Welcome to Burning Questions! It's the Miami Heat mailbag with hot questions and even hotter answers. Let's jump in!
Is it time for the Heat to bring Tyler Herro off the bench?
Let's start with this: The Miami Heat are not better without Tyler Herro. Since Herro's rookie season in 2019, the Heat score more points on a higher percentage in games Herro plays and outscore opponents by 2 points per 100 possessions with Herro versus 1.1 without. His shot-creation and 3-point shooting are vital for this team.
But it's also fair to point out that there's something to what's going on now, with Herro sidelined because of a sprained ankle, and last postseason when he missed essentially all of the Heat's Finals run with a broken hand.
If there's a positive to Herro's absence, it's that it clears up the pecking order in Miami and forces Jimmy Butler to embrace his role as the Heat's No. 1 perimeter scoring option. Erik Spoelstra said he needs Butler's usage to increase with Herro out, and that's what has happened. In his first eight games of the season, Butler used 22.4% of Miami's possessions. That has soared to 34.3% in the last two games, when Butler scored 32 and 36 points in a pair of wins.
This is similar to what happened last season, when Butler's usage rate was at 25.3% in the regular season before rising to 29.1% in the playoffs (and 33% in Miami's first-round upset over the Milwaukee Bucks). For reference, that's like the difference between how the Bucks use Khris Middleton and how they use Giannis. Butler is more of a Giannis than a Middleton, but spends large swaths of the season settled into a Middleton-like role.
It could be easy to look at these numbers and wonder why Butler doesn't always just play like the star he is, but a big reason is that the Heat are trying to funnel more possessions to Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro as they develop their tentpole stars. Adebayo's impact, just because of what he does on the defensive end, is undeniable. Herro needs the ball on offense to be effective.
The Heat aren't the only team with the one-ball problem, but the teams that figure it out are the teams that end up winning at the highest level. The problem isn't the amount of shots Herro takes (a team-high 19 per game this season), but rather how long he holds onto the ball.
Herro has the ball in his hands for an average of 4.04 seconds per touch, per Second Spectrum tracking data, while Butler has the ball for 4.34 seconds per touch. Duncan Robinson is a cleaner fit because he holds the ball for 2 seconds. Max Strus held it for 1.7 seconds last season.
Take a look at teams with an established pecking order, and rarely do they have two players holding the ball for as long as Butler and Herro. In Denver, Nikola Jokic is getting rid of the ball in 2.70 seconds while Jamal Murray holds it for 5.20 seconds per touch. In Philadelphia, Tyrese Maxey has the ball for 5.02 seconds per touch while Joel Embiid is making a decision in 2.64 seconds.
In case you didn't notice, the No. 1 options on those teams are the ones taking a backseat in terms of touch time, not the No. 2 options. That doesn't mean their usage rate goes down, it just means they are deciding how to use those possessions faster than their teammates.
So is it actually Butler who needs to make an adjustment?
Asking Butler to make faster decisions isn't realistic. He's not 7 feet tall like Jokic and Embiid, so he needs to work harder to get to his spots and get off his shots.
But if Butler's overall usage rate increases, and he's using more seconds per shot clock, that would reduce Herro's time on the ball. Herro is averaging 52.2% on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers this season -- an elite clip. Tilting the offense towards Point Butler would force Herro to do more work off the ball as a suped-up Strus/Robinson. Think Klay Thompson.
The question is if Herro will be OK with that role. But if Butler embraces a higher usage as he does when Herro is injured, there's little else the 23-year-old guard can do but fall in line.
If not, a more apt example of touch time might be in Los Angeles, where LeBron is holding the ball for 4.24 seconds per touch and Austin Reaves has it for 4.20 seconds per touch. Because of that, Lakers coach Darvin Ham recently decided to bring Reaves off the bench. (Although Reaves isn't as effective off the ball as Herro. He's shooting 35.3% off the catch this season after shooting 40.3% last season.)
At this point, I won't rule anything out. Spoelstra is already staggering Butler and Herro quite a bit (among starters, Butler plays his fewest minutes with Herro). That allows Herro to run the second unit.
There's a scenario where Herro can get his cake and eat it too, where he gets highly-efficient looks alongside Butler that boost his All-Star caliber stats while also getting 14ish minutes per game when he gets to run the show. The Heat need to sell Herro on the vision, and he needs to buy in.
It's tricky, but it's not all on Herro to figure it out.