NBA trade rumors: Tyler Herro and the rapidly declining value of one-way players

Not particularly strong, long, laterally fast, or even fully committed to modern’s multiple efforts NBA defense, Tyler Herro is no stranger to being targeted on the field. But he’s not used to being targeted like this off the court, where his name and play are dragged across every sports-talk platform and through the toxicity of Twitter discourse.

Such is life as the center in the Miami Heat’s supposed trade package for Damian Lillard, who in theory, in addition to the normal basket of draft picks that exchange hands in these blockbuster deals, should be valuable enough to land the Blazers a young gun with All-Star upside.

After all, the Nets got Mikal Bridges for Kevin Durant. The Thunder traded Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for Paul George. Pelicans traded Brandon Ingram for Anthony Davis. Herro, even through the prism of the most optimistic projection, is nowhere near that level of player. And he has to pay $120 million over the next four years.

“The league as a whole has become really skeptical of these one-way guys,” an Eastern Conference scout told CBS Sports. “Everybody thinks in terms of the playoffs now. It used to be if you could score 20 points, you were a dude. No questions asked. But now, if you have a weakness, if you can’t hold your own on the defensive end, unless you’re a franchise guy, you’re going to be played off the court.”

In fact, the Lakers had to cut D’Angelo Russell, a one-time $117 million player who just re-signed for nearly $20 million a year, from their final playoff lineups. The Warriors could hardly justify playing Jordan Poole, another $100 million-plus player, in last year’s postseason before salary dumping him on the Wizards this summer.

It begs the question: Why do these types of players make so much money if they are not seen as very valuable players? Part of that can be, and often is, a product of a cap-strapped team, or a small-market team that has few funds to replace production, so the contract becomes the lesser of evils when juxtaposed against the prospect of losing a good player you’ve already invested heavily in for nothing.

Also, to state the obvious, scoring is important. It is a very select skill. It can get you through many stretches over a long regular season. But scoring draws more proportionate weight these days. It is part of the ledger, but so is everything else, and if the bottom line is still in the red, then you are looking, albeit through a plus-minus lens sometimes devoid of important contexts, at a negative player.

The reverse is also true. Defensive specialists who pose little or no offensive threat are just as damaging. The Lakers just lost their Jarred Vanderbilt playoff minutes by nearly 10 points per 100 possessions, per CTG. Matisse Thybulle, a legitimately brilliant defenseman who just got $33 million from Portland, has spent the better part of his young career switching between the rotating edges and the end of the bench.

If you’re James Harden, or Trae Young, or indeed Lillard, you can get away with owning half the court while paying out the nose for the other (your team will probably eventually run up against the ceiling you built with your own hands, but your value remains largely intact).

Peripheral players, on the other hand, can’t hinder the overall effort, especially when they’re making close to superstar money and are suddenly thrown into the heart of a power-shifting trade, expecting to avoid the referendum Herro’s game is facing right now.

And then we get to the numbers: During the 2022 playoffs, Miami’s defensive rating dropped by 16.4 points with Herro on the floor. Despite his 23% 3-point shooting, almost all of that drop-off came defensively. Is it fair that we all so closely associate Miami’s surprise run to the 2023 Finals with Herro’s absence, which relieved the Heat of having to cover up his defensive shortcomings? Maybe. But perception is sometimes actually reality.

“Think about it this way: Portland was never able to build a real contender around Dame,” said the same scout. “Why? Because he and [CJ] McCollum couldn’t defend and they never found the right pieces to cover for it. Now you have [Anfernee] Simons, another score-first guy. We’ll see about Scoot [Henderson], but he is small, we know that. So defensively you have the same problems in the backcourt. And now you want to add Herro? It’s just not a good fit.”

Therefore, a third team may need to get involved to facilitate this trade, one that views Herro as valuable enough to warrant forfeiting a first-round pick that could then be redirected to Portland.

Is Herro worth a first round pick? In the right situation, yes. It’s a stretch to toe the Dan LeBatard line that Herro is better than Tyrese Maxey (who is a much better 3-point shooter and a blur to the basket), but he’s a good player.

Over Herro’s first four seasons, he has averaged 20-5-4 on 38% 3-point shooting. He can create something off the dribble, especially in the pick-and-roll and two-man actions. He is a decent passer with the leverage his shot can generate. He hardly ever scores in the paint and hardly ever threatens the rim, but he’s about as sure a scorer and shooter as you’ll find, albeit on moderately efficient marks.

Last year, Herro’s was 114.1 points per game. 100 shot attempts registered in the 50th percentile among wings, per Cleaning the Glass, while BBall-Index had him as one of the least efficient isolation scorers in the league. His effective field-goal percentage has ranked below league average each season.

This is not the profile of a player who can get away with being a defensive target, let alone one who is supposed to be seen as a worthy centerpiece in a trade for one of the top 10-12 players in the world. This speaks to the significant shift we are seeing in personnel priorities. Teams want stars and two-way players. Herro is one of many players who fit neither bill, and now those one-way contributors are feeling the pressure more than ever.

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