Heat’s Tyler Herro takes painful playoff lessons into offseason: ‘It’s always the best teacher’

Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro’s regular season was full of injuries and his postseason was full of painful lessons that he’s taken with him into the offseason.

After missing 40 of the Heat’s 82 regular-season games, Herro was healthy this postseason and was lifted into an even bigger offensive role than usual in the playoffs because of injuries to other key Heat players. With the Heat missing starters Jimmy Butler and Terry Rozier, Herro found himself at the center of Miami’s offensive game plan but also at the center of the Boston Celtics’ defensive game plan during their first-round playoff series.

“It was fun,” Herro said at the end of the series.

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It didn’t seem fun while it was happening, as the Celtics won the best-of-7 first-round series 4-1 to end the Heat’s season. Herro also struggled for most of the series against a Celtics defense focused on slowing him down, averaging 16.8 points per game on 38.5 percent shooting from the field and 15-of-43 (34.9 percent) shooting from three-point range while also being hunted on the defensive end.

But Herro, 24, came away from the series with lessons he can apply to his offseason workouts in hopes of returning next season as an improved player.

“I feel like I’m going to be able to take away a lot from how they guarded me throughout the whole series with the face-guards, double teams, switches, really crowding the paint when I did get in the paint and then just really making it tough on me at all times,” said Herro, who has three seasons left on his current contract with the Heat. “Not allowing me to see one go through to catch a rhythm. I thought they did a great job. But at the end of the day, it will make me better, it will make my team better and I’m excited to get to work this offseason.”

Two of Herro’s biggest weaknesses on offense made an appearance in the series, as he struggled to generate free throws and also wasn’t able to create many opportunities for himself around the rim. Herro averaged just two free throws per game and only six of his 78 field-goal attempts came from within the restricted area during the series.

“He has to do more to be able to deal with a defense that is committed to just stopping him,” Heat president Pat Riley said last week during his season-ending news conference. “He got overloaded — not here [pointing to his head] — I mean with [Jrue] Holiday and with [Derrick] White and with [Jaylen] Brown and [Payton] Pritchard. They were like, ‘No, not him. Anybody else can beat us, but not him.’ ... That made it hard.”

But this season’s short playoff run also provided a glimpse at what it looks like when Herro puts it all together, as he recorded 24 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field and 6-of-11 shooting from three-point range, five rebounds and a career-high 14 assists in Game 2 in Boston to lead the Heat to its only win of the series.

With the Celtics consistently sending extra defenders at Herro, he assisted on 10 of the Heat’s 23 made threes in Game 2 (a franchise record for the most made threes in a playoff game) in the road victory.

“I think the lesson from these five games is going to be exponential,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said on the day the team held exit interviews following the end of its season. “The way I look at it, the biggest positive is he had one game where the entire game plan is to take him out. It wasn’t like it was rocket science. ... But the game plan for Boston is you take him out, that can take a significant part of their firepower out of the equation. And then to respond in a big way in Game 2 that really helped drive the win, I think, is a massive positive.”

Now, Herro must find a way to grow from this year’s postseason experience while also continuing to work on his body in an effort to be available for more games.

Along with missing 40 regular-season games this season because of injuries, Herro has yet to pay 70 or more games in a regular season during his five-year NBA career. In addition, he essentially missed the Heat’s entire playoff run to the NBA Finals last season after breaking his right hand in the opening game of the playoffs.

“He’s been fragile a little bit,” Riley said of Herro. “He broke his hand last year in the playoffs and he had some injuries earlier in his career. There isn’t anybody who works harder at his game, and Spo is correct, he works and puts the time in. He put the time in in the weight room, so how does he keep calorie intake? He might have to go to another level nutritionally. He’s gotten stronger. But as the season progresses, you lose some of that. You don’t pound the iron like you do in the offseason. But he’s got to definitely make some adjustments.”

Adjustments to get stronger in an effort to be healthier throughout the season.

“It’s always going to be about getting stronger, getting your body ready for that kind of physicality,” Riley continued. “So his major injuries are real and so we just hope we can get through a season where he’s playing in that 72 to 82 game range. Maybe one year he will surprise everybody and play every game.”

This offseason, Herro will again likely have to deal with trade speculation involving his name. It has become an annual tradition for Herro, who has been linked to potential trades for Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard in recent offseasons.

The outside conversation about whether Herro should play as a starter or sixth man will also continue this offseason.

Through it all, the Heat expects Herro to grow from this season’s playoff experience as a leading man. The hope is those lessons will help push his game to another level.

“I know what his work ethic is like,” Spoelstra said. “He’ll probably take about the same amount of days off that I’ll take and then he’ll get right back to work and learn from these experiences. Most young players when they make their big jumps, it’s usually from some disappointments that happen in the playoffs and it drives you with experience. It’s always the best teacher.”