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Draft Radar Part 11: Tyrese Haliburton

Getting the lowdown on the Iowa State prospect.

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma State at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

At long last, the NBA is finally back. It goes without saying that it’s damn invigorating to have basketball return to our screens after such a lengthy hiatus. While life inside the Orlando bubble is different than what we’re used to, the unpredictability and beauty of the game we love has remained the same.

While T.J Warren and Devin Booker exploding game after game and Damian Lillard jawing on and off the court with Paul George was a scrumptious way to fill the NBA hunger, it’s not quite relatable to the Timberwolves team we all hate to love. However, the depleted Brooklyn Nets somehow winning multiple games and securing their place in the playoffs did have some serious ramifications for Minnesota. By securing their invitation to the playoff party, they officially hand the Timberwolves their first round pick.

As it stands today, Minnesota’s own first-rounder can fall anywhere the first pick to the seventh (full odds below), the Brooklyn pick is just outside the lottery at 16 (or maybe 17?) and the Wolves’ second round selection is lined up at 33.

The draft is scheduled to take place on October 16, which is still an eon away, meaning there is plenty of time to fire up the Draft Radar and take a look at another prospect.

Today, Iowa State sophomore Tyrese Haliburton is in the cross hairs.

Profile

Team: Iowa State Cyclones
Draft Age: 20.8
Games: 22
Position: Point Guard/Combo Guard
Height: 6’5”
Wingspan: 6’7”- 6’11” (unconfirmed)
Weight: 175 pounds

Statistics

Per Game: 36.7 Minutes, 15.2 Points, 5.9 Rebounds, 6.5 Assists, 2.5 Steals, 0.7 Blocks, 50.4% FG (11.1 FGA), 41.9% 3PT (5.6 3PA), 82.2% FT (2.0 FTA)

Advanced: 63.1 TS%, 61.1 EFG%, 20.1% Usage Rate, +4.41 O-PIPM, +1.49 D-PIPM, +5.91 PIPM

Overview

Despite dealing with an underperforming Iowa State team and a season-ending fractured wrist, Tyrese Haliburton broke out in his sophomore season, cementing himself among the crop of top lead guards in the 2020 draft class. Haliburton seems to have a fairly small window of draft position if the recent mock drafts are anything to go by, landing between the sixth and ninth pick. That makes him a target with Minnesota’s own first-rounder, especially if it lands outside the top five.

Strengths

  • Pick-and-Roll Playmaking

When you watch Tyrese Haliburton operate in the pick-and-roll, it’s fairly obvious that his ability to play provider is his primary skill, and one that should be NBA-standard from the moment he enters the league. His 6-foot-5 size helps him see over and through defenses, but his talents extend far past his physical tools.

The 20-year-old is masterful at finding pockets of space to thread the orange through, lacing out big men as they rumble down the lane on a consistent basis. Needling bounce passes through the gaps in the defensive coverage is Haliburton’s bread and butter, and a pass that scarcely loses value in any system around the Association. Expect to see lots of these passes at the next level.

Big men will undoubtedly adore partnering with Haliburton in pick-and-roll play. Even with teammates who struggled to finish around the rim and weren’t able to stretch the floor at a high level, his bigs still scored 1.06 points per possession (PPP) in the pick-and-roll when Haliburton was the one setting the table, grading out in the 63rd percentile nationwide, per Synergy Sports.

While the aforementioned pocket passes are the most common dish you’ll see him make, Haliburton can aptly launch to shooters with skip passes, and has a variety of other ways to find his roller. He is always looking to lob to an athletic rim-runner and, in particular, he loves the kinds of passes you see in the clips below.

Leaving the ground with the ball in your hands is a risky game, and it wasn’t rare for it to lead to an Iowa State turnover, but when Haliburton gets it right it’s a highly-rewardable move. In both examples above, jumping before the pass immediately springs the defending big into rim-protection mode, leaving the roller with a free lane created in the space behind. The touch and timing to be able to pull these passes off is well above average for his age, and should serve him well as he adjusts to life in the big leagues.

Here, he uses the scouting report on him to his advantage. The threat of Haliburton spoon-feeding the big man forces the defender in the corner to come off and tag the roller, which leaves the corner shooter open. With a split-second mid-air change of decision, Haliburton reads the floor and makes the perfect pass. Splash.

The other advanced area of Haliburton’s facilitating chops is his ability to use his eyes to manipulate the defensive shell and vault his man open. To the benefit of whatever team walks away with him come draft night, he has that innate ability to create advantages for his teammates without even putting the ball on the hardwood.

This isn’t a one-off play for Haliburton. Facing a hard hedge coming off the screen, his eyes and body movements make it seem like he is going to hit the flashing shooter at the top of the arc, forcing the shooter’s man to stick to him and let the rolling big man go free. Of course, Haliburton makes easy work of the one-handed sling to his now-open center. At worst, the play ends how it does, with his big man at the line. At best, the roller catches and fires a pass out to the open corner shooter, who knocks down a wide-open jumper.

We will get to the concerns that surround Haliburton’s ability to impact the pick-and-roll as a scorer, but improving there could give him an even higher ceiling as a playmaking guard. However, there shouldn’t be too many qualms about the way he creates for others coming off a pick — especially his rolling bigs. Ever-unselfish, skilled and improving rapidly, the former Cyclone has the potential to be a genuine top-tier passing threat in the NBA’s most frequented play.

  • Transition Game

It’s only natural that Haliburton is more prevalent handling the ball off screens in the half court. However, when he is able to get out in the open court, he quickly takes the shape of a blurred nightmare in the eyes of defenders.

He can obviously get it done after leaking out and receiving the outlet pass, but it’s Haliburton’s ability to grab the rebound and start the break himself that separates him from most other lead guards. He isn’t the same player in general, but think Russell Westbrook, Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons with his rip-and-run capabilities. The Oshkosh, Wisconsin native averaged 5.9 rebounds per night, ranking in the 74th percentile compared to all guards drafted to the NBA since 2011. He also ranked in the 72nd percentile in total rebound percentage with those same qualifiers, according to NBA Draft Comp.

After securing the board, Haliburton bursts into the open floor like he was shot from a cannon, all arms and legs as he scurries toward his basket. He is more of a side-to-side schemer in half court sets, but Haliburton can really gallop when he gets out onto the straight. From there, it’s that exceptional passing vision, touch and execution that glistens brightest. Whether it’s a pinpoint helper from 30 feet away or a no-look dish to his teammate under the rim, Haliburton has all the tools and tricks to be a mesmerizing transition passer.

He isn’t half bad as an open court scorer, either. Over 82 possessions, Haliburton ranked in the 94th percentile, with 1.39 points per possession and a sizzling 76.2 percent field goal percentage providing statistical confirmation to the fun eye test. Mix in his passing in transition, and that rises to the 99th percentile in transition (1.76 PPP).

His unconfirmed wingspan has been cited anywhere between 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-11, but the exact measurements don’t matter when he is barreling toward the rim in transition. He leverages every inch of it, blending it with speed and agility to become very hard to stop with singular coverage in front of him. For the most part, the aforementioned lead to fairly simple fast break buckets, but he has flashed the ability to finish tough looks like this.

The ability to thrive in transition is rarely the centerpiece of a player’s game, and that will probably remain the same for Haliburton. Although, with his blend of physical profile, talent and flair, he should be able to sprinkle in enough of it to add a really effective topping to his game.

Buy Stock

  • Spot-up Shooting

When you gaze upon Tyrese Haliburton’s shot form, it’s easy to immediately write off his potential to be effective from behind the 3-point arc. His body is reminiscent of a wooden door stiffened in the freezing cold, with barely a morsel of knee movement to help him harness strength from his lower body. That means his arms do all the work. They launch shot put jumpers from the front of his body, extending out far past the threshold of a textbook set shot.

Not very inspiring, right? Fortunately for him, there comes a time where results start to outweigh process, and Haliburton’s results have been nothing short of excellent. Over the course of his 57 Iowa State appearances, he has shot 101-237 (42.6%) from long-range, including 41.9 percent on a career-best 5.6 attempts per game in 2019-20.

That awkward shot release really restricts Haliburton’s ability to launch off-the-dribble jumpers, it’s just not quick enough and too far from his body to transfer it from live dribble to launch consistently and quickly. In all off-the-dribble field goal attempts, the former Cyclone ranked in the 35th percentile (0.68 PPP on 57 possessions) in his sophomore season, after attempting just five total attempts in his freshman year. When he can load-up quicker from his shooting pocket as a catch-and-shoot specialist, though, the young guard has been a flamethrower.

In his freshman campaign, he ranked in the 91st percentile as a spot-up shooter, 77th percentile on unguarded catch-and-shoot attempts and in the 52nd percentile on guarded attempts. This season, he raised those numbers to 99th percentile as a spot-up shooter, 95th percentile on unguarded catch-and-shoot attempts and in the 96th percentile on guarded attempts, per Synergy Sports.

Results.

If you take another glance at the photos of Haliburton’s shot form above, you might recognize one more thing; he is situated well beyond the college and even NBA 3-point line. That shot tickled the twine, and it’s not an oddity for the 20-year-old to be launching from distant shores. He is constantly spotting himself up from deep, making his front-loaded shot harder to block than it would be if he was closer to his defender.

Things get a bit murkier when you start to wade through Haliburton’s off-movement 3-point shooting, as he is much more content being a standstill guy. However, he has flashed the occasional triple coming off a hard run, especially in the corner where he can even add in a pleasant little escape dribble to ward off incoming defenders.

Being able to position himself off the ball and knock down catch-and-shoot bombs is crucial for Haliburton’s development and role as an NBA player. With weaknesses that might become a hindrance for a full-time point guard, being a legitimate off-ball threat allows him to slot into multiple roles and multiple systems. If there weren’t the concerns over the shot form, spot-up shooting would be a legitimate strength for Haliburton. Alas, we’ll settle for buying serious stock.

  • Off-ball Defense

There is serious apprehension around whether Haliburton will ever be able to lead the vanguard as an on-ball stopper, but he should still be able to remain an effective defender with his ability to impact the game off the ball in a team defensive scheme.

Iowa State Head Coach Steve Prohm often opted to deploy Haliburton as an off-guard defensively and ran a switch-heavy scheme, which gave the 6-foot-5 guard and his head-on-a-swivel awareness the best chance to cause havoc defensively. As was the case with his spot-up shooting virtuosity, excelling as a team defender allows Haliburton to play as a lone point guard or as an off-ball guard.

One of the first things that leaps off the screen when studying Haliburton’s defense is his ability to play between two opponents and stay disciplined and alert enough to siphon the ball away or provide enough of a deterrence to stop the ball entering his area.

Here, he demonstrates that package brilliantly. As his teammate gets sucked into the ball-handler’s drive, Haliburton is left to contain the corner and wing shooters. Analyzing the play in a split second, he leaves his original man and shuts the door on the widening crevice left by his teammate. After swiping the ball, he springs into the open floor, only having a gorgeous bounce pass assist ruined by the hard hands of his lumbering big man.

Having the brainpower to assess situations and leave his fingerprints on them is Haliburton’s calling card on the defensive end, but that is buoyed by his spindly arms, allowing him to get a hand in where many others couldn’t. Whether the wingspan falls at 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-11 (it’s rumored to be anywhere in that range), it causes plenty of problems for opposing players and offensive sets.

Digging in and stifling driving ball-handlers and getting an arm in to disrupt passing lanes are both areas where Haliburton’s gangling limbs help him. With so many pick-and-roll and isolations in the NBA, being able to throw a hand in and cause the ball-handler to think about multiple defenders is a crucial and extremely valuable aspect of team defense.

Here, his dig combined with his closing teammates is enough to send the ball-handler into a tailspin, managing to barely flick the ball out to the perimeter. Just when it seems safe, Haliburton rockets out to put pressure on the perimeter, before picking off the ensuing pass and finishing with the dunk on the other end.

Again, his awareness, reflexes, speed and wingspan is on display here in the game against Desmond Bane and the TCU Horned Frogs. First, he tags the roller before hitting the passing lane at full cry, nabbing the ball and launching into the open court. In the second clip, he sucks in and partially fronts the big man, forcing a pass to the perimeter, where he can use his quick strides to get a hand in the shooter’s face. Finally, he unleashes a one-man back court press, finishing with a theft and a catch-and-shoot triple.

As is to be expected, Haliburton is far from a perfect off-ball defender. In fact, it’s unlikely he will even reach the top of his class with team defense demons like Devin Vassell and Isaac Okoro surrounding him. Haliburton is liable to overreact and try too hard to make a play that’s not there, and he has displayed some awful techniques when closing out on shooters.

This simply won’t fly in the NBA. The original tag of the roller and awareness to get back to his man in the corner shows the previously discussed awareness and technique, but the erratic close out makes it easy for his man to stroll past Haliburton. This particular play ends in a turnover, but you can bet it’s a bucket more often than not at the next level.

Even with the sharp edges that need to be rounded for him to be a true high-impact off-ball menace, Haliburton still will enter the league with an established baseline for defensive quality. Hopefully, the team that drafts him can foster it and apply it to the modern NBA.

Weaknesses

  • Burst, Wiggle and Handle

At this point, you’re probably wondering why a player who can pass, shoot and defend in a team environment isn’t a consensus top-five pick in a draft class that is universally considered to be one of the worst in the last 15 years. Well, the riddle is answered in his inability to provide value as a pick-and-roll or isolation scorer.

Haliburton is almost strictly an east-west mover in the half court, struggling mightily to get downhill. It starts with his handle — it’s not a disaster by any means, but he rarely exhibited combination dribble moves or enough handle to break down the defender and free up a driving lane for himself. Instead, Haliburton’s ball-handling and shot creation usually end up looking a little something like this, with a series of herky-jerky sideways dribble moves leading to the dark abyss that is a contested mid-range jumper.

More likely than not, it doesn’t even get to that point. Haliburton usually meanders around looking (and normally executing) an advantage-creating pass, or gets rid of the ball and finds himself a pocket of space for a potential catch-and-shoot jumper. He knows his limitations and plays within them, but it would be extremely beneficial to whatever team drafts him if he was able to apply whatever trade is needed to increase his slashing capabilities.

When he can get his momentum going towards the paint — usually coming from a hand-off or hard screen in the pick-and-roll — Haliburton does display nice touch on floaters and the occasional ability to contort his body around the rim-protecting trees. He did shoot 60.5 percent and rank in the 67th percentile for points per possession (1.21) on shots around the rim, while nailing 44.8 percent of his runners and grading out in the 74th percentile (0.89 PPP), per Synergy Sports.

Unfortunately, he just can’t get to the tin enough for his above-average finishing ability to leave its mark on the game. In 24 games played, he had just 38 possessions that ended with a shot around the rim and 29 that ended in a runner/floater. Frankly, 67 possessions ending with a high-percentage paint look isn’t enough.

To put that into perspective with the other top point guards in the class, Alabama’s Kira Lewis finished with 197 of those same looks, Kentucky guard Tyrese Maxey finished with 144, North Carolina’s Cole Anthony had 91, and even 6-foot-1, 160-pound Tyrell Terry managed 71. If Haliburton can’t find a way to improve his handle and ability to get himself moving in a north-south direction, it’s going to severely limit his upside as a player and perhaps forbid him from ever being anything more than a middle of the pack lead guard.

  • On-ball Defense

While he may be an impact defender when he is allowed to play free safety off the ball or just operate in a team defense configuration, Tyrese Haliburton’s influence goes the other way when he is defending on the ball. Whether he is utilized as a point guard, combo guard or shooting guard, in a switch-heavy scheme or not, the 20-year-old is going to have to refine his pick-and-roll and isolation defense.

A lot of it will start with adding as much muscle as possible to his scrawny frame. At 175 pounds, Haliburton is no stranger to being flatlined by screens from burly bigs, making it almost impossible — even with his long arms — to recover and stop the ball-handler from getting downhill and putting strain on the rim-protectors.

To avoid putting his body through the constant beating that accompanies running into screens, Haliburton understandably tries to avoid the picks, but his technique isn’t proper to be an effective pick-and-roll defender.

As you can see, his skinny frame doesn’t necessarily translate to being able to get skinny through screens. The extra step or two Haliburton has to take toward his own basket, rather than sliding laterally and slipping his way past the screen, makes a huge difference to how quickly he can get back in front of the dribbler.

Synergy’s defensive metrics are as flawed as all all-encompassing statistics for that end of the floor, but they do paint a pretty good picture of what you see when you watch Haliburton guard on the ball — particularly in the pick-and-roll, where he allowed opponents to shoot 48.7 percent ranked in the 24th percentile nationwide.

His frame works against him in other ways, too. Haliburton’s hips are naturally high, which prevents him from executing the quick hip-flips and movements that high-level on-ball defenders have in their arsenal. It’s not all body type and frame that obstruct him from getting it done as an on-ball defender, though. The defensive stance you see below is far too high and not conducive to the kind of lateral movement needed to adequately defend in isolation offense.

The last, but perhaps most fixable, issue with Haliburton’s defensive technique is how jumpy and reactionary he can be. He is very prone to falling for head and body fakes and being too overzealous when looking for a steal or block. This leads to easy buckets for the opposition and easily avoidable shooting fouls. Even on the crossovers and dribble moves you see below, Haliburton is like a cat on a hot tin roof, making backing him up an easy task.

Put simply, even with his expertise as a team defender, it will be hard for Haliburton to ever be considered a top-tier defender until his body and technique take a step or two in the right direction.

Fit With Minnesota

You know what you’re going to get from Tyrese Haliburton, and it probably takes a specific team and fit to really accommodate and enhance his game. A team with a big man who can finish at the rim and complete short-roll passes in pick-and-roll play is a must. As is another ball-handler that can take the pressure off Haliburton and allow him to become a spot-up shooter.

In the Minnesota Timberwolves, you have both of those key cogs. Haliburton and Karl-Anthony Towns would run circles around defenses with their pick-and-roll/pop capabilities, and D’Angelo Russell can comfortably handle the rock and create opportunities for Haliburton and his catch-and-shoot mastery. Throw in Malik Beasley as a genuine 3-point threat and the potential for Haliburton to have a field day offensively is plain to see. The potential draftee might even help cover some of the trio’s mistakes as an off-ball defensive playmaker.

However, some of Haliburton’s downfalls are quite concerning through a Timberwolves lens. His on-ball defense will only put more pressure on Karl-Anthony Towns’ pick-and-roll defense — an area he is already well below average. There’s also reasonable doubt to whether he and Russell can put enough pressure on the rim from the guard positions to really facilitate a high-level offense.

The most likely outcome is for him to become a solid-to-great spot-up shooter, but Haliburton needs the ball in his hands enough to allow his pick-and-roll and general passing nous to truly pop. Will he get that in Minnesota with Russell, Beasley and Towns taking up the lion’s share of ball-handling responsibilities?

Whether or not Ryan Saunders and his coaching cohorts can work out the kinks in the fit would remain to be seen, but there is certainly an upside to Haliburton’s fit with the Timberwolves that should pique interests around the fan base.