Since the New Orleans Pelicans drafted Thanos, who we futile human beings recognize as Zion Williamson, with the #1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the league has not had a more darling rookie since LeBron James back in 2003. ESPN probably had a storyboard ready yesterday for Zion’s 2023 free agency saga. There’s no question that Williamson deserves the spotlight. A player with his athletic tools and IQ is the kind of player franchises strap their futures to and fanbases entrust with their sanity.
About a week before the Pels’ season opener against the Toronto Raptors, a precautionary MRI caught a torn right meniscus in Zion’s knee, keeping him out for at least six weeks. Since he’s a player who likes to introduces himself using rim-snapping power, doubt naturally began to stain the the coming of Zion.
But the show must go on! And if the first couple of weeks of NBA action is anything to go by (for the most part, it’s probably not), we have plenty of exciting talent in this rookie class. So while Thanos is regaining his strength in the comfort of beignets and jazz, who holds the rookie crown?
Enter Tyler Herro.
Before I go on, this is more of a heart pick. He isn’t the best player in his class after Zion. Strong early play from Ja Morant, RJ Barrett, and Rui Hachimura is proof enough that Herro’s stats won’t be as round as theirs, but maybe it doesn’t need to be.
Herro has started his NBA career with all guns blazing. In the pre-season, he averaged 14.2 points on 46% shooting and 52% from deep, and only James Harden put up more points off jump shots than him. His production hasn’t dipped in the regular season either, which is a very encouraging sign. On the season so far, Herro is up to 16.3 points on 46% shooting and 37% from downtown. Moving forward, we could see Herro’s efficiency bump up as Jimmy Butler settles into the Miami offense.
At I stared this article, Herro just dropped 29 on the Hawks off the bench on Jimmy Butler’s return to the starting lineup. That’s 29 points on 77.8% shooting from the field.
Herro plays like he’s in perpetual heat-check mode and continues to find out he still has the hot hand after every shot. Additionally, the malleability he’s shown shifting between a starting and reserve role puts himself in Coach Erik Spoelstra’s good graces as a reliable plug-and-play option.
On the flip side, the usage Morant and Barrett will enjoy won’t be matched by efficiency. There’s no doubt about Ja’s ball-handling and playmaking, but his shaky jump shot handicaps his ceiling. Barrett looks like he’s recovered from a dismal preseason but his questionable shot selection doesn’t bode well moving forward.
Other strong candidates like Rui Hachimura and maybe even PJ Washingotn will also likely offer more all-around production than Herro, but the major knock on any other rookie with at least as big a role is that they simply won’t win enough.
Herro’s responsibility on a winning team is what makes him stand out in his class. Between providing effective and necessary contribution on a playoff team and stat-stuffing on a cellar dweller, a young prospect that can do the former is an absolute gem (see: Malcolm Brogdon). A team like the Heat probably has better playoff odds than most would think. Herro’s stock leans on owning one of the starting guard spots or playing as a sixth man that drinks rocket fuel instead of Gatorade.
Also, Herro just has a swagger to his game that matches perfectly with the Miami market. Quick release, pure stroke, icy demeanor, and the flavors on feet to match. Herro could find himself driving a strong feel-good factor around the Heat, which could tip the scales just enough to have the edge in narrative too.
Ultimately, Herro’s case as Rookie of the Year hinges on whether or not he can firmly establish himself as someone who can carry a playoff team’s offense in spurts without Jimmy Butler, or even alongside him. Early signs say he’s definitely capable, and if he does, maybe Zion’s claim to the rookie throne isn’t as clear as we thought it would be.
Yeah, I said it.
Throw as many stones inscribed with “small sample size” as you want to. While you’re doing that, Herro’s gonna keep shooting.