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.
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.