Miami Heat

Here’s what a Kentucky coach says Heat is getting in first-round pick Tyler Herro

The one trait that keeps coming up with those asked to describe Tyler Herro as a player? Competitive.

It could be labeled as a vague and cliche term, but there seems to be some meaning behind it when discussing Herro.

First, it was team president Pat Riley just hours after the Heat drafted Herro with the 13th overall pick Thursday night.

“I think he’s going to fit right in with all of these guys,” Riley said. “He’s got the same kind of cockiness and attitude that Tyler Johnson had. I love Tyler and Rodney McGruder, these competitive guys.”

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Then it was coach Erik Spoelstra during Herro’s introductory press conference on Friday afternoon.

“We’re excited about his competitiveness, and that’s what our entire scouting department saw probably more than anything,” Spoelstra said. “... Everybody on the Kentucky staff said, ‘If you like Bam [Adebayo], and if we were right about all those qualities about Bam, why we liked him, you’re going to like Tyler for the exact same reasons because they’re very similar in terms of their work ethic and their drive and relentlessness and all of that.’”

And now it’s Kentucky assistant coach Joel Justus, who worked closely with Herro during his lone college season.

“He’s a guy that is extremely competitive and always was, if not the first guy there at practice, he was one of the first two or three,” Justus said.

Justus didn’t stop there, elaborating on Herro as a coach who spent a full college season helping to develop his game. Although the 19-year-old Herro was rated as one of the top shooters in this year’s draft class, Justus believes he’s a more complete player than he gets credit for.

“I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions about Tyler,” Justus said of Herro, who averaged 14 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 37 games as a freshman at Kentucky this past season.

“He’s a basketball player. He has grown over the past year by being able to put the ball on the floor. At the end of the year, we were having him guard really the opponent’s best backcourt player, whether it be a shooting guard or wing. Tremendous competitor and I think he’s going to be a guy that once he grows into his body, once his body gets matured, he’s going to be a guy who can do a little bit of everything on the floor.”

There are certainly areas Herro must improve in, though, like converting at the rim. He scored just 0.98 points per shot around the rim in the halfcourt, which was ranked in the 26th percentile among college players this past season, according to Synergy.

There are also concerns about Herro’s ability to serve as a reliable defender with a 6-6, 192-pound frame, and a 6-3 wingspan, that’s still a work in progress.

“I think that’s what it’s going to be,” Justus said, referring to the need for Herro to continue working on his body. “He’s going to have to be a guy that’s in extreme shape and make that really his kind of calling card. That he’s the best, the guy that’s in the best shape of anybody in the NBA.”

But Justus believes Herro’s strengths will outweigh any of his perceived weaknesses.

While the Heat and Herro’s college coaches insist he’s more than just a shooter, shooting is the skill that caught the Heat’s attention during the pre-draft process.

Herro made 35.5 percent (60 of 169) of his threes this past season at Kentucky. That number isn’t especially impressive, but he’s shown he can make shots in a variety of ways —37 makes on spot-ups, 49 makes on pull-ups and 25 makes off screens.

Herro even flashed the potential to be effective in the pick-and-roll during limited opportunities at Kentucky, as he created 1.24 points per possession on 25 possessions as a pick-and-roll ball-handler (98th percentile).

“He’s got great range, where he can really, really stretch the floor,” Justus said. “He can make catch-and-shoot threes, he can put the ball on the floor. He’s going to be a guy now that’s going to be hard to guard. He’s going to be a guy who stretches the floor. It’s going to be fun. I’m excited to see him with those guys. I texted with Bam [Adebayo] and he’s exited to have him down there with him.”

One of the things that most impressed Justus about Herro was his free-throw shooting this past season. While Herro doesn’t generate a high amount of free throws, he makes most of them.

Herro made 70 of his final 72 foul shots. He made 87 of 93 (93.5 percent) free throws for the season. That will help the Heat, which finished this past season as the NBA’s worst free-throw shooting team (69.5 percent).

“When you look at that unbelievable streak that he had during the season where he made all those free throws, it says a lot about him,” Justus said. “His attention to detail, his competitiveness.”

There’s that trait again. Competitive.

“I think if you can have a career like JJ Redick’s had, I think that would be a heck of a comparison for Tyler,” Justus said. “But I think the kid is as competitive as anybody in that league. He’s a guy who will fight and will compete. I think that any time you have a guy like that on your team and in your organization, good things are going to happen.”

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.