2020 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Is Tyrese Haliburton the next Lonzo Ball?

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Tyrese Haliburton is not the best prospect in this year’s NBA draft class, but he may be the most fascinating, a guy who is going to inspire debate in draft rooms for a number of different reasons.

A 6-foot-5 guard that just turned 20 years old in February, Haliburton had a breakout sophomore season that saw him average 15.2 points, 6.5 assists, 5.9 boards and 2.5 steals while shooting 50 percent from the floor, 42 percent from three and 82 percent from the free throw line. He’s the only player to reach those thresholds in Sports Reference’s database, which dates back to 1992. No high-major guard has posted a 63.1 true-shooting percentage while averaging 15 points and 6.5 assists in the last decade.

The numbers nerds are going to love him. He’s an aberration, a freak of efficiency, a glitch in the simulation.

And that’s before you consider the fact that he played as a ball-dominant lead guard as a sophomore after spending his freshman season doing nothing but playing on the wing, or that he was the best player for USA Basketball’s U-19 team, which won a gold medal last summer.

On paper, he looks like a guy that is tailor-made to have an NBA offense built around him.

The story the film tells is not quite the same.

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TYRESE HALIBURTON’S NBA DRAFT BREAKDOWN

Let’s start with the good.

Haliburton has a tremendous basketball IQ. His feel for the game, the way that he can read defenses and his ability to make the right play based on what the defense is giving him, is elite. He can make pocket passes to rolling bigs when two players go with him. He can hit his center in traffic with pinpoint lob passes. He can find shooters in either corner when taggers venture just a little bit too far away from their man, slinging crosscourt bullets off of a live dribble with either hand. If you go under the screen, he can make you pay. He can beat switches, either by stepping back and shooting from distance or by putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim. He can snake ball-screens and score in the mid-range.

He can do all of the things an NBA point guard needs to do in ball-screens.

But there are varying degrees to how well he can do all of these things.

Take, for instance, his jumper. Haliburton is, by any account, just a terrific shooter with deep, deep range. When he’s given time and space, he’s deadly. According to Synergy, he ranks in the 99th percentile in spot-up shooting and in the 98th percentile in catch-and-shoot situations, checking it at 1.493 points-per-possession (PPP).

But he has a long, slow and low release. His feet are positioned awkwardly. The mechanics are not ideal, and this really shows up when Haliburton is forced to shoot off of the dribble, where he ranked in the 35th percentile nationally this past season at 0.684 PPP. That’s a drastic difference, and it’s exacerbated by the fact that Haliburton can struggle to consistently turn the corner against good defenders. When you can’t beat a man, you’re forced to shoot a midrange pull-up, often contested. That’s a suboptimal outcome for any player on any possession, let alone a guy that shoots 49 percent off the catch and 28 percent off the dribble.

The thing is, the length is there for Haliburton. He has long strides. He has the reach to finish around a shotblocker. He is bouncier around the rim than he gets credit for. But if he had struggles getting past defenders at the college level it’s not a good indicator of his ability to get to the rim moving up to the pros.

NBA DRAFT PROSPECT PROFILES

Part of the issue is that Tyrese Haliburton has a bad habit of leaving space in between him and a screener, allowing his man to get over the pick without too much effort. This is something that can be cleaned up after the NBA draft, as can Tyrese Haliburton’s habit of leaving his feet to make passes.

And truthfully, I’m not sure just how much of this you want to take away. Haliburton has a special ability to move a defense with his eyes, and it’s something that has been particularly effective for him when he’s in the air. He has a knack for being able to hang, make a defender commit and hit whoever is open at the last second. Truth be told, that ability to pass the ball is maybe his greatest strength. It’s not just passing out of ball screens. He can make the flashy passes, finding cutters while driving or pulling out the And-1 mixtape tricks in transition.

Haliburton thrives in the transition game as well. He’s always a grab-and-go threat because of his ability to rebound the ball, and once he gets a head of steam going, he can score himself or create a layup for a teammate with no-look dimes or hit-ahead passes over the top.

Defensively, he’s something of a mixed bag as well. He is not a great on-ball defender right now. He bites on fakes, he doesn’t always sit in a stance and his 175 pound frame needs weight added to keep players from finishing through his chest. That said, the effort is there. So is the IQ. He’s one of the best team defenders that you’ll find in this draft class. He has terrific anticipation, which allows him not only to be able to jump passing lanes but also to block and alter jumpers; he has an impressive knack of being able to read when someone is looking to shoot and get a contest up. His official wingspan has not been measured anywhere yet, but watching the film, it’s clear he has the length to be a playmaker defensively, and he understands where he needs to on the weakside of the floor, whether he is tagging rollers, sliding into helpside or zoning up two players away from the ball.

Put it all together, and I actually agree with The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie in seeing Haliburton as a guy that will play the same role as someone like Lonzo Ball at the next level: secondary ball-handler that can space the floor, initiate offense and run ball-screens on the weak side of the floor, and lead the break when he has the chance. Like Ball, he has a tremendous understanding of the game and feel for making the right play on both ends of the floor, but what he adds in size and length he lacks in quickness and burst.

In an era where putting two playmakers side-by-side in the backcourt is becoming more and more valuable, Tyrese Haliburton has all the makings of an ideal, modern two-guard in the NBA draft.

I really like him as a prospect if you calibrate your expectations to be a guy that averages somewhere around 12 points and six assists while shooting 40 percent from three and playing good, solid team defense with the potential to be more if it all comes together.

In this year’s NBA draft class, that might be make Tyrese Haliburton a top five prospect.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.