Herald Of The Change: As Tyler Herro Finds The Player He's Going To Be, We Should Let Him Be Just That
In the middle of one of Miami’s frenetic runs against the Orlando Magic Tuesday night, Kyle Lowry forced a turnover along the sideline. Lowry quickly tried to get the ball back from the ref and push it up court, since it’s now go-go-turbo time whenever Lowry is around, but Orlando made a quick substitution and the ref pushed pause on resuming play for a couple of beats.
The player Lowry was going to pass to was Tyler Herro, and Herro had more energy in him at that moment than his body knew what to do with. He bounced up and down, his hands shaking in anticipation of the ball, a huge smile plastered on his face. Let’s go. Let me go. We have to keep going, read the body language. We can’t claim to know every instance that Herro has smiled on the court in the past because we aren’t watching a 24/7 Herro Cam, but it sure seemed like that moment captured everything that’s different for Herro in the present day.
“We’re definitely having more fun than last year,” Bam Adebayo said.
Contrary to most reports, Herro had a perfectly fine season his sophomore year. A line of 15 points, five rebounds and three assists, with 54.3% True Shooting on 23.5% Usage is nothing to sneeze at for a 21-year-old. It just wasn’t what people expected – or what they wanted which is a different thing altogether – after a run to the NBA Finals that included a 37-point breakout in a pivotal Game 4 against the Boston Celtics. Why Herro was expected to take a major leap forward when the team had essentially a six-week offseason during a pandemic is a bit confounding, but the point that got lost in all the sauce is that Herro’s sophomore leap came between the 2019-20 regular season and the onset of play in the Orlando Bubble. He worked diligently with assistant coach Chris Quinn during that pause in action and came into Orlando an improved on-ball player, finishing creatively in the paint and making passes he hadn’t even attempted months prior.
Never mind that Herro didn’t make a significant leap forward between his first two seasons, he made a leap during his first one.
This isn’t all to say Herro was the same player in his second go-round. The skillset was more dynamic, the efficiency dipped slightly and an early experiment as a starting point guard (amidst a ton of lineup absences) didn’t go particularly well, but more than anything else, the joy seemed to be gone – as it was for many around the league. At the time, Herro couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
“I wouldn’t say my confidence wavered,” Herro said last May, before the postseason. “There was just a change in something, I don’t know what it was. I just felt like shots weren’t falling. Whatever the case may be.”
New year, and now everyone appears to have a little more pep in their step. Herro kicked things off averaging 22.4 points in five preseason games, and through three in the regular season he’s at 23.3. Flashy stuff, the sort of number that catches the eye, silences the critics and fuels the boosters for a while, but the points are also somewhat beside the point. For a player who was a net-negative on pure impact when he was on the court his first two seasons, he’s closer to neutral at the moment. On a rather inconspicuous scoring night against Orlando (13 points on 12 shots) he led the team as a plus-19.
“It’s all about impacting winning,” Spoelstra said. “That’s the bottom line. It’s a little bit of a shame that everybody just looks at the final column in the box score just to see how many points somebody scores to gauge their impact on the game, but Tyler is developing all the different facets of trying to impact winning.”
Of course it’s great that the shots are falling. Herro is 8-of-12 from mid-range, 8-of-21 on above-break threes and has an effective field-goal percentage of 53.3 on pull-up jumpers. Anyone who has seen his footwork and the easy, quick release wasn’t going to be too worried about that, the main question was what heights of efficiency Herro would be able to reach. More on that a bit later. What’s impressive is that Herro’s early season hasn’t been all about whether the shots fall. He’s been able to be what the team needs him to be on a given night.
“He’s learning day in and day out, on the fly at that,” Jimmy Butler said. “It’s kind of tough being the scorer that he is and then having to flip that switch like ‘You know what, I got to make that play’. I think he’s handled it incredibly well, like a pro’s pro.”
With Lowry out of the lineup against Indiana, Miami didn’t just need shot making, shot creation was required. Gone are Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn. There’s no cavalry coming when one of Miami’s lead playmakers is out. The burden will fall on Herro, more often than not. Against the Pacers, that meant creating 28 field-goal attempts.
“The game called for that,” Butler said. “I’m not going to lie to you. We want him to be aggressive. He took all shots that he thinks he can make. I’m not mad at that at all. We want him to stay aggressive, stay confident, because we’re going to need him to be that way throughout the year.”
It was mostly pull-ups against the Pacers, yes, on the way to 30 points (following 27 on opening night against the Bucks) but there were also regular forays into the paint. Even a some of those led to denials by longer defenders, there was a willingness to find and accept contact throughout.
“I think the added strength has helped him be able to handle that contact,” Spoelstra said.
And the stepback looked smooth as ever.
Knowing what Miami needed from Herro, the Pacers chose to pressure and trap him to get the ball out of his hands. That created a few turnovers, and Herro didn’t record an assist in the game, but he willingly moved off the ball when the possession called for it – Butler consistently sprung free playing the roll man – and had eight potential assists.
“Big picture, it’s just trying to take out Tyler,” Bam Adebayo said. “It’s still the wrong move, especially if you have Jimmy setting it or me setting it and he gets that pocket pass off and we have shooters in the corner, we get to be aggressive. [He’s] definitely getting a lot of respect in this league.”
Unless there’s a new trend in the league this season, most teams aren’t going to trap or blitz all that often. What Herro is going to see regularly, what the book on his seems to be at the moment, is what he saw against Orlando and that’s pressure. Regular, constant pressure. Defenders trying to get up in his belly and make him uncomfortable.
“This is also part of the evolution of really good players in this league,” Spoelstra said. “Scouting reports will change, they’ll start to try to do things to take him out of his rhythm.
Pressure would be No. 1, trapping would be No. 2. He’s already seen both of those things early on in the season.”
Pressure worked for Orlando, somewhat. Bouncy as Herro is and as tight as his handle is getting, he’s not going to blow by most defenders so much as work an angle against them using the threat of his quick jumper. Bodies will get in his way, but with pressure comes space. With space comes opportunity, and Herro delivered nine assists, two off his career high, on 12 potential hookups.
“He’s better than what I’ve seen before and what I thought, personally,” Lowry said, asked about Herro’s passing. “He’s playing extremely well. He has an ability to score. He’s not necessarily playmaking but he had some great dimes tonight. When he’s not looking to score, it makes it easier because all the attention is on him. He’s making it easier for his teammates to be open, because he’s looking to score, he’s aggressive. He’s looking for the shots and the passes are coming open.
“He made a pass to Markieff tonight (first clip in the video below) and he knew what he was doing the whole time because he had the attention on him. He was just waiting for the defense to come to him and then drop it off to Kieff for a layup.”
That’s growth. As Lowry put it, Herro may not be manipulating the defense like a true lead, all-the-time playmaker, but what you’re seeing is a player learning how to take advantage of his own gifts. He’s learning how to be the player he’s going to be. Nobody else. Just him. Maybe he’s not Paul Atreides, the /redacted/. Maybe he’s the Duncan Idaho of this group, and that’s great. Paul Atreides doesn’t /redacted/ without Duncan Idaho.
The whiplash that happens with each Herro performance doesn’t benefit anybody but those who get the clicks from it. Like most players, he’s probably not the perennial All-Star some think he is nor is he part of a pu-pu platter trade package that others have in mind. He’s in between. If you want to deeply analyze his game, you’ll see a player who has only taken eight percent (5-of-58) of his shots at the rim. He’s had to develop his touch and creativity in the paint because he’s going to have to hit creative touch shots in the paint to score there. He might be more of a two-and-a-half level scorer than the full three. And for as much as Herro has worked on his body, the defense is still going to be picked on. Indiana just showed that. It’s all fine. You can still be an All-Star with that profile, even without many free-throw attempts, it just means some nights are going to run hot, some will run cold. In between, he’s learning how to be a winning player when it’s lukewarm.
Let’s just let it happen. Drop the comparisons for a bit and allow Herro to dictate the terms of his successes and failures without measuring him up against anyone else. There’s a good player here, if you want to see it, one who could turn the tide of a playoff series or win Sixth Man of the Year. There’s also one who needs work and polish and refinement, who is settling into a role that may be less than what those delivering hype by megaphone deemed his destiny when he burst on to the scene.
For now, Herro is putting in the work, and the work is pure. Let’s let him be himself for a little bit, because he’s clearly finding out and digging into exactly who that player is. That way we leave room for surprise rather than I-told-you-so, and there’s nothing better than being surprised by a young talent.
“You can tell that switch has switched for him. It’s his third year, he’s making that growth, he’s making that next step,” Adebayo said. “I’m proud of the young fella. I feel like he’s going to be great.”