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Where Tyler Herro’s run is one of the best rookie postseason of all time and what it says about his future

What do Tyler Herro and Magic Johnson have in common? They are the only two rookies in NBA history to score 35 or more points, score at least five rebounds, and deal three or more assists in either of the final two rounds of the playoffs. Herro’s Game 4 explosion earned him the record for points from a novice in the conference finals, overtaking two-time All-Star Andrew Toney. Two items on this list? Johnson’s eternal rival Larry Bird, who reached the 37 points Herro never scored in any playoff game until his fourth season.

Wednesday wasn’t an isolated incident. It was the culmination of one of the greatest rookie playoff runs the NBA has ever seen. A future superstar appears before our eyes. Herro was so good that a historical context is necessary here. Where does this rank belong to the greatest playoff runs in rookie history?

A rookie is high on the list in playoff history, and that̵

7;s exactly what you’d expect. Magic Johnson’s 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 9.4 assists per game in the 1980 postseason is the biggest run a rookie will ever have, culminating in one of the most famous individual performances in league history. By the time Herro plays all five positions en route to a 42-15-7 line and the final MVP, Johnson’s spot on that leaderboard is assured. Others have published more impressive numbers, but on shorter runs. For example, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar averaged over 35 points per game in his first playoff run but was eliminated in the second round. Donovan Mitchell and David Robinson fall into the same camp.

Among the newbies who have played at least 13 playoff games in the Miami Heat, Herros ranks fifth in NBA history with 16.5 points per game. The name just above him is Alvan Adams, but the other three should excite Heat fans a lot more: Magic Johnson, Jayson Tatum, and the greatest Heat player of all, Dwyane Wade.

Wade’s run bears a number of similarities to Herro’s. In both cases, the promising rookie was part of an ensemble cast. The 2003 Heat was a No. 4 seed. This year’s Heat was No. 5. But Wade’s run ended in the second round against the No. 1 seeded Indiana Pacers. Herro buried the season number 1, the Milwaukee Bucks, in five games. Tatum made it to the final of the Eastern Conference like Herro, but lost in seven games. Herro would have to lose three straights to be eliminated the same way, and while Tatum scored more goals, Herro averaged more assists and rebounds with a higher effective field goal percentage.

Tatum’s role naturally made him more valuable during this run. After Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward were sidelined due to injury, he was Boston’s top scorer. Defense focused on him. The heat is still running through Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. According to Paul Westphal, Adams is the more suitable comparison for the Phoenix Suns 1976-77. It’s also the run, aside from Johnson’s, Herro would probably rather emulate. He reached the NBA finals. This makes him one of only four newcomers who averaged double-digit points in the playoffs on the way to a final, joining teammates Ricky Sobers and two Hall of Famers: Johnson and Jack Sikma.

It makes intuitive sense. The best rookies almost never end up in final teams. The leap from the lottery to the competition is seldom achievable in a single year. Even if they do, beginners tend to be unreliable. Many competing teams had hoisted or unannounced newbies who became stars. They rarely play them when it counts. There is usually too much at stake for 20 year olds.

But the heat expressly trusts Herro. He closes games for her despite his nominal reserve status. Only Butler and Dragic have attempted more clutch shots this postseason than he was on his team (14), an feat so rare that he has attempted almost twice as many clutch shots as any other rookie in the Playoff field together (eight). Only two newbies in this century have ever topped that: Tatum at 15 and Derrick Rose at 19.

It wouldn’t be possible to measure the real value of all of these postseason runs as the era, skill and role differ, but it doesn’t have to be the case for Herro. The NBA does not award a trophy for the greatest rookie playoff run of all time. However, many others are being honored, and the players that we have listed in various places here have at some point amassed most of them.

Johnson and Rose are MVPs. Johnson and Wade are Final MVPs. Tatum is a reigning All-NBA player, and even Adams, the group’s one-hit wonder, has formed an All-Star team. Herro scores on average more points per game than Ben Simmons, Tony Parker or Charles Barkley as newbies. All three eventually became Superstar.

And it’s time to wonder if Herro is destined for that kind of future too. This is not a slip up. It’s also not an accident with shooting deviations (in fact, with only 37.8 percent, he shot worse in the playoffs than in the regular season). It is the creation of a player who was miserably misjudged during the design process. We may not have anticipated this type of performance of Herro, but it does happen, and history says that when something like this happens, it means the fame is not far behind. If Game 4 was a clue, it could already be here.

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