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Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn credit Heat's culture for their success

By
Alex Butler
Miami Heat stars Tyler Herro (pictured) and Kendrick Nunn both rank in the top six for points per game among rookies in 2019. Photo by Rhona Wise/EPA-EFE
Miami Heat stars Tyler Herro (pictured) and Kendrick Nunn both rank in the top six for points per game among rookies in 2019. Photo by Rhona Wise/EPA-EFE

MIAMI, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn are the latest byproducts of the Miami Heat culture, a tradition of hard work and discipline the franchise is known for throughout the NBA.

That culture entails putting in work to get better while maintaining humility. The Heat structure stands strongest when players sacrifice personal accolades and ego to play for a single goal: winning a championship.

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It's a contagion brewing in the American Airlines Arena locker room, infecting everyone from the highest paid players to those temporarily added to the roster. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the team is purposely constructed with players who have similar work ethics and team-first attitudes.

"That has been by design," Spoelstra said. "We want to get a bunch of likeminded players who want to play for something bigger than themselves."

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Herro was the fifth-highest rated high school prospect Kentucky signed in 2017. Two years later, the No. 13 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft is one of the best rookies in the league. He has been working to prove doubters wrong since his high school days in Wisconsin.

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Doubters are something familiar to many of the Heat's players.

But the team leading the Eastern Conference's Southeast Division at 8-3 is picking up believers. Other NBA front offices didn't expect Herro and Nunn to rise to current heights, but Heat management had other thoughts.

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The franchise is known around the league for toughness and conditioning. Fringe players who are on their way out of the league for good have seen their careers turn around after stops in South Florida.

The system isn't a great fit for all players. They have to buy in.

Nunn wasn't selected in the 2018 NBA Draft after he pleaded guilty to battery charges and dismissal from the University of Illinois. The Golden State Warriors snatched him up, but sent him to the G-League before the Heat signed him in April.

The Warriors are 2-10, while Nunn is averaging 16.9 points per game in Miami. Nunn began the season posting 22.4 points per game in his first five contests. He became the first player with 100 points in his first five games since former Warriors star Kevin Durant in 2007-2008.

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Herro, 19, is averaging 13.1 points per game. He averaged 16.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in his first five games in an NBA uniform.

"Coach [Spoelstra] is the base of everything," Nunn said. "The word [culture] comes from him. He runs the practices and everything. I'm just taking it from him and putting it into all the players."

Spoelstra refers to Nunn as an "experienced older young player," instead of a rookie. Nunn said he fits within the Heat's culture because he is a "hard-nosed worker."

"They are building a championship culture here," Nunn said. "I know what championship basketball looks like and feels like. I've been a part of some championship teams. The culture here is just for that, and I feel like I fit."

While young players are still trying to make a name for themselves, the Heat roster has gone from talented enough to be a fringe playoff team to looking like a contender in the span of one year. Additions of superstar Jimmy Butler, Myers Leonard and Duncan Robinson round out a deceivingly deep roster with players carrying common traits and underdog story lines.

"I think it starts at the top with Jimmy," Herro said. "He looks down to all of us and pushes us every single day. He can look across the court and see that everyone is going to come in with the same attitude he has and continue to work hard."

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Jimmy Butler effect

One of the characteristics the Heat noticed about Butler before his trade to Miami was his ability to energize and involve teammates. He doesn't clutter the stat sheet with shot attempts and makes sound basketball decisions. He also works hard offensively and defensively, like Nunn, Herro and the other players who comprise the Heat's roster.

"To be in our program, you have to be willing to put in some work to get better and be open to work on things," Spoelstra said. "We have a group that is very willing. It's not working around the clock. It's about working smart and having a humility to constantly push to get better."

Butler missed the Heat's first three games this season due to the birth of his daughter. He is averaging 19.4 points, 6.6 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 2.7 steals in the eight games since.

Fans might be blinded by his star power, but teammates laud Butler for his unselfish attitude and leadership by example. The Heat often appear more organized than other NBA teams, making the extra passes on offense and playing intense team defense. By watching Butler, younger players can see what it takes to be successful on both ends of the floor.

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The four-time All-Defense selection has taken a particular liking to Herro, sporting his jersey during practice and even starting a social media movement called #TylerTuesdays, when Butler hangs out with his teammate and posts videos and photos on Instagram while with Herro.

One of the times Butler gained respect for the rookie occurred when Herro told the nine-year veteran that he wanted to guard sharpshooter Devin Booker and told Butler to defend another player during a game against the Phoenix Suns.

"[Herro] told me to get out the way," Butler said. "That's why you gotta love that kid. He backs down from no challenge and he likes that."

While Butler watches Herro, the Heat rookie has been laser-focused on Booker for years. The fellow former University of Kentucky star and Herro were four seasons apart in college, but Booker mentors the Heat rookie.

"We have a pretty good relationship, coming from Kentucky," Herro said. "I was with him in Phoenix before the game. It was really good to be able to bounce some questions off him."

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Herro doesn't miss any of Booker's games on TV. He stares at the screen, studying the intricacies in the Suns star's shooting form and playmaking ability. He also shares an off-season trainer with Booker.

Kentucky connections

Kentucky leads the way when it comes to former players currently in the NBA. The Heat have two former Wildcats in Herro and 2017 NBA Draft first-round pick Bam Adebayo. Miami Heat president Pat Riley is also a Wildcats legend.

Herro says Wildcats coach John Calipari treated him like a professional since his first day at Kentucky. Miami's Spoelstra gives Herro the rookie treatment and calls him "kid," but still respects the rising star.

"[Spoelstra] has prepared me for what's going on right now and has continued to prepare me for later on in my career," Herro said.

Calipari praised Herro's work ethic and shared details of those traits with Spoelstra before the Heat drafted the young guard. A strong work ethic was also something Calipari noticed in Adebayo, which previously appealed to Miami and fit the Heat culture.

"[Herro] got stronger and got more physical," Calipari said in a video after Herro was drafted. "He built his own self esteem and self confidence. Who knows how good [he] is going to be?"

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Herro and Nunn will need to maintain their first-one-in, last-one-out mentality to keep rising in the NBA ranks.

"They worked me out right when I landed," Herro said. "It was a late night after I got drafted. To land right away in Miami and for them to work me out right before my press conference was really cool to see. Heat culture is real."

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