efficiency standpoint, Herro’s been one of Miami’s lone outliers.
In a league where some, including teammates Duncan Robinson and Kyle Lowry, haven’t consistently gotten shots to fall this early in the season, the combo guard’s sunk 47.5 percent of his mid-range attempts — including 52.1 percent of his long 2s — both team highs (min. 20 attempts). He’s upped his mid-range frequency from 38 percent to 49 percent this season while his 3-point rate has decreased over three percentage points.
While some might scoff at the trend of Herro’s antiquated shot profile, his effective field goal percentage (52.9 percent) and true-shooting percentage remain career-highs while it also further progresses a different dimension of his game.
“For my first two years, a lot of people were saying that’s an inefficient shot,” Herro said after an Oct. 8 preseason game against San Antonio, when he finished with 26 points on 12-of-25 shooting. “After watching the Finals, you see [Devin] Booker and Chris Paul. You see how the whole playoffs, they worked the mid-range and got to their spots — but they’re really efficient in those areas. That’s an emphasis we had all summer was working on that and being able to be efficient — not just take those shots, but make them. I just got to continue to knock down those shots.
“As long as we’re making [mid-range shots] at a high rate — 50 to 60 percent — I think we’ll be in good shape.”
In reality, a team knocking down 50 percent of its mid-range shots would be labeled as a statistical aberration. Per Cleaning the Glass, only one team — last year’s Phoenix Suns (49.1 percent) — have made at least 48 percent of such shots in a regular season since 2003-04, when the site began tracking league-wide shooting accuracies.
But that doesn’t mean overall success will flock away from Herro or his cohorts — like Butler — who are more apt to taking mid-range shots.
He’s NOT just a spot-up shooter:
Given his comfort growth transitioning into his third year coupled with the fact he’s playing with Lowry, Butler and Adebayo, Herro’s finding more dead spots on the floor when they present themselves, especially as a pull-up shooter.
He is 10th in the league in points per game (9.4) in points per game off pull-up jumpers, per NBA.com. Among those who’ve taken at least pull-up shots, Herro ranks No. 6 in field goal percentage (42.1 percent), No. 6 in 3-point percentage (35.1) and No. 7 in effective field goal percentage (49.6).
Being a top-notch pull-up shooter isn’t the end-all, be-all barometer of elite scoring. But Herro’s 49.6 percent effective field goal shooting ranks behind Kevin Durant (57.8 percent), Trae Young (54.2 percent), Chris Paul (53.7 percent), James Harden (51.9 percent), Stephen Curry (51.3 percent) and CJ McCollum (49.7 percent).
Fred VanVleet (49.6 percent), DeMar DeRozan (48.9 percent), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Donovan Mitchell (48.3 percent), Zach LaVine (46.9 percent) and Paul George (44.4 percent) all trail Herro.
The common denominator between all of them? All are very good scorers. Is Herro in that category yet? Maybe not, but if he’s not there already, his trajectory’s on the right path. While there are loopholes, depending on the player and team fit, life in today’s NBA for non-shooters heeds a much shorter career expectancy — especially for guards.
Let’s look at this fourth-quarter sequence on Monday. He had a team-high nine points in the quarter, and buddy: They didn’t come easy.
No matter who’s defending — or how well they’re defending — Herro’s added strength helps him become more equipped to get to his spots while wielding his (sometimes irrational) confidence to rise up and get his shot off over lengthier defenders without conscience.
In the first clip, Dewayne Dedmon comes up to set a pick-and-roll for Herro with nearly 10 seconds left in the shot clock. Herro’s defender, Kenrich Williams, is looking to potentially fight over the screen while Isaiah Roby — Dedmon’s defender — is at the level of the screen, looking to potentially blitz or hedge him with three additional defenders along Oklahoma City’s backline.
Herro quickly processes Williams’ subtle body position movement to force him left created by his hesitation. He rejects the screen, though his lack of blow-by speed allowed Williams to stay on his hip. As crafty and shifty as he is, Herro created separation with the step-back and converted over Williams’ outstretched arm for the pull-up 2-pointer.
The second clip presents a similar situation, but in the left corner instead. Herro’s step-back and left-to-right crossover is cut off beautifully by Williams, forcing him baseline.
Because of his quick wit and positioning on the floor, Herro retaliates with a nasty spin-counter to obtain the leverage and knock down the jumper. Might I point out that these are quality defensive possessions from Williams, but not enough to sway Herro away from his spots. In fact, the last clip is his best defensive possession shown — but Herro’s quick release and pristine touch generates the same end-result that leaves the opposition distraught with the, “How the heck could I defend that any better?” look.
“If I hadn’t seen him so often in our workouts, practices and his summer development, if I hadn’t seen all of that, then maybe you would look at some of these plays and say ‘What else is available?’ But I’ve seen him make and work on those shots hour-after-hour,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said after Monday’s game. “If you crowd him too much, he’s going by you or he has a way of being shifty enough to find an advantage.”
Speaking of finding advantages, just when you think Herro’s going to come off a screen or a dribble handoff, he’ll leverage his shooting prowess and ball-handling ability by doing this:
In summary, Herro’s becoming an outstanding scorer in front of our eyes — and he’s making it look almost too easy.
Poise as a playmaker:
By virtue of getting more on-ball reps, Herro’s substantially developed as a playmaker — both on the comfort and intellectual level.
As I mentioned above, Miami threw him into the fire as a ball-handler a season ago and the results weren’t as promising as expected. Herro was noticeably less comfortable operating at the start of the season as a lead ball-handler and transitioned back more to a secondary playmaking role as the season went along.
With his first full offseason — allowing him additional time to refine his game, get physically stronger and study the game — under his belt, there’s been considerable growth in his playmaking ability, especially in the pick-and-roll.
In the first clip, the Orlando Magic drop into a 2-3 zone. Miami wisely floods the right side of the zone with Max Strus in the corner and Markieff Morris in the short corner, putting additional strain on the Magic’s limited back-line. Wendell Carter nor Mo Bamba jump to contest Herro coming freely off the screen.
Other than hoisting the open 20-foot jumper — which, believe me, nobody would nor should be mad at him for taking if he did — Herro delivers a beautiful no-look bounce pass to Morris, who slammed it home with ferocity.
The second clip is more of a traditional defensive look. The Heat ran an empty-corner pick-and-roll and put former Heat and current Utah Jazz center Hassan Whiteside in the action. He unsurprisingly plays Herro in the drop as Herro snake dribbles around Adebayo’s screen — thus putting Joe Ingles “in jail.” Whiteside’s lack of nimbleness and active hands works against him — as Herro, cool as a cucumber, feeds Adebayo, who is multiple steps ahead of his former cohort for the easy two-handed finish.
The third clip might illustrate Herro’s growth the best.
Dwight Howard plays Herro higher at the screen than the aforementioned Bamba and Whiteside. During the process of this two-man game, Westbrook — the tag defender, slides helpside — while Carmelo Anthony pinches off Caleb Martin to potentially stunt-and-recover.
Herro puts the pesky Avery Bradley “in jail” while creating separation with a subtle step-back — generating a better shot opportunity. Instead of shooting, however, he feeds a wicked jump-pass to Adebayo in-stride for the alley-oop layup.
Though the last one resulted in a P.J. Tucker miss, Herro still makes an excellent read. His accelerated processing speed allows him to read rookie Josh Giddey tagging almost immediately after the screen is set. The 21-year-old guard whips a one-handed fastball to Tucker’s shooting pocket. Though it’s a simpler read, it might not be a play that Herro processes as quickly in his first two seasons.
In this sequence above, Herro, receiving the handoff from Dedmon turns the corner around Dallas Mavericks center Dwight Powell, who attempts to hedge-and-recover, with ease. He forces Dorian Finney Smith’s help outside the restricted area, opening the crease for a rolling Dedmon that leads a layup.
Teams aren’t able to play drop coverage against Herro, but when they don’t, as evidenced above, Herro will make them pay.
“[Herro]’s improved his playmaking ability,” Spoelstra said after Monday’s game. “Most teams now aren’t letting him come off freely in the pick-and-roll. They’re either switching, jump-switching or trapping. His passing and hitting the open guy has really improved. Those traps and jump-switches are born out of respect because of the shot-making ability and he’s earned that.
“That’s what he’s spent the summer in the weight room for — to handle that kind of physicality — and his skill level: Working on his ball-handling and his skills. He’s not an easy guy to pressure anymore — not with his physical durability and his skillset.”
Not many expected this sort of leap from Herro. He’s entrenched himself as one of the Heat’s top scoring options who can facilitate the offense whenever Lowry, Butler or Adebayo — or a combination of the three — are off the floor.
If Herro can sustain this level of play, he and Oladipo form an even more dangerous bench-duo once he returns. That’s presuming both are coming off the bench when both are healthy. Having at least two initiators on the floor at the same time would be in the cards and lengthen Miami’s depth — which received some criticism prior to the start of the season.
For the time being, Herro is going to be a bucket — Miami’s bucket — with serious playmaking chops that’s slowly turning into the star that the Heat brain trust envisioned him to be. This might only be the beginning.
“I’ve come a long way,” Herro said after the Heat’s season-opener. “I like to think of myself as someone who can do more than just shoot. But I think the way that this organization and this coaching staff has really helped me take my game to the next level with the ball in my hands and being able to see the game before things happen.”
If you want to see more of Matt’s Heat takes and more incessant sports-centric tweets, follow him on Twitter @mph_824__.