Tyler Herro was born in the year 2000, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Yes, go ahead and feel old. He was born on January 20th, a birthday he shares with an inordinate amount of famous people. Among them: Buzz Aldrin, Federico Fellini, David Lynch, Bill Maher, Rainn Wilson and Questlove. Athletes born on January 20th: Ozzie Guillen, David Eckstein, Brian Giles, Ron Harper and Jalen Rose. Politicians Nikki Haley (Gov-SC) and Kelly Anne Conway (Fox).
What personality/behavioral traits does this list bring to mind? People who have carved out a niche of their own. Iconoclastic rule breakers who love silencing the doubters, or who simply don’t follow the conventional wisdom. Tyler Herro loves nothing more than silencing the doubters. People who believe in their own voice and see clearly their own vision.
The Miami Heat chose Tyler Herro with the 13th pick in the June 2019 draft. A late lottery pick is not usually a key contributor in the Conference Finals…in his rookie season. As I alluded to in a previous post about age and experience in the NBA, 20 year-olds are not usually great decision-makers. How did he become so indispensable for these Heat?
Heat Following Jimmy Butler’s Example
The answer is complicated, but probably starts with Miami’s most experienced player and their strange leader, Jimmy Butler. After starting his career as a 30th overall pick in Chicago, Butler transformed himself into an All-Star. After seven years with the Bulls, he was traded to the Timberwolves, who clearly didn’t see the differences between Karl-Anthony Towns and Butler as an issue. After Butler let it be known he wanted a trade and nothing happened, he took matters into his own hands, rampaging through a practice. A trade to the Sixers came soon after. As NBA fans have seen over the last couple of years, the Sixers are already a somewhat awkward fit. The immensely talented Ben Simmons refuses to shoot. The immensely talented Joel Embiid has had injuries, and needs specific types of players — with more shooting around him, to make the Sixers a contending team. Butler — who can seemingly fit into whatever role is asked of him — if he believes his teammates are also giving it everything they’ve go, played well with the 76ers. Last year’s 76ers came within a Kawhi Leonard turnaround of advancing past the eventual champion Toronto Raptors. The Butler trade to Miami prior to this season was a surprise. The Heat believed in Butler and that confidence — and willingness to let Jimmy be Jimmy has paid off handsomely. Butler loves seeing his teammates surprise everyone. He’s raved about Herro from the beginning. They both carry themselves with a swagger. The same swagger NBA fans have witnessed in another former Kentucky star with an infamous work ethic, Bam Adebayo. Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn are two more examples of Miami’s system enabling players who’ve had difficulties in their basketball past to flourish.
Landing in Miami — Organization and Professionalism
Miami’s organizational philosophy is part of it — get your body into supreme condition and defend like hell and you’ll get a chance. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Basketball and soccer are the two sports that highlight this maxim better than any other. The Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets have shown the same sense of collective mentality throughout these playoffs. That’s why they’ve survived this bizarre bubble.
Back to Herro — after one mildly successful season at the University of Kentucky (which now boasts 29 NBA players — equivalent to 1/15th of the NBA), Tyler Herro wasn’t expected to go in the top 10 — and he didn’t.
On his draft profile, he’s compared to Nik Stauskas and Joe Harris. Stauskas’ streakiness has become his defining characteristic. Harris’ consistency has become his. In some ways, Herro’s game fits nicely in between the two. He’s much more athletic than Harris and likely more mentally tough than Stauskas. Or maybe landing in Miami just makes him look that way.
Strengths listed: driving and finishing ability, play-making, a step-back jumper which helps him get his own shot and perhaps most importantly — supreme confidence and work ethic. Some scouts look to free-throw shooting for true shooting potential. Herro’s 93% mark didn’t hurt his draft stock.
Side note: How many teenagers were working on a step-back jumper before 2018? James Harden’s influence on offense has led to the profusion of step-backs. Everyone young NBA scorer seems to have one now. Watch Jayson Tatum, Luka Doncic and Jamal Murray.
Under his draft profile weaknesses (on Kentucky’s pro day): Herro’s 12% body fat, streaky shooting and ball-handling. To be fair, maybe Wisconsin athletes always have higher body thanks to all the cheese and sausages floating around up there.
With Miami’s intense conditioning program, Spoelstra and company clearly knew they could get him into great shape. To hear ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy talk about Herro, the improvements Herro has made even from the winter to now have been striking. Then again, he played well early on in the season. The time off helped him heal a nagging ankle injury, which forced him out of 15 games in February and March.
In 12 playoff games, Herro is averaging 33 minutes per game..bonkers for a rookie…especially one that wasn’t a top 3 pick. He’s averaging roughly 15 points / 6 rebounds / 4 assists. The Celtics have to deal with Duncan Robinson’s shooting gravity and Bam Adebayo’s passing and rolling into the lob. They have to deal with Goran Dragic’ savvy slithering through the lane. That leaves Herro and Butler to fill in all the gaps. Not an easy task for a defense, but the Celtics’ collective intensity and focus were excellent in Game 3. Brad Stevens hopes to see the same and even this series at 2–2 tonight.
Sometimes we call the playoffs “the second season.” This year, after the hiatus, it really feels like one…and Tyler Herro is not playing like a rookie.
Game 4 is tonight. ESPN at 8:30 ET. Miami leads the series 2–1.