Rookies HEATing Up

Jack Meyer and Valentina Caceres

When the season started for the Miami Heat, fans had high expectations for the team. With new superstar Jimmy Butler rolling into town and multiple young players on the verge of a breakout, including Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow, the Heat looked set to make a playoff run after falling short last year. However, the season has started off better than any fan could have expected; the Heat’s hot start can be attributed to many factors, but one of the main reasons for the Heat’s success is the surprise contributions from three rookies previously under the radar: Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn and Chris Silva. 

In the 2019 NBA draft, the Miami Heat selected Tyler Herro with the 13th pick. While Herro was not expected to produce much this year as a late lottery pick, Herro has exceeded expectations of fans, experts and even some of his teammates. Herro started turning heads in the NBA Summer League, putting up 19.8 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game, 4.3 assists per game and 1.5 steals per game while playing less than 30 minutes per game for the Heat during their run in the Las Vegas Summer League tournament, according to the NBA.

Herro has continued his success with the Heat long after the Summer League ended. One of the more impressive moments of his season so far was his 29 point game against the Atlanta Hawks, making it the highest scoring performance from a Miami Heat rookie since Dwyane Wade in 2003. With his sharpshooting skills, work ethic and blossoming friendship with Jimmy Butler, it looks like Herro will remain a key part of the Miami Heat’s roster for years to come. 

Another Heat rookie who has experienced an unforeseen breakout is center Chris Silva. Silva played for the South Carolina Gamecocks for four years before going undrafted in 2019. However, Silva’s hustle and defensive skill did not go entirely unnoticed, as he signed a training camp contract with the Heat on July 11 after a solid outing in the Vegas Summer League tournament. Silva drew comparisons to Heat legend Udonis Haslem due to his team-first mentality and gritty style of play. 

Silva’s work in the preseason earned him a two-way contract with the Heat. Players on a two-way contract can spend up to 45 days with their team; once the team uses up all 45 days, the player can either sign a standard deal with the team or return to their G-League affiliate for the remainder of the season. Additionally, these two-way players can be sent down to the G-League at any time to allow teams to use their 45 days flexibly. 

Rather than preserving his 45 days, the Heat immediately put Silva on the court, and he did not disappoint. In his debut, Silva recorded an extremely efficient eight points, six rebounds and three blocks in just 11 minutes. One of his blocks was a highlight-reel worthy block against 2019 second overall pick Ja Morant, which resulted in a testy exchange between Silva and Grizzlies rising star Jarren Jackson Jr. From his intense defense to his incredible work ethic, Silva will likely stick around long after the 45 days on his two-way contract expire. 

The Heat’s third, and perhaps most surprising, breakout rookie is Kendrick Nunn. According to ESPN, despite being the second highest NCAA scorer in the nation while at Oakland University, Nunn went undrafted in 2018. He went on to sign a partially-guaranteed contract with the Golden State Warriors, and after being released by them before the regular season began, he played for their G-League affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors, where, according to Basketball Reference, he averaged an impressive 19.3 points per game. 

In April 2019, the Miami Heat announced Nunn as their newest player for the 2019-2020 season. While few knew much about the rookie, everyone rushed to get their Nunn jerseys after his historic start. In the Heat’s final preseason game against the Houston Rockets, Nunn put up 40 points in what appeared to turn into a scoring duel with reigning MVP James Harden. Nunn did not slow down in the regular season, scoring 24 points in his regular season debut.

Nunn ended up scoring 112 points in his first five games, setting a record for the most points scored by an undrafted rookie in their first five games; additionally, according to the NBA, Nunn scored the most points in any rookie’s first five games since Kevin Durant scored 113 points in his first five games with the Seattle SuperSonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder). Nunn now hopes to become the first undrafted player to win Rookie of the Year; considering the opportunities he has had with the Heat so far, Nunn seems to have a good shot at winning the award. 

There is no doubt of a Heat playoff appearance if Herro, Silva, and Nunn continue to show up on the court, putting up impressive stats game after game. Considering that these rookies already play like seasoned veterans, and will only continue to grow, one cannot predict what their future will look like they’re simply too good.