Was Jayson Tatum right? Was Tyler Herro merely a ‘bubble fraud’?

Will Tyler Herro recapture the magic of last season’s bubble?

Will Tyler Herro recapture the magic of last season’s bubble?
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Less than eight months ago, Tyler Herro was being labeled the “next great shooting guard” in a league filled to the brim with high-end backcourt talent. Herro was set to help lead the Miami Heat on multiple deep playoff runs as part of the team’s new Big 3 — along with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Herro was so highly touted that during the early stages of the 2021 season,when James Harden trade rumors were at their peak,the team’s fans and front office were hesitant to trade for a perennial MVP candidate if it meant Herro would be shipped out of South Beach. Despite all the hype though, Herro did have his fair share of skeptics — none bigger than Celtics’ star forward Jayson Tatum.

On a YouTube mini-series delving into NBA culture inside the Orlando bubble, Tatum threw some shade at opposing players who he believed were “acting different in the bubble” — essentially playing better purely because of the strange circumstances the league found itself in. Tatum avoided any drama by refusing to name any names, but it is believed that Tatum was referring to the Heat’s bubble breakout star, Tyler Herro, who just so happened to be starring in that same miniseries alongside Tatum.

It makes sense for Tatum to think of Herro this way. Herro dropped 37 in a pivotal Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Tatum’s Celtics, and was arguably the Heat’s best player during that series. So, Tatum was probably trying to make up an excuse for the series loss, and blaming the bubble for Herro’s hot streak was an easy conclusion to jump to. Well, after seeing what Herro has done in 2021, Tatum may not have been jumping that far.

The Miami Heat have failed to live up to expectations this season, and a big part of that failure has been Herro’s inconsistency shooting the basketball. Although he picked it up toward the end of the regular season, Herro’s 3-point percentage still dropped nearly three points in 2021. In combination with teammate Duncan Robinson’s similar dip in efficiency from beyond the arc, Miami dropped from 2nd in the league in 3-point percentage in 2020 to 19th in 2021. Despite Butler and Adebayo having two of the most efficient seasons of their careers — recording their highest and 2nd-highest effective field goal percentages respectively — the Heat still rank 17th in the NBA in offensive efficiency.

A return to the playoffs was supposed to reignite Herro’s flame from the 2020 postseason. However, in the team’s first two games against the Milwaukee Bucks (a team they beat handily in the 2020 playoffs) Herro has arguably had a negative effect on his team, playing just 18 minutes per game and shooting an abysmal 3-of-15 from the field.

All this goes to show that Tatum may have had a point when it comes to Herro’s incredible string of games in the bubble. Throughout the 2020 regular season, Herro was actually worse for Miami’s offense than he has been in 2021. When Herro is on the court, the Heat have a point differential of -5.3 per 100 possessions in 2021 — compared to -8.2 in 2020. The Heat have also improved in points per possession, effective field goal percentage, turnover percentage, and offensive rebound percentage when Herro is on the court compared to last year. So, if Herro has truly regressed, why have the Heat been better in 2021 when he’s on the court than they were in 2020? The fact of the matter is that Herro was never that good in 2020 to begin with, and his 2021 season is actually a better indicator of what’s to come in Herro’s career.

Last year’s playoff hot streak enveloped a false narrative around Herro – that he would become the next Devin Booker or Zach Lavine, which is just not the case. Are there factors that could be playing into Herro’s “regression”? Of course. The short offseason could’ve burnt out the 20-year old quickly. The league could’ve adjusted to Herro’s style of play after gathering a year’s worth of film on him. But even if those are true, it’s safe to say that he won’t turn into another Booker or Lavine anytime soon.

If Miami could go back in time and offer Houston a trade package involving Tyler Herro for James Harden, they’d do so in a heartbeat. The Heat need Herro to be his 2020 playoff self if they want any chance to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy in the near future…too bad it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a streak like that from him again.

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