Miami Heat, NBA Playoffs

The NBA playoffs have been the stage for Tyler Herro’s breakout

Miami Heat rookie Tyler Herro has made a small leap during the playoffs to help his team reach the NBA Finals in Orlando.

The signature bucket of Tyler Herro’s 37-point Game 4 performance will be remembered as the deep, bravado-driven step-back triple he netted over All-Defensive First Team member Marcus Smart. It pushed Miami’s lead to eight with 4:09 remaining, and Herro was up to 33 points, three more than he’d scored through any of his first 67 NBA games and four more than he scored in 37 collegiate games at Kentucky. At age 20, the rookie was authoring a star outing to propel the Miami Heat to one victory away from the NBA Finals, closing out crunch time with the ball in his hands.

A possession later, though, provides the useful signpost of comprehending how Herro arrived at this stage, reveling in and fielding minutes during the fourth quarter of the series’ inflection point. He caught the ball stationed halfway between the 3-point arc and the court’s midway line. His four teammates, nurtured by Miami’s motion-heavy attack and schooled to stay in transit, grew static, watching him size up Kemba Walker.

Soon, he developed the necessary separation, hopped to his left and launched from deep, mailing it wide left for an air-ball. While the miss gave Boston a chance to trim its deficit to three and Herro started his iso dance with 12 seconds left on the shot clock, nobody flinched or directed ire toward the Wisconsin native. Throughout his rookie season, he’s been emboldened to experiment as a self-creator, teeing up step-backs or off-the-bounce looks and navigating ball-screen actions.

None of this has come at the expense of a rotation spot or playing time either, encouraged to swim through his mistakes rather than to paddle around them. Growing pains did not exile him to the bench. He only logged fewer than 20 minutes six times during the regular season and in 14 playoff games, he’s never played fewer than 28. The belief and confidence Miami extended its rookie primed him for this run, where he’s elevated his game, further unfurling an array of offensive gifts that make him the next to join Kentucky’s pantheon of one-and-done guards.

During the regular season, per 100 possessions, Herro averaged 24.1 points on 55.0 percent true shooting, compiling an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.39:1. During the postseason, per 100 possessions, he is averaging 24.6 points on 59.7 percent true shooting, compiling an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.11:1. Moreover, 39.3 percent of his baskets were unassisted in the regular season, which he’s ratcheted to 48.9 percent in the playoffs. He’s a 20-year-old rookie upping his self-creation duties on an NBA Finals team.

Why do the Miami Heat trust Tyler Herro so much in the playoffs?

His Player Impact Plus-Minus has jumped from minus-2.87 to minus-1.14. Neither are strong marks, but context amplifies their value. Herro is a rookie bestowed sizable ball-handling responsibilities closing out playoff games. Serving as a viable rotation player at this juncture of his career portends phenomenally well for his future. As fellow youngsters like Donte DiVincenzo and Terence Davis drifted to the periphery of their team’s rotations in the playoffs — a context many players struggle to translate successfully — Herro debuted another gear. Specifically, his pick-and-roll and pull-up shooting proficiency have increased while maintaining similar volume from the regular season.

It’s why the Heat trust him to spearhead possessions, facilitating an offense contingent on multiple initiators. He’s proven capable of producing in these situations, and his pick-and-roll savvy is particularly salient. Despite running just 52 pick-and-rolls (9.7 percent of possessions) at Kentucky, Herro appears fluent in the action, manipulating screens, wielding counters, calculated, deceptive footwork and comfort with an array of shots.

Beyond individual scoring, he’s expanded on the passing foundation established throughout the regular season, merging gumption and discretion to sharpen his assist-to-turnover ratio. The same creativity evident in his scoring manifests in his play-making toolbox. A defined rhythm and cadence as an on-ball conductor get him to his spots, and he’s developed astute timing and accuracy with his distributing, too.

Bordered by various shooters, a premier lob threat in Bam Adebayo and instinctive/well-trained off-ball movers, he is dealt a handful of options each play, learning to properly discern all that is presented. Overwhelmingly, he’s executing the correct reads these playoffs, continuing a trend of improved decision-making from the regular season, when his assist-to-turnover ratio did not decline in any one month to the next.

Herro’s seamless fit in Miami’s offensive ecosystem is accentuated by his wily off-ball game. He’s highly effective flowing through dribble hand-offs, ranking in the 85th percentile during the playoffs and 64th percentile in the regular season, relocating to openings around the arc when necessary. Extracting value both on and off the ball is a tenant of the Heat offense, and he embodies that ideology.

His success in varying offensive roles is why the Heat have so much confidence in him. After averaging 8.8 minutes per fourth quarter in the regular season, he’s up to 11.3 in the playoffs, having registered all but 10 minutes through 15 games. In 37 clutch minutes, he’s totaled 22 points on 69.3 percent true shooting (.467/.462/1.000 split). Only five players have scored more clutch points than him this postseason, and he’s second on the Heat behind Butler (39).

In Sunday’s close-out Game 6, Boston had Miami reeling. The Celtics, amid a 10-2 run, led 96-90 with under nine minutes to play, eyeing at least two more days in the bubble and the hope of a Finals berth. From there, Herro notched 11 of his 19 points (including two late-game free throws). Drifting into a relocation 3. Stopping on a dime to net a pull-up jumper over Smart. Jockeying alongside Smart to convert an off-hand layup. Kissing a runner off glass with his body parallel to the backboard.

Next: How Luka Doncic saved my life

Here he was, a rookie, starring, once again, on a grand platform. Unabashed confidence flowing. Supreme shot-making featured. Merely a modicum of facial hair, a thin line above his upper lip and a faint patch on his chin, spotted. A childish grin sprouting, the result of his own production and an impending Eastern Conference championship.

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