Is Tyler Herro Better Than Tyrese Maxey?

Embrace debate.
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On Monday, Dan Le Batard ignited a debate that raged across NBA circles by expressing his firmly-held belief that Tyler Herro is better than Tyrese Maxey. The pair of Kentucky guards are currently linked through Damian Lillard trade talks as the Miami Heat have reportedly offered up Herro and boatload of draft picks in exchange for the All-NBA guard. The Philadelphia 76ers, on the other hand, have refused to include Maxey in any trade discussions.

Thus the question is posed-- who is better? Maxey or Herro? Liam McKeone and Ryan Phillips found themselves on opposite sides of the argument in The Big Lead's Slack chat and, at the urging of their coworkers, took things public.

Ryan Phillips: Would you like to fire the opening salvo, Liam?

Liam McKeone: Sure, Ryan. I am in the camp that believes Tyler Herro is better than Tyrese Maxey. To get ahead of this-- I am not a Miami Heat stan. In fact, I have a deep disdain for Heat Culture and the black magic Pat Riley must practice to get his team to reach absurd heights each and every year. But Herro is a more experienced and complete offensive player than Maxey is right now.

Phillips: I'll start by saying you're wrong... Really, I don't necessarily think Maxey is definitively better than Herro, but the idea that there's no question about it is silly. Maxey is an ascending player coming off a career-year and he's only 22 (a year younger than Herro). Additionally, he's a demonstrably better shooter than Hero. Maxey's true shooting percentage was 60.5 this season, Herro's was 56.6. Maxey is more effective and efficient on offense.

McKeone: Maxey was also playing off the league MVP in Joel Embiid and alongside the league leader in assists per game in James Harden. Herro was the only perimeter threat on the Heat. That alone explains the small discrepancy in efficiency. Maxey also enjoyed far fewer responsibilities offensively than Herro thanks to the personnel around him. Herro had to create for himself. Maxey got to score while the defense was frantically rotating off an Embiid post-up or Harden PnR. I contend it was far more difficult to average 20 points per game on last year's Heat roster than it was as the third option on last year's Sixers' roster.

Phillips: While I agree playing with Embiid and Harden certainly helped Maxey, he bests Herro in several key categories. I think it's worth establishing that we agree that neither player plays a lick of defense, yes?

Of course.

Glad that's settled. So this is all about offense and Maxey wins at every level. His offensive rating (120) was higher than Herro's (109), his PER was higher (17.0 to 15.3) and he had 5.4 win shares against Herro's 3.5. And while Herro is the NBA's best free throw shooter (93.4 percent), Maxey isn't far behind (84.5). And Maxey hit 43.4 percent of his 3-pointers, while Herro hit 37.8 percent, which was below his career average (38.3). 

McKeone: In a vacuum I agree with you, but basketball isn't played in a vacuum as we all know. Maxey had a great year, no doubt about it, but he feasted off easy points. He averaged 5.0 PPG in transition vs. Herro's 3.1 PPG in transition, along with 3.6 free throw attempts per game vs. merely 2.7 FTA per contest for Herro. It's a difference in playstyle but it also suggests Herro is a better shot-maker than Maxey as he nearly matched the PPG output on tougher opportunities.

Holes can be poked in that argument, in fairness. What cannot be denied is that Herro is a proven quantity and Maxey is not. This is Herro's second consecutive season as a 20 PPG scorer. The 2022-23 campaign was Maxey's first at that level and it was largely aided by an increase in three-point attempts. Even the best shooters vacillate each season in their percentage from deep. Herro kept his scoring average steady year over year despite a worse three-point percentage. Maxey has not proven he can do the same thing. Add in Herro's status as a battle-tested playoff and NBA Finals veteran and it feels like he is more reliable, if less efficient, than Maxey at this stage.

Phillips: I do question how Maxey will play without James Harden taking pressure off him, but I'd have the same question about Herro and Jimmy Butler. Clearly Butler makes the guys around him better, as evidenced by guys like Caleb Martin and Gabe Vincent exploding in the postseason with Herro sidelined.

I guess the real question is, should Maxey or Herro be the main piece in a deal for Damian Lillard? Should Portland be satisfied with either one plus picks and filler?

McKeone: While the argument about who is better is fun to have, the marginal difference between the two is not the sticking point in any potential trade. The Blazers simply do not need another guard. They don't need Herro and his $120 million contract. They don't need Maxey to come aboard during a contract year as he heads into restricted free agency. For all the debating we just did, we both agree that neither guy is a two-way star the likes of which Portland is looking for in exchange for the face of their franchise. They are interesting pieces, talented scorers, and players that can definitely help their team win a championship. But centerpieces of a deal involving Damian Lillard? No shot.

Phillips: Agreed. And the Blazers have no reason to accept a player who doesn't fit their vision or timeline. If the Heat (or Sixers) want to get a deal done, they should facilitate with a third team. It's the only way a deal makes sense for Portland.

Stay tuned for our next article where we argue over who won this argument.