When looking at the stories of Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro, and Duncan Robinson with the Miami Heat, they’re all clearly different. But they still ended up at the same starting point to end up where they are today.
It all started in Summer League, as the three of them were just trying to showcase their youthful skills to try and move up to the next level. Now, Miami’s heading into the playoffs with two of them as starters and the other as a sixth man scorer.
This has been a season of ups and downs, but now that every team has officially made it to the 72 game mark, it’s necessary to evaluate this trio of young guys and depict the biggest improvements that they’e made this season. So, here’s what stood out…
Catch and shoot
When I say that I’m evaluating the biggest improvements this season, it doesn’t mean that I’m looking at the numbers to find an increase. But if there was any point that would be backed up by the stats dramatically, it would be this one.
Kendrick Nunn has pretty much been an on-ball guy since joining the team last season, but the reason for his latest surge has a lot to do with giving him time off the ball. Lineups with both Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro are much more possible due to that ability, and that ability is spot up shooting.
He shot 35% on catch and shoot threes last season, which has jumped up to 42% this season. Spoiler alert: that’s a big deal.
One thing I’ve mentioned for quite some time is that he’s utilized in an interesting way when Duncan Robinson exits the floor. He basically becomes the Robinson lite in most of their offensive sets, which is something I would not have expected from him before the season started.
When I asked Nunn about the reasoning for his improvement in that area, he said, “I just put in the work to become better at catch and shoot, and obviously the results are showing.”
Yes, the results are showing, and it’s perfect for Coach Spo due to the fact he can utilize his starting guard in a much freer way on a position-less team.
Decision making in PnR
If you asked me what Nunn’s biggest struggle was last season, it would be the indecisiveness in the pick and roll. He never really knew when to pull that mid-range jumper with confidence or make the lob pass, which is an important trait with his current role.
But not only has he gotten better in that area, it’s actually become one of his biggest strengths. Coach Spo labeled him as a “three level scorer” the other day, and being a quick decision maker allows him to succeed at all three levels.
A quick decision maker doesn’t mean just as a passer, since as shown in the video clip above, the mid-range pull-up with confidence has a lot to do with his improving defensive reads.
The funny thing about these being two of his biggest improvements is that they’re total opposites. One highlights his off-ball abilities, while the other showcases his skill-set with the ball in his hands, and that’s the very reason he’s been rolling ever since being stuck in the starting lineup. This exact combo is a hard player to guard, and he will finally get his shot in the post-season to show that he can contribute on the big stage.
Tyler Herro has had an odd season individually, including injuries, slumps, and changing roles, but the improvements are still fluid. When I mention changing roles, I’m talking about being the starting point guard to begin the season, then shifting down to the bench when that didn’t seem to work out.
That’s not an easy thing to do, going from bench player to playoff breakout to starting lineup then back to bench. Nunn may have done it and thrived but he’s proved to be a different breed in mental readiness.
Through this roller coaster of a season for Herro, he’s finally found his role, and completely thrived. No matter if he’s had a dip in some of his numbers or not, he still gets the defensive respect from opposing teams. Everybody knows Tyler Herro, so everybody wants to shut down Tyler Herro.
The thing about that is it’s forced him to adjust his offensive game. Instead of the free flowing offense he played last season, it’s become working for a slimmer of space off the ball. As seen above, the use of off-ball screens on this team have allowed it, but he’s been figuring out some individual fakes on the run to get free by running his defender into the screen.
I asked Herro about the different defensive coverages recently, and he responded, “Obviously it’s a new year and things change. Different defenses are going to throw different things at you night in and night out, and you just have to adjust.”
Well, he’s done that pretty well to end the season, but the playoffs will be a whole other beast. Teams will be ready for his off the bench production, especially in a familiar town of Milwaukee.
This improvement isn’t just recency bias from his career high assist night on the last game of the season, so it must be noted.
For one, some of the downs of Herro this season have forced people to forget the production to begin the year. His shooting numbers weren’t great, but he was getting to the rim pretty regularly and was highly efficient. He shot 51% less than 10 feet from the basket last season, which shot up to 57% this season.
The thing about that ability is it can easily be taken away when he doesn’t have a screen to navigate around. So, the next piece to add to the puzzle was going to be a reliable passing ability on the move, and he’s added that.
When I asked Herro about that ability, he said, “I came here and the coaching staff really helped me with my decision making and being able to make the right read.”
It’s pretty clear that his play-making abilities are at its best when he’s on the move downhill, since the key to his passing success is instinctive decisions. It’s something we’ve especially seen in the 3 games this season where the Heat had eight available players, while Herro was one of them.
Why is it that his downhill passing and lob is so effective in those settings? Well, it’s one word: freedom. When he’s playing tense, those passes become turnovers, which will be one of the most interesting things for him heading into the post-season, to see if he can sustain that ability in games being played in the half-court.
I am not going to lie, I did not expect to be discussing Duncan Robinson’s defense as the primary improvement this season, but here we are. Early in the season he had flashes of team defense expertise, due to his knowledge of when to double, splitting the difference between two guys on the weak-side, and his best possessions occurring in the zone.
But well, his one-on-one defense has made major leaps this season as well, even seeing the Jayson Tatum match-up for two straight games to end the season.
He’s always been a guy that offenses looked to force a switch and attack, or better yet search for him in the zone as shown above. But his length has prevented that overall bullying on a night to night basis, which is something else that changes things for the playoffs.
The utilization of Robinson last year was interesting, since his offensive gravity in the Finals was obviously needed, but LeBron James depicting the defense to put Robinson on whoever he wanted made it difficult.
Now, that can’t be used as frequently. Of course, he’s not this world class defender that is going to lock up his match-up every night, but he does have the necessary attributes to stay on the floor and not be a total liability.
I asked Robinson about the defensive leaps this season, which he responded, “It’s definitely been a process. There’s been highs and lows throughout the year…but I’m just trying to continue to build and improve. When I’m put in those situations like that, I’m just continuing to build that trust that the coaching staff and the team has in me to be solid.”
DHO to high PnR
It’s not everyday that you see a team base an offense around an undrafted shooter, but that’s exactly what the Miami Heat did last year. And well, it worked.
It actually worked so well that teams have schemed against it so much that Miami was forced to go away from it this season. So, eliminating dribble hand-offs from the offense would eliminate Duncan Robinson, right?
A straight catch and shoot player wasn’t expected to make improvements on the fly to impact games off the dribble, but that’s exactly what he did. He shifted into more of the high pick and roll sets, giving him more room to navigate and leaving the defense with a very difficult decision.
Do I lag behind and give him a good look on a pull up three? Do we double out on him and allow Bam Adebayo to run a 4 on 3? It’s a tough decision, but most times they’re choosing the latter, which just reflects his offensive abilities.
Out of all the improvements named in this article, I don’t think there’s one more significant than this one. Yes, others made some jumps in certain areas of their game, but nobody was forced to change their entire offensive game and absolutely thrive.
Nunn, Herro, and Robinson went from trying to prove themselves in a Summer League setting to being three of the primary elements to their offense heading into a very intriguing first round match-up. And the one thing all of them have in common: they aren’t one bit scared of the big stage.
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