Tyler Herro is really the Baby Goat and proved it when he went deep into his bag of tricks in leading the Miami Heat to a Game 4 victory against the Boston Celtics yesterday. The 6’5” gunslinger scored 37 points on a variety of pull-up jumpers, 3-pointers, and slick drives to the basket to bury the Celtics in a 3-1 hole in their best-of-7 series in the NBA Eastern Conference finals.
Herro is built for postseason success. This rookie is poise personified and nothing seems to faze him. The first time I saw Herro was over a year ago when he was still suiting up for coach John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats. I thought to myself, “boy, this Herro guy would sure look good in a Heat uniform.” Fast-forward to the 2019 NBA Draft last June when Miami picked him 13th overall. The drip (slang for sense of style) was real and the Heat had their new hero.
At first, coach Eric Spoelstra seemed more enamored on undrafted rookie Kendrick Nunn as he even started the combo guard, while Herro played off the pine. Nunn was spectacular in the regular season and was even touted as a Rookie of the Year candidate before finishing second to eventual 2020 NBA ROY Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies. Nunn, however, tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the NBA restart in the Orlando bubble and eventually lost his starting job to veteran Goran Dragic.
While Nunn has struggled to find traction in the seeding games and in the playoffs, it was the exact opposite for Herro. It turned out that while everyone was hunkering indoors to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, Herro actually found an empty high school gym near where he lived and used the three-month NBA hiatus to hone his basketball skills.
But practice can only get you so far and what separates Herro from the rest of the pack is his mental toughness as no moment seems too big for him. Perhaps, getting death threats and being regarded as public enemy No. 1 in your home state will do that to you. It’s been well documented that the Whitnall High School alum was vilified immediately after he de-committed from the University of Wisconsin to play for coach Cal at Lexington.
Credit also goes to the Miami Heat organization in developing Herro and also Jimmy Butler for allowing him to shine bright in the big stage of the Eastern Conference finals. Heat president Pat Riley’s organization always prides itself on being the toughest, best conditioned, and hardest-working in the Association.
Heat culture is best exemplified by Butler, a late first round draft pick by the Chicago Bulls who worked himself to become a superstar. But unlike other superstars (see Carmelo Anthony during Linsanity), Butler doesn’t mind being upstaged by players like Herro. In fact, he relishes the fact that he makes players around him better and prioritizes team success over individual accolades.
At this point of the NBA season and also largely due to his performance, Herro shouldn’t be considered a rookie anymore. In Game 4, coach Brad Stevens simply failed to game-plan against Herro and the Celtics paid dearly for it. In Game 3, Stevens solved the Dragic puzzle by assigning Marcus Smart to the Slovenian. It worked as the 2020 NBA All-Defensive Team member limited Gogi to just 11 points.
Smart could still be an option against Herro in Game 5, but doing so might just unleash The Dragon, who still wound up with 22 points in Game 4. In fact, Dragic was one of four Heat players to score 20 or more points that game (the others being Jimmy Buckets with 24 points and Bam Adebayo with 20 points), as coach Spo shortened his rotation.
So what’s Herro’s ceiling? Some say he plays like his idol Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns, but Herro is a more adept and creative passer than his fellow Kentucky alum. He actually has some Pistol Pete Maravich in him. I could be wrong, but if he has a career that somehow approximates the Hall of Famer’s, then the Heat’s future is firmly secured. I just hope the platitudes I showered on Herro and the Miami Heat in this column wouldn’t jinx them in the next game. Let’s go Heat!