Tyler Herro zipped up from the right corner to get the ball from Josh Richardson before flowing into a pick-and-roll with Thomas Bryant. As Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. took a half step toward Bryant at the rim, Herro saw his opening. He gathered at the foul line and rose for a floater that he has perfected over the past couple of seasons.
“A shot that I shoot multiple times a game,” Herro said in the locker room after the Miami Heat’s 108-102 win in Memphis Wednesday.
But as Jackson lunged forward in a late attempt to contest the shot, Herro’s right foot came down on his left. Herro’s right ankle did a full 90-degree turn, and the Heat’s leading scorer knew it was bad right away.
“It was something I felt right when it happened,” Herro said. “I heard some crunches and cracks in my ankle. I’m like, ‘Yeah, that will be it.’”
Herro turned to the Heat’s bench. “I’m done. I can’t keep going,” he told them. He hopped on his left foot to the locker room. After the game, Herro flew back to Miami to undergo an MRI that found a grade 2 sprain.
Herro will be in a walking boot for 10 days and re-evaluated in two weeks, per the team. This is good news, considering how severe the injury looked when it happened.
“It’s unfortunate,” Herro said before the test was done. “I’ve been through this injury stuff before and I’m just going to keep working.”
Injuries aren’t new for Herro. He missed virtually all of the Heat’s playoff run to the NBA Finals last season after breaking his right hand in Miami’s first game.
“It feels like I broke my hand yesterday,” Herro said.
Herro rehabbed and came back better than ever. Prior to Wednesday’s early exit, Herro was averaging 25.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.4 steals – all career highs. He had become Miami’s leading producer.
The Heat scored another 15.2 points every 100 possessions he was on the court, per CleaningTheGlass. The difference with Herro on and off the court is the difference between the league’s 15th-ranked offense and the worst – dead last.
Herro’s absence will be most painfully felt in the halfcourt. The Heat are not a good halfcourt offense already but, with Herro, they generate 94.2 points every 100 halfcourt possessions. Without? A dreadful 85.4. Nickelback could probably score 85.4 points every 100 halfcourt possessions.
Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry and Haywood Highsmith stepped up in Wednesday’s win. Like Herro, Adebayo also appears to have made an offensive leap. But it’ll take a collective effort to replace Herro’s production and shot creation.
For at least two weeks, the Heat will rely on the same formula as they did last postseason.
If there was a positive in losing Herro last playoffs, it’s that it cleaned up the pecking order on offense and forced Jimmy Butler to take on more responsibility.
Last season, Butler’s usage rate jumped from 25.6% of Miami’s possessions in the regular season to 33% to start the playoffs before the effects of an ankle injury set in midway through Miami’s second-round series against the Knicks.
Butler got off to a slow start but seems to have found his footing a couple of weeks into the season. He’ll need to do more.
Besides Butler’s increased usage, the Heat also got important contributions from Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin. Strus and Vincent are gone, but Duncan Robinson will assume Herro’s place in the starting lineup. Robinson is shooting nearly 38% from 3-point range and showing more verve off the dribble – averaging a career-high 2.0 assists and taking 30% of his shots from 2-point range (his previous career high was 19%).
Lowry might be tempted to lean even more into his playmaking in Herro’s absence. He can’t. Miami’s biggest concern is replacing Herro’s points, not his table-setting. On Wednesday, Lowry attempted a season-high 11 shots (seven from 3-point range). Vincent thrived in the playoffs because he had a quick trigger to shoot. Lowry needs to do the same.
At some point, the Heat will need Caleb Martin. He hasn’t played yet this season and there’s still no timetable for his return from tendinosis in his left knee. When he does return, he should pick up Josh Richardson’s spot in the rotation. Speaking of, Richardson has to find a way out of this shooting slump – he’s 10 of 33 overall and 3 for 16 from 3-point range.
It’s probably too early in the season – and Herro’s injury not severe enough – to start thinking about outside help. Although the Heat can create a roster spot by waiving Dru Smith, available free agents like Terrence Ross and Austin Rivers don’t inspire much enthusiasm.
(The Heat do have a $9.5 million trade exception that could be useful. Players who fall within that amount include Indiana’s T.J. McConnell, Washington’s Delon Wright, Oklahoma City’s Vasilije Micic, Detroit’s Killian Hayes, Chicago’s Ayo Dosunmu and New Orleans’ Kira Lewis Jr., among others. Again, the Heat are probably not making a move at this point.)
After winning three straight to get back to .500, eight of Miami’s next nine games are on the road. Two weeks from Herro’s MRI is Thanksgiving (although the timelines aren’t meant to be treated that specifically). More than likely, Herro will miss the remainder of this road-heavy stretch. A reasonable goal might be to go 3-6 or 4-5. After that, the schedule gets a little easier.
The upcoming slate includes in-season tournament games in Charlotte, (Nov. 14), in New York (Nov. 24), and at home against Milwaukee (Nov. 28). That home game against the Bucks – the final game of group play – could be a reasonable return date for Herro.
The Heat weren’t exactly lighting up the scoreboards or the standings before Herro’s injury and they’ll be tested even more now. For a player that was nearly traded this summer, he’s arguably Miami’s most important offensive player. Can the Heat catch lightning in a bottle and make a run during in-season tournament play, or will Herro’s absence this time show how important he is to the whole operation?