What is the common denominator between Tyler Hero and Magic Johnson? They are the only two young players 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 did not reach 37 points scored Hiro in any playoff 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 rookie playoffs in history?
One of the rookies stands at the top of the rest in the history of the match, 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 MVP in the finals, putting Johnson 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 over 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 to date, 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 Wade track shares a number of similarities with Herro. Both cases saw a promising rookie as part of the cast. The Hit 2003 was ranked fourth. This year the Heat was in fifth place. But Wade’s career ended in the second round, against the number 1 Indiana Pacers. Herro buried 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 scored on average more assists and rebounds, and did so with a higher percentage of effective field goals.
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 youngsters to score an average of two-digit points in the playoffs en route to the final round, joining teammate Ricky Sobers as well as two Hall of Famers: Johnson and Jack Sikma.
It makes sense intuitively. The best rookies almost never land in final caliber teams. 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 highly-formulated, or unknown neophytes becoming stars. They rarely play it when it is necessary. The stakes are usually very high for 20-year-olds.
But Hit honestly trusts Hiro. He closes matches for them despite his symbolic reserve status. Only Butler and Drake made more clutch strikes than he did on his team this post-season (14), a feat so rare that it took nearly twice as much clutch strike attempts as any other rookie on the field combined (eight) just two rookies. This century you had it on: 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 gives away a lot of others, though, and the players we’ve listed at various points here, at one point or another, have combined most of them.
Johnson and Rose are two of the best players. 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 divergence (in fact, at only 37.8 percent, he was actually shoving worse in the playoffs than he 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 the Herro, but it does happen, and history says that when this kind of thing happens, it means that stardom isn’t far off. If Game 4 is any indication, you might already be here.