Tyler Herro was told before the season began that he wouldn’t be in the Miami Heat starting lineup. To his credit, he saw that as an opportunity.
“I said, ‘Let’s go for Sixth Man of the Year,’” Herro said.
And that’s what he got.
Herro was announced Tuesday as the NBA’s top sixth man this season, the first player to win the award as a member of the Heat. He averaged 20.7 points, nearly four more per game than any other reserve in the league, plus had a huge role in Miami securing the No. 1 seed for the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“It means a lot,” Herro said. “I accepted the sixth-man role for a reason. I wanted to be the best sixth man in the league.”
By overwhelming agreement of the 100 sportswriters and broadcasters who cover the league and vote on season-ending awards, that’s what Herro was. He received 96 first-place votes and 488 total points, well ahead of runner-up Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cameron Johnson of the Phoenix Suns was third.
“Everyone who knows me knows I love Tyler Herro’s game (and swag) – much respect on an incredible 6th man campaign,” Love tweeted.
Love got three first-place votes and 214 points in the system where players received five points for a first-place nod, three for second place and one for third. Johnson got one first-place vote and 128 points.
“Tyler was ignitable for this team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He was that way all season.”
Herro had eight 30-point games off the bench this season, more than any other three players did combined. The last time a reserve had more than eight 30-point games was 2017-18, when Lou Williams had 11 for the Los Angeles Clippers. Before that, it was 1989-90, when Ricky Pierce had 17 for Milwaukee.
And in those years, Pierce and Williams — two of the best sixth men ever — wound up winning the award that Herro received Tuesday. Herro got the official word in a ceremony during practice Tuesday morning, with teammate Udonis Haslem serving as the presenter.
“When you come in and you’re going to be the featured player, that, to me, is a better role than a starting role in a lot of ways,” said Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers, whose 76ers are facing Herro and the Heat in an Eastern Conference semifinal series that resumes Wednesday. Miami leads the series 1-0, with Herro scoring 25 points in the opener on Monday night.
“You look at the old Celtics with Kevin McHale and (John) Havlicek and you look at history, there’s been a lot of key sixth men to lead teams a championship,” Rivers said. “They end up playing starter minutes. They just don’t start the game.”
McHale was a two-time winner of the award, including in Boston’s 1984 title season. Havlicek was part of eight Celtics championships, six of them as a reserve.
Herro is hoping to do the same this spring with Miami.
He actually played more minutes this season than anyone else on the Heat, posting career-bests in most offensive categories, and was second on the team in points per game behind only Jimmy Butler’s 21.4 — just 0.7 ahead of Herro’s pace.
“I just realized what this team was built for,” Herro said. “It was built for a championship. When you look at our roster, if I was our coach, I would probably bring myself off the bench, too. Just looking at what we have on the team, if it makes sense to bring either me or Jimmy off the bench, obviously it’s going to be me. We’ve got to bring one of our main scorers off the bench. And I understand that.”
Sixth Man was the fourth major award to be announced this offseason, joining Most Improved ( Memphis’ Ja Morant ), Rookie of the Year ( Toronto’s Scottie Barnes ) and Defensive Player of the Year ( Boston’s Marcus Smart ).
Still to come: Coach of the Year (Spoelstra, Phoenix’s Monty Williams and Memphis’ Taylor Jenkins are the finalists), and MVP (either Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Denver’s reigning MVP Nikola Jokic).
The 22-year-old Herro grew up in Wisconsin and played one year at Kentucky before getting drafted by Miami. He is completing his third season, is extension-eligible this summer and it’s a certainty that Miami will try to sign him to a deal that will kick in at the start of the 2023-24 season. The extension could be as much as five years and around $185 million — if Miami offers him a full max deal.
He’s proven his worth.
Herro’s 1,162 points in games where he didn’t start this season were a Heat record, as are his 2,348 career points off the bench. He had 32 games this season scoring at least 20 points off the bench and is up to 51 such games in his career — more than any other two Heat players combined.
“Young guys coming into the league, it’s often about themselves scoring and getting paid and the next contract,” Herro said. “But I feel like no one’s in my situation. Obviously, if I was in a different organization, things would be different. I’m on a team that’s winning, playing for championships and scoring and doing my thing. I think that’s a blessing to do it all — score, get minutes, get better at the end of the day, and win.”
Tim Reynolds, basketball writer, authored this story for The Associated Press.