What is the common denominator between Tyler Hero and Magic Johnson? They are the only two youngsters in NBA history to score at least 35 points, take at least five rebounds and pass three or more assists in one of the last two rounds of the playoffs. Herro’s 4 blast gave him the record for points by a rookie in the Conference Finals, having twice passed All Star Andrew Toney. Two points at the bottom of that list? Johnson’s eternal rival Larry Bird, who fell short of 37 points, Hiro scored in any playoff game until his fourth season.
Wednesday was not an isolated incident. It was the culmination of one of the greatest rookie playoffs the NBA had ever seen. The future star appears before our eyes. The Herro has been so good that some historical context is essential here. Just where is this ranking among the greatest playoff matches in junior history?
A junior stands at the top of the rest in match history, and he’s exactly what you’d expect. Magic Johnson’s 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 9.4 assists per match in the 1980 post-season is the greatest race any beginner could ever score, culminating in one of the most famous singles in league history. Until Herro plays all five on his way to the 42-15-7 streak and the MVP Finals, Johnson’s place at the top of these rankings is safe. Others posted more impressive numbers, but did so on shorter periods. Karim Abdul-Jabbar, for example, averaged more than 35 points per game in his first playoff round, but was knocked out in the second round. Donovan Mitchell and David Robinson fall into the same camp.
Among the rookies who have played at least 13 playoff matches for the Miami Heat so far, Hero ranks 16.5 points in the match at number five in NBA history. The name directly above it is Alfan Adams, but the other three should excite Hit fans a lot more: Magic Johnson, Jason Tatum, and the greatest Hit player ever, Dwayne Wade.
The path of Wade shares a number of similarities with Herro. Both instances saw a promising rookie as part of the cast. The Heat of 2003 was ranked fourth. This year the Heat was in fifth place. But Wade’s career ended in the second round against the No. 1 Indiana Pacers’ seed. Hero buried the top seed of the season, the Milwaukee Bucks, in five matches. Tatum reached the Eastern Conference Finals as Herro, but lost seven matches. Herro would need to lose three times in a row to get knocked out the same way, and while Tatum scored more, Herro averaged more assists and rebounds, and did so with a higher effective field goal ratio.
He made the role of Tatum inherently more valuable during that tour. With Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward out due to injury, he was Boston’s top scorer. Defenses focused on him. The Heat still runs through Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. This makes Adams, who is second only to Paul Westphal in the Phoenix Suns 1976-77, the most appropriate comparison. It’s also a race that, aside from Johnson, Herro will likely prefer to imitate him. He reached the NBA Finals. This makes him one of only four junior players to gain an average two-digit score in the qualifiers en route to the final round, joining teammate Ricky Supers as well as two Hall of Famers: Johnson and Jack Sikma.
It makes sense intuitively. The best rookies almost never land in teams of ultimate caliber. The leap from lottery to competition is rarely possible in one year. Even when this is the case, beginners tend to be unreliable. A lot of the competing teams had high-profile, or unknown, junior stars. They seldom play it when it counts. The stakes are usually very high for 20-year-olds.
But Hit honestly trusts Hiro. He closes matches for them despite his status as a symbolic reserve. Only Butler and Drake have made more clutch strikes than he has on his team this post-season (14), a feat so rare that it took nearly twice as much clutch strike attempts as every other rookie on the field combined (eight) just two rookies. This century they had the best: Tatum, 15, Derek Rose, 19.
Measuring actual value between all these post-season tournaments, given differences in age, skill set and role, wouldn’t be possible, but for Herro, it doesn’t have to be. The NBA does not award a trophy for the greatest junior playoff tour of all time. It pays off a lot of others, though, and the players we have included at various points here, at one point or another, have pulled most of them together.
Johnson and Rose are the best in sports. Johnson and Wade the best player in the finals. Tatum is an All-NBA player, and even Adams, who had one hit on the set, made the All-Star Team. The average number of points per Herro is more than Ben Simmons, Tony Parker or Charles Barclay as a beginner. All three of them eventually achieved stardom.
And it’s time to start wondering if Herro is destined for that kind of future as well. This is not a fleeting picture. It’s also no coincidence that the shooting varied (in fact, at only 37.8 percent, it was actually worse in the playoffs than it did in the regular season). It is the appearance of a wrongly rated player during the draft process. We might not have expected that kind of performance from Herro, but it does happen, and history says that when this kind of thing happens, it means that stardom is not far behind. If Game 4 is any indication, you might already be here.
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