With just 56 seconds remaining in the first half of Sunday’s opening game between the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks, Tyler Herro made a move that is generally looked at favorably.
Bucks guard Grayson Allen fumbled the ball towards half court and Herro decided that it was time to put on his cape and make a full out dive for the ball to help protect the Heat’s 12-point lead. Unfortunately for him and his teammates, it ended up being one his final plays of the season (aside from a 3-pointer he took on the next possession after being unable to sub out).
Herro broke his hand on the play and is facing a four-to-six week absence following surgery this Friday, which obviously means the end of his 2022-2023 campaign, unless there is a miraculous run to the NBA Finals.
It doesn’t take a hoops savant to understand just how brutal the timing and nature of this ailment is for the Heat’s playoff run. The fact that he sustained the injury on a play he probably didn’t even need to make is downright frustrating. However, whether or not players should be launching themselves on the court for loose balls is an entirely different debate for another day.
The more pressing question at this moment for head coach Erik Spoelstra is finding the Baby Goat’s replacement in the starting lineup.
The discourse that has surrounded Herro’s play this season at times made it seem as though he was going through a regression, but the reality is his numbers are largely unchanged from his Sixth Man of the Year run last season. One stat in particular, his free throw shooting, is actually up year over year by a LARGE margin. His pristine 93.4% mark ranked No. 1 overall in the league for the regular season.
As we all know though, true player impact goes far deeper than the general season-long numbers. We could go on for hours about the flaws that are present within this Heat roster, but you could argue the primary issue has been shot creation. There are just too many players in the rotation that can’t consistently create a clean look for themselves. Even Bam Adebayo, their second-best player, can struggle in that department at times depending on the matchup. Herro’s tight handle and sweet shooting touch were huge weapons all season long and Game 1 was no exception.
He had six made buckets before injuring his hand and two of them were directly off of screens/ handoffs with Adebayo. Herro’s off-ball movement and shooting creates important space for his co-stars. So how might the Heat respond to a loss of this magnitude? The options are clear, but not necessarily ideal. Let’s take a look at the tough choices that await the team.
Oladipo’s season has been problematic to say the least. The defense is as stout as ever and rarely fails to remind fans of what made him so valuable against Boston in the 2022 Conference Finals. According to Cleaning the Glass, Oladipo’s block percentage has increased by 0.3% and his steal rate has improved from 1.4% to 2.3%. He ranks in the 92nd percentile in the later category amongst players that occupy the same position. He continues to torture opposing teams with his quick feet and active hands.
However, Spoelstra lost faith in Oladipo several weeks ago and has seen only minimal minutes down the stretch of the regular season. He just simply hasn’t been efficient enough in any facet of the game. Per basketball reference, his two point percentage has dropped seven points from last season, while his three point mark is down eight points from the year before.
Maybe on a team like Phoenix that features two of the top 20 scorers in the entire league, the lack of consistent scoring pressure wouldn’t be such a big deal. But Oladipo’s scoring struggles are a major problem for the lowest scoring team in the NBA. He also gets in the bad habit of attempting to shoot his way out of slumps, compounding an already sketchy predicament.
Spoelstra’s preference in the second half of the season has been to prioritize offense over defense. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that we will probably not be seeing Oladipo in the starting lineup come tip off for Game 2. Still, it might be worth giving him limited minutes in certain lineups that can counter his lack of scoring punch.
On the flip side, there is the option to start Duncan Robinson in place of Herro for Game 2. Robinson’s long ball has left him somewhat since he was once in the same class of volume and efficiency as the great Klay Thompson. During his record breaking 2019-2020 season, he posted a blistering 44.6% mark from downtown on 8.3 attempts per contest. These days, he plays almost half of the minutes and hits over a fourth less of his attempts (32.8%).
His current numbers don’t inspire as much confidence, but for a starved 3-point shooting team that ranked 26th in team 3-point percentage, he still carries a reputation as a marksman and his shooting gravity could be a huge asset throughout games to open up driving and passing lanes for Butler, Bam and Kyle Lowry.
The problem with pumping up Robinson’s minutes is the very opposite of what Oladipo has been struggling with this season: all-around defense. The Heat allow 2.9 more points per 100 possessions when Robinson takes the floor this season than when he is on the bench, per Cleaning the Glass.
On/Off numbers can be noisy due to different teammates, opponents, and schemes, but his defensive numbers across a variety of sites don’t do him any favors either. FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR metric, which attempts to measure a player’s impact on a team in one positive or negative number has Robinson at a -3.5 on the overall defensive side, which is far and away the worst on the team among players who have logged at least 695 minutes this season and 129th(!!) out of 131 shooting guards who have that many minutes.
Even if you’re not into all those shiny advanced statistics, the eye test clearly proves his lack of lateral quickness and lower body strength makes him a clear target against the behemoths that the Bucks have running around the court. Granting Robinson a longer runway against that kind of opponent could spell trouble against their physical offensive players that will surely pick on him in pick-and-rolls that will be set in order to force a switch, which is Miami’s preferred defensive coverage. The hope will be that he can contribute enough shooting to take care of the points he will give back on the other end.
The Wild Card: Haywood Highsmith
Highsmith has been a revelation this season and has endeared fans with his hustle. He has not logged any playing time since the Heat’s final win of the regular season against Orlando. Although he started that game, Butler took the night off and most of Miami’s other rotation players sat the second half.
He does not provide enough of an offensive impact in order to be in consideration for a starting role in the crucible of the playoffs, but his length and activity could grant him a short window for minutes, particularly when the Heat need to slow down formidable threats like Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.
The fact that he barely needs the ball to be impactful is a benefit in particular lineups, but his on-ball shortcomings can also hinder the team, which is why he probably won’t get more than 15 minutes or so if he does get into the game. Still, don’t be surprised if he gets to check in for a few brief stints during the game.
At the end of the day, the Heat will be entering a hostile environment in Milwaukee, where the Bucks will be out to avenge their upset loss in Game 1, with a big hole to fill in their offense.
Even so, there are a few players that will be in the mix to cover the void left by Herro and hopefully, they can rediscover the best form of themselves to help Miami grab a huge 2-0 series lead.