This week on Bulls.com, Sam Smith will be writing a series of stories featuring 2020 NBA Draft prospects speaking to the media via the NBA's virtual combine. Up next, we have Iowa State point guard Tyrese Haliburton.
Squint a little, rub your eyes. Wait, wait, is that the NBA Draft actually coming into focus at least just a little bit? Iowa State's Tyrese Haliburton to the Golden State Warriors at No. 2 and then traded to the Detroit Pistons at No. 7 or the Knicks at No. 8? Or maybe even to stay with the Golden State Warriors because he fits so perfectly well to replace Shaun Livingston, perhaps the most vital reserve contributor to their three NBA championships?
"I'm a basketball player," the Iowa State guard said Wednesday when asked about his playing position. "Whatever you need from me I will do. If you want me to play the PG, I think I facilitate better than anybody in this draft. I think I can run a team right away. If you want me to play the two and knock down shots. I can do that as well. Whatever is asked of me I'll do. Basketball, I think, is kind of transitioning more and more to small ball or position less basketball. So I think I can fit anywhere. If I'm at the two and I'm close to a rebound, I'm going to grab it and take it. It doesn't really matter to me either spot."
The lanky, 6-5, 185-pound Haliburton generally has been regarded as the third best point guard prospect—though still a top 10 pick—in this most uncertain of NBA drafts. But in a conversational and revealing 35 minutes by Zoom with media from the NBA's Virtual Combine, Haliburton appeared to fill in some blanks about this wide open draft.
Haliburton said thus far, though the process is continuing, he's met or spoken with only the Warriors, who have the No. 2 selection, the Pistons with the No. 7 and the Knicks with No. 8. Both the Pistons and Knicks are said to be hotly pursuing a point guard with their first selections. Considerable speculation has been the Warriors with the No. 2 pick would trade down in the lottery to get a lower pick and a veteran player to support their returning stars, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, to make another title run. So trading with either the Pistons or Knicks makes sense, especially since the Bulls with the No. 4 pick also have been said to be interested in the point guard market.
And perhaps someone like Haliburton, the Wisconsin native, who again swore his allegiance to the Midwest during his session and fits the Bulls' needs as a facilitating guard who also is an excellent shooter. Though Haliburton has an odd, low shooting release, he was one of the best three-point shooters in college for two years and with USA Basketball, shooting 43 percent in college and more than 50 percent in international play.
Which also is why he could merely be drafted No. 2 overall by the Warriors.
"Whatever is going to get me on the floor I'm prepared for," the eloquent and analytical Haliburton told media. "Whatever role I'm thrown into or whatever role I'm asked to do. In my two years in college you saw me as a freshman I was an off ball guy knocking down shots and defending. Sophomore year I kind of moved to the point guard spot and I was asked to do a lot more facilitating and scoring. I felt comfortable in both roles and I am prepared for either. I'm expecting to be given a role and excel at that role no matter what it is and no matter where it is. I've been preparing to do whatever I am asked."
LaMelo Ball and France's Killian Hayes often are rated above Haliburton in the very unscientific mock drafts that vary widely this year. But Haliburton measures as a Warriors kind of player, smart with a good shot who likes to move on offense and has the size for multiple positions. Though he's not regarded potentially as spectacular as Ball or as physical as Hayes, Haliburton checks a lot of boxes with the style of play in the NBA today. He's not the super athlete type, but a sharp, committed playmaker and shooter to space the floor. And he looks a lot more ready to play next season than his point guard rivals.
Tyrese Haliburton celebrating winning the Big 12 Tournament Final against Kansas in 2019
"I think right away I'm coming in as someone who can make shots and facilitate at a high level," Haliburton said. "I think I'm a really good off ball defender. I think my IQ is really high and I know where to be. I think I can improve a lot as an on ball defender and that's a challenge I look forward to take to the NBA. Off the court, I'm a personable person who impacts winning."
Though I did wince when he said he watches a lot of "throwback basketball" from the old days in the 80s and 90s.
Haliburton was impressive in the way he analyzed the game and his own weaknesses and strengths. He said he's been watching game film since middle school when his mother recorded his games for the kids to watch. Tyrese began breaking down plays.
Haliburton talked about "drop coverages" he saw during the NBA playoffs not common in college and how he needs to look for his shot more "off the bounce" since he's been a better catch and shoot scorer than coming off pick and roll. If he isn't drafted perhaps someone will hire him to coach with him turning 21 in February.
"I always was looking to pass," Haliburton said about his collegiate play. "Once that pass got taken away I'd look to shoot. When I did shoot it, it wasn't gong in. Being more aggressive off the pick and roll and looking to score first and then making things happen for my teammates. Being able to see myself where I struggled and go directly at it has been big for me."
Haliburton's release on his shot tends to be low, which he said is something he merely adjusts according to situations.
"I think it's so overblown the stuff about my (shooting) mechanics because I don't think film or numbers lie," Haliburton said. "I think I shot the ball really well both years. If people watched, they know range is not a problem for me. If that's what people want to talk about go ahead. But we can revisit that question in a couple of years and see what people will say."
Just as he said about this NBA Draft, which he predicted will be judged a lot differently—and better—a few years from now. Perhaps like Haliburton as well.
In fourth grade, he said, he was the tallest player, which meant playing center. So he grabbed rebounds and dribbled up to become a point guard.
And kept on going. To the Warriors? Bulls? Pistons? Knicks?