Who moves to the bench once Tyler Herro returns?

Tyler Herro
Tyler Herro has been out since Nov. 8 with a Grade 2 ankle sprain. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The Miami Heat’s backcourt suffered a big blow in their Nov. 8 game against the Memphis Grizzlies, as guard Tyler Herro suffered a Grade 2 ankle sprain that was expected to sideline Herro for close to a month with a re-evaluation after 10 days.

Over a month later, Herro, 23, has still yet to suit up, but joined the Heat on the bench on Friday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, signifying that he’s nearing a return without an official set date.

The Heat have cobbled together wins, going 8-6 over that stretch. But they’ve deployed 14 different starting lineups over their first 22 games, including nine different iterations in the 14 games since Herro’s injury.

Their preferred starting lineup amid Herro’s absence has featured Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Haywood Highsmith and Bam Adebayo, a quintet that’s produced an 11.9 NET Rating in 78 minutes this season. That’s been the team’s most productive lineup over a prolonged sample, but that begs the question: Who heads to the bench when Herro returns?

The Heat are currently without Adebayo and Highsmith due to injuries, but that doesn’t mean both won’t be back when Herro returns. Assuming they’re all healthy, Robinson and Lowry appear to be the most likely candidates to head to the bench when Herro returns.

Miami currently ranks No. 13 in both offense and defense with the 16th-best NET Rating (plus-1.0); in adjusted offense and defense, which dunksandthrees.com quantifies based on strength of schedule, the Heat rank No. 14 and 9 in offense and defense, respectively.

They have deployed a Lowry-Herro-Robinson triumvirate in two games–against the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Twins this season, who rank No. 19 and 16 in adjusted offense, respectively–this season, which has gotten roasted (minus-35.4 NET); that figure improves to a minus-16.1 when Butler-Adebayo share the floor with them over a microscopic three-minute sample. Even though Robinson’s completely adapted into a completely different this year, the trio sported a minus-4.5 NET Rating across 681 possessions over the previous two seasons (including the play-in + playoffs), including a minus-26.8 NET with Butler and Adebayo in an 18-minute sample.

A lineup featuring both Lowry, Herro and Robinson alongside Butler at the 4 shouldn’t be in the Heat’s short- or long-term plans–unless it’s in the postseason–let alone starting it. Miami’s also been 14 points better with Highsmith sharing the floor next to Adebayo as opposed to when he’s not (+6.5 NET when HH is on; -7.5 when off).

So let’s make the case for both to stay in the starting lineup!

Lowry claimed before the season that he was this team’s starting point guard, and so far that’s been the case after much preseason (outside)  consternation on whether that would be the case.

The 37-year-old has started all 21 games, averaging 9.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists on 44.0 percent shooting and 42.7 percent from 3-point range, which would be the highest of his career if the season ended today.

Lowry also sports a 61.5 true-shooting percentage, the highest since 2016-17, when it reached 62.3 percent over 60 games. The Lowry-Herro backcourt has been fairly mediocre since both players don’t jell well off-ball, but a Lowry-Herro-Butler-Highsmith-Adebayo lineup sports a plus-13.4 NET Rating so far this season–albeit over a 37-minute sample.

Let’s call it like it is: Even though he’s operated more aggressively with at least one of Tyler Herro, Butler or Adebayo off the floor, Lowry’s having a good season (relative to preseason expectations). He has not impacted the rotation negatively, which has been a huge plus since he is Miami’s only true point guard.

Would that maintain if Herro returned the lineup over Robinson? Only time will tell.

In Robinson’s case, there has been arguably no player in the league who’s revitalized his career quite like he has this season.

I tabbed Robinson as the Heat’s most likely starter amid Herro’s injury, which ultimately was the case. He’s been more than worthy of it, too.

While he’s coming off a disappointing one-point outing Friday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the 6-foot-7 sniper’s averaging 16.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists on 47.9 percent shooting, including 44.2 percent from 3-point range on high volume (7.2 3PA) over his last 12 games (all starts).

Robinson’s fit is also seamless, more so than Lowry’s, who’s Miami’s best ball distributor.

Robinson’s continued to punish defenses who have been overaggressive with their closeouts and off-ball defense. Robinson is averaging 5.4 drives–after averaging just 1.9 over his previous three seasons–and 1.3 paint touches, which is resulting in points 72 percent of the time, according to NBA.com’s tracking data. Lowry has been a solid slasher too, but Robinson’s bending defenses unlike anything we’ve ever seen from–as well as being a deadly volume 3-point shooter.

He is Miami’s most frequent off-ball mover–by far–thus helping their offense generate advantages. Robinson’s gravity lone leverages those advantages–in addition to improving as a screener, cutter and passer, all of which he’s become above average-to-great at.

The Heat have a great problem at their hands–one that will ultimately be sorted out by 1.) Health and 2.) Matchups. Personally (I’m not a coach, so take this with the lightest grain of salt imaginable), I’d lean toward starting Herro over Lowry, but I see the cons as well as the pros to both; the Herro-Robinson-Butler-Adebayo quartet (minus-42 NET in seven minutes) hasn’t been the cleanest in their microscopic sample either, even though they’ve patched decent outputs over the last two seasons.

There’s a scenario where Herro doesn’t immediately enter the starting lineup upon return to get his legs under him. In summary, head coach Erik Spoelstra has a great problem at his disposal when that date comes with the skillset this roster possesses. It’s more important who closes than who starts, which is (mostly) determined on a night-to-basis based on myriad factors–a different discussion for a different day.

Who do you think Tyler Herro starts over when he returns? Let us know in the comments!

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Joseph Vitali

I think if you start Herro you have to move him to thw 1 and either switch Duncan with J-Rich or Caleb to the starting shooting guard or you can move Jimmy to the 2 (he was a shooting guard most of his career) and move JJJ to the starting 3. I don’t mind either and while I think the former is safer I prefer the ladder. We love small ball and having Bam, HH, JJJ, Jimmy, Herro as a starting line up allows us to play small without really giving up size or strength. Even with Herro and being undersized at certain positions that’s a great defensive line up. The ladder has less size , almost as good defense, but is more of an outside shooting threat. I would actually start Lowry, Jimmy, JJJ, HH, Bam and have Herro, J-Rich, Duncan, Caleb, Love off the bench if I had to choose a rotation and I would hate not finding time for O-Rob and Cain because I think they are nba ready.

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