Even before the regular season ended, even before the final media ballots were tabulated, it only stood as a matter of when, rather than if, with Tyler Herro and the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award.
The time is now, with the third-year guard on Tuesday named the NBA’s top reserve in a vote that was completed after the final day of the regular season, becoming the first player to take the honor in the Miami Heat’s 34 seasons.
Settling in as the sparkplug of the Heat’s second unit, Herro was a runaway winner, with Phoenix Suns forward Cam Johnson and Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love the two other previously announced finalists.
“I accepted my role, and it’s worked out so far,” Herro said Tuesday night of his role and award-winning results. “I’m on the best team in the East, as a young guy playing starter’s minutes. I take the most shots on the team. My teammates and coaches, they trust me with the ball, and I really couldn’t ask for much more.
“And I’m in a great position for now and for the future. So I’m excited for what’s next, and just continue to keep going.”
Herro was surprised by Heat captain Udonis Haslem earlier in the day when he was presented the award during the team’s practice at FTX Arena, as the Heat prepared for Wednesday’s Game 2 of their Eastern Conference playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers.
“It meant everything just to get the award from OG,” Herro said of Haslem, “and then the rest of my teammates. This couldn’t happen without them. They allow me to be myself, coming off the bench. My teammates, coaches, this wouldn’t happen without them.”
Herro received 96 of the 100 first-place votes in the weighted balloting. Love received three and Johnson 1. In the tabulations that were weighted on a 5-3-1 basis, with each ballot requiring three names, Herro finished with 488 points to 214 for Love and 128 for Johnson. No other Heat player received a vote.
“He’s a great player. He’s so skilled,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s a worker. He’s relentless.
“We view him as our sixth starter anyway.”
Herro, 22, this season not only set a franchise record for points off the bench, but already moved to the top of the franchise’s all-time bench-scoring list.
Herro recorded eight 30-point games as a reserve during the regular season, tying for the third-most by an NBA reserve during a single season (since starts were tracked in 1970-71). Additionally, he recorded 20 25-point games as a reserve, the most in the NBA over the past 30 years, tying for the fourth most during a single season.
The only Heat players to score 1,000 or more points off the bench in a season are Herro (1,162 this season), Dwyane Wade (1,028 in 2018-19) and Tyler Johnson (1,002 in 2016-17).
Behind Herro’s efforts, the Heat led the NBA with 3,322 bench points, second-highest total in franchise history.
“He’s become one of the top scorers,” center Bam Adebayo said. “You can see at that age, that size, doing what he does, he makes it look easy.”
Herro’s 20.8 scoring average as a reserve led the NBA, followed by the 15.9 of the Utah Jazz’s Jordan Clarkson, 14.7 of the Charlotte Hornets’ Kelly Oubre and 14.0 of the Indiana Pacers’ Buddy Hield.
Herro’s best sustained bench scoring streak came when he scored 20 or more in seven consecutive games from Feb. 25 to March 7, the longest 20-point streak by a reserve in team history, surpassing the previous record of four consecutive such games by Chris Gatling in 1996. The seven games also was the longest 20-point game streak by an NBA reserve since Lou Williams had an eight-game such streak in 2017-18 with the Los Angeles Clippers.
“You got to salute Lou Will,” Herro said. “For me growing up, just watching Lou being a sixth man, I feel like when I think of the Sixth Man Award, it’s Lou Will or Jamal Crawford. Growing up, those are the two guys that I grew up watching as a sixth man. They paved the way for all of us.”
Heat forward Jimmy Butler was among those who lobbied for Herro to win the award.
“He deserves it because he does work incredibly hard and he cares about winning first,” he said, “and he’s gotten so much better at not only taking and making shots, but getting everybody else easy shots, getting stops when needed, moving the ball, making all these right reads.”
The Heat’s only other award finalist is Spoelstra, for Coach of the Year, with that award to be announced later this postseason, with the Phoenix Suns’ Monty Williaams considered the front-runner.
©2022 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.