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Heat arrive in Phoenix with similar style of play, rising young star

Devin Booker (left) and Tyler Herro (right) (Photos by Lizzy Barrett and Dylan Buell, both of Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The Miami Heat are locked in defensively to start the season, posting the league’s fourth-best defensive rating (99.9).

They are also moving the ball extremely well, ranking second in assist percentage (66.1%) and fourth in passes made.

Sound familiar?

We will see quite the match in style of play on Thursday as the Phoenix Suns (5-2) host Miami (5-2).

“They’ve been playing really well,” Devin Booker said after shootaround Thursday.

“They’re versatile,” Monty Williams said. “Miami’s always been the team that everybody around the league respects because they play hard, they have a DNA, they have an identity.”

With one of the league’s best coaches in Erik Spoelstra and a front office with a knack for finding hidden talent that’s also being unafraid of huge moves, it’s an organization to look up to and one Suns fans can hope Williams and general manager James Jones can try to emulate.

As far as the matchup, what to watch for is how much trouble Miami’s ball-handlers create off the dribble.

The Heat’s top five scorers in Kendrick Nunn (18.3 points per game), Goran Dragic (15.1), Jimmy Butler (15.0), Justise Winslow (13.8) and Tyler Herro (13.7) all have point guard elements to their game and average a combined 21.6 assists per game to make up for not having a “traditional point guard.”

Even their best big man in the emerging Bam Adebayo has some point center in his game, adding 4.9 assists per game.

Under Spolestra’s guidance with enough skilled playmakers, that’s how you get a team that excels offensively through ball movement.

Williams was asked about the troubles that versatility on offense can present a defense.

“You just gotta guard the ball,” he said. “That’s something that, if you can’t guard the ball for 2-3 dribbles, no scheme is gonna help you. So if you’re giving up blow-bys to the basket and playing in rotations, you’re going to be in trouble.”

A few key statistics back this up.

Even with the scoring acumen those names have, Miami is 25th in the NBA this year in FG% off pull-up jumpers at 33.8%. The 20.1 of those shots they take a game make up for 23% of their field goal attempts.

If they get by their man, though, and make passes, they’ll kill you.

Miami is shooting 39.8% on catch-and-shoot three-pointers, a top 10 league mark, and the assist percentage speaks for itself.

Keep them contained and make them shoot, however, where a 42.5 FG% on drives ranks 27th and 0.74 points per possession for pick-and-roll ball-handlers is tied for fifth-worst, and you’re in business.

Williams highlighted transition play and he is a wise individual. The Heat are first in the league in points per 100 possessions allowed in transition and the Suns are fifth, per Cleaning the Glass.

Keep an eye on who gets the better of that, if either side does, and if Phoenix can keep Miami contained off the bounce.

FAMILIAR-LOOKING TWO-GUARD

Miami’s rising young star was scouted at Kentucky as a one-and-done who is a high IQ player that can shoot but there were questions about his athleticism and creation ability.

Because of this, he fell to the back-end of the lottery, going 13th overall in the draft, and he’s already making a few teams look foolish for letting that happen.

Sound familiar?

That’s Tyler Herro, who appears to be the latest talent to slip through the cracks of the top-10 in an NBA Draft.

Herro plays with a certain level of understanding and confidence that is rare for rookies. He’s averaging 13.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.

Like Booker, Herro has a sense for where he can get a bucket. His speed of how he picks things up on the court and moves off that meshes so well with the NBA game compared to college.

He’s got the off-the-dribble juice that Booker has too to be comfortable in the mid-range already.

The quick release and pretty shooting form spark a resemblance as well.

 

Funnily enough, Herro looks up to Booker, and said to the Miami Herald that’s “all I watch” when it comes to film of Booker.

He told NBA.com that Booker was his “favorite growing up,” modeled his game after Booker and that Booker has become a big brother that consistently keeps in contact and checks to see how Herro is doing.

Booker said after shootaround Thursday that he was aware of Herro before he committed to Kentucky and they wound up having the same trainer.

When Booker started seeing more of Herro play, that’s where social media interactions started coming and they exchanged information, building a relationship from there.

Williams wouldn’t discuss Herro and Booker comparatively for obvious reasons but sees that faith the rookie has in his own ability.

“When I look at him I see a lot of confidence,” Williams said, noticing the confidence when they had him around for the draft in the summer and watching him at Kentucky.

“He looks pretty talented.”

When Booker was asked about if confidence is the key for guys to translate right away, he said that it was part of the equation.

“It’s confidence and having respect for people at the same time,” Booker said.

And the craziest part of this is that the 23-year-old Booker already has young players in the league not only watching film on him, but looking up to him.

“That’s a big statement, especially someone with that talent level,” Booker said of Herro solely watching his film, noting he’s a fan of Herro like Herro is a fan of his.

“He has that competitive mindset, he has that dog in him every time he touches the court. That’s definitely something I respect and admire of him.”

Now they face off for the first time, something Herro told NBA.com “will be crazy.”

If you’re familiar enough with Booker and the type of competitor he is and compares himself to, then you’ll know once the lights come on, Herro will bring it. He will in the same way Booker did when Kobe Bryant first came to Phoenix when the then-19-year-old tried Bryant’s own move on him when first matched up.

“And I missed the shot but I used one of his moves against him and that’s the first thing he said against me. ‘You’re trying to use my own move against me?’” Booker said back in March of 2016. “He said that right at the end of the game, so it was fun.

“That was the only time we matched up but like I said it’s something I will remember for the rest of my life.”

Expect a similar memory for Herro tonight.

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