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Shared experiences formed lasting bond for Tyler Herro and mentor Devin Booker

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
March 10, 2022

When Devin Booker came into the league, it meant the world to him when his idol Kobe Bryant offered him advice and told him to “Be Legendary.” When Tyler Herro entered the NBA, Booker taking him under his wing felt similarly special.

“He reached out to me at Kentucky when I was in school,” Herro recalled. “It might have been even high school, so I kept that relationship with him, and earlier in my career, I continued to model my game after him. So just watching what he does, and I can try to model my game after him.”

Although Booker had only been in the league for four years when Herro was drafted back in 2019, the Miami Heat guard had been watching Book long before that, tracing back to his lone year at Kentucky. Aside from their shared Wildcat connection, the similarities between the two have led to frequent comparisons.

Both were hot-shooting, 6-foot-5 guards from Kentucky in college. Both were drafted 13th overall in the NBA Draft, both were 19 years old during their rookie seasons, and both quickly proved they could do a lot more than just shoot. As a rookie, Herro said he believed he was capable of doing what Booker did on a nightly basis if he continued to progress.

Now in his third season, Herro is enjoying a breakout campaign off the bench for the top team in the Eastern Conference, and his mentor couldn’t be prouder.

“I got a lot of respect for him, I got a lot of respect for what he’s doing,” Booker said. “We’ve been tapped in for a long time now, so it’s a real relationship. He’s been playing his ass off this year, and I’ve been watching and I’ve been studying and paying attention, so very bright future. I’ll have fun competing against him for the rest of our careers.”

Devin Booker and Tyler Herro at a glance

So far this year, Herro is averaging 20.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists in 32.7 minutes per game off Miami’s bench. His numbers, shot-making and increased ball-handling and facilitating duties are reminiscent of Booker’s early years, even if they were spent on undermanned, horrific Phoenix Suns teams:

  • Devin Booker’s 3rd year: 24.9 PPG, 4.7 APG, 4.5 RPG, 34.5 MPG, 43.2 FG%, 38.3 3P%
  • Tyler Herro’s 3rd year: 20.8 PPG, 4.0 APG, 4.8 RPG, 32.7 MPG, 44.2 FG%, 38.8 3P%

Herro has cited Booker’s midrange abilities as an inspiration for his game in the past, and their shot profiles are fairly similar. According to Cleaning the Glass, Herro takes 45 percent of his shots from that area of the floor, which ranks in the 88th percentile for his position. Booker, meanwhile, takes 54 percent of his shots from the midrange, ranking in the 100th percentile. Herro makes 43 percent of those attempts; Booker makes 45 percent.

“I could see it,” Williams said of the similarities. “[Herro] scores on every level, more athletic than you realize. More than anything, you just see the competitive spirit and the heart, the willingness to take big shots. Now you can tell he’s been in the weight room, he deals with physicality a lot better than he did when he first came in. So I can see that. The Kentucky common background there, but also, the bounce that he has to his game is a lot of like Book’s.”

Forging their own paths

However, for all the glaring similarities, and as much as these two will remain linked because of their friendship and shared alma mater, everyone involved seems to agree the continued comparisons are unfair to both players.

“I mean, we’re all our own player,” Herro said with a smile when asked if the comparisons were getting old. “There’s similarities in our games, I guess you could say, but I try to come into my own as a player in this league and continue to push myself to get better.”

“I can see the comparisons, I don’t like to get into the comparisons,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Book is a world-class player at this point in his career. He’s helped take a team from basically the bottom of the league to the NBA Finals last year. He’s an Olympian, a multiple-year All-Star, and Tyler’s just getting going. But yeah, he’s just doing some fantastic things for us. We’re really pleased with his progress, how he’s developed and how he’s really learning how to impact winning, and to do that on both sides of the floor.”

For Herro, part of his path to improvement from last year was working on a variation of 3s over the summer — off the dribble, catch-and-shoots, step-backs and so on. Learning to be patient on offense and not letting defenses speed him up was another area of his game he felt he’d improved this season, and Herro cited watching film and learning from mistakes in his first two seasons as key parts of that growth.

The 22-year-old sharpshooter told The Miami Herald’s Anthony Chiang that he still watches Devin Booker film, and it’s no surprise; that leap in 3-point percentage, playing through mistakes and being able to read the game better as a result were all hallmarks of Booker’s third year in the league too.

Now, all of that’s starting to pay off for the No. 1 seed in the East, even if Booker wants to pump the brakes on all the comparisons as well.

“I see a go-getter, man,” Booker added. “I won’t even do him the discredit of comparing himself to me. People always say, ‘This person plays like that.’ Like, let him have his own lane. And he’s doing that — I think clear-cut Sixth Man of the Year, even though he’s obviously not a sixth man with the way he plays and his talent level. I don’t want to sound like the old head, but it’s been fun to watch him from high school on to Kentucky now on to the league.”

Devin Booker vs. Tyler Herro

On Wednesday night, the two got to square off for the second time this season. Herro put up 17 points on 7-of-20 shooting, while his mentor finished with 23 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds on 7-of-12 shooting, leading the Suns to one of their most impressive wins of the season.

“I cherish moments like this, being able to compete against Devin,” Herro said at shootaround before the game. “Whenever we go up against each other, it’s a game I look forward to.”

The numbers back that up. In six career games against the Suns, Herro has averaged 17.8 points, 3.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game on 47.8 percent shooting. Although both agreed they ramp up the trash-talking in their text conversations leading up to games against each other — and there’s even more on the court when they face off, like Wednesday after Booker hit a 3 in Herro’s face — the mutual respect is always there.

“I love the real relationships, especially when me and Tyler started a long time ago,” Booker said. “I don’t talk to a lot of guys in the NBA. I think I can do a better job of talking to younger players, but he’s one of them guys I have a real relationship with.”

Herro obviously deserves the credit for fleshing out his game, but even Spoelstra agreed Booker’s influence has been profound.

“I mean, that’s that Kentucky mafia fraternity,” Spo said. “I think that he’s been a great mentor and resource for Tyler, going back to his year in college.”

Shared experiences

One example of that mentorship came last year, when Herro struggled to build on his exemplary rookie season as Miami stormed its way to the NBA Finals. Though he still averaged a respectable 15.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game, his 3-point shooting slightly dipped to 36 percent, and the court of public opinion turned on him and his potential rather quickly.

Dealing with all that, as well as the online ridicule for being considered “untouchable” in Heat trade talks just a few months beforehand, paved the way for Booker’s advice to ring true.

“It’s fun being a part of just seeing the growth and seeing the confidence level never slip,” Booker said. “That’s what we always talk about. Like, don’t let that confidence slip. I think he went through a stretch last season, people were giving him a hard time and I was always there, like, ‘Stay confident. Keep going at them folks.’ And that’s what he does.”

While Booker admitted he could do a better job of reaching out to some of the younger players in the league, his bond with Herro is pretty clear, and it represents a drastic change from how things used to be just a few decades ago.

“That’s what today’s game is about,” Monty Williams said. “You didn’t necessarily see that when I came into the league, because the guy playing your position looked at you as a threat, wasn’t as willing to help you out. Even in practice, you had to have a really good vet if you were playing the same position to help you out. Now, more guys are willing to work out in the summer together, share information. All these social platforms they connect on, I’m sure there’s a lot of exchanging experiences there. So I know it’s helpful to the younger generation.”

Booker and Herro experienced drastically different situations during their first three years in the league; Herro was largely a bench player on a functional, competitive franchise with a good culture that went to the Finals his first year. Booker, meanwhile, was thrown into the fire on dysfunctional Suns teams constantly in a state of turmoil, emerging from the flames with a new element chiseled into his game each year.

But in addition to their Kentucky roots and similar shot profiles, the shared experiences of playing through mistakes, improving in the face of skepticism and now helping lead championship contenders — to varying degrees — has brought them closer as their friendship has developed. Comparing Herro’s trajectory to that of an All-NBA caliber player like Booker is unfair, but that’s not stopping him from following in those same footsteps of trying to prove his critics wrong.

“I feel like I’ve been making statements all year,” Herro said. “Just continuing to be myself, and my teammates and coaches help me be productive out there and I’m just gonna continue to show what I’m capable of.”

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