Tyrese Haliburton Looks to Build on First Award

The consensus steal of the Draft, No. 0 has emerged into one of the steadiest playmakers in the game and strongest candidates for Rookie of the Year.
by Alex Kramers
Writer, Kings.com

Roughly one month into his NBA career, with virtuoso performances night in and night out, Tyrese Haliburton is already making many of the teams that didn’t draft him regret it.

While some rookies are playing well in limited roles this season, and a handful have become high-upside starters, none have made as much of an impact as Sacramento’s No. 12 pick.

That’s probably because the Rookie of the Month isn’t your typical first-year player. His transition from Iowa State to the pro level took only his first 30 minutes of the season – the amount of time Haliburton, an NBA newcomer who could easily be mistaken for a 10-year vet, needed to produce 12 points, four assists and two crucial three-pointers in the season-opening win at Denver.

Ever since, the Kings have depended heavily on him, and it takes only one look at the way he affects the game with his shrewd, unselfish play and natural feel to understand why. No matter the situation or time on the clock, it’s uncharacteristic for the self-assured guard to force a bad shot, and even rarer is a time when he tosses a poor pass or makes a costly defensive lapse.

When it comes to the box score, he fills it up as well as, or better, than some of the more celebrated first-round draftees, with statistics that are a paint-by-numbers portrait of a modern-day wing. Among his qualified freshman peers, Haliburton ranks in the top five in assists (5.4; second), points (11.0; fifth), threes made (35; first), three-point accuracy (41.7 percent; fifth) and steals (1.1; fifth). He’s excelled in both production and efficiency, holding the fifth-highest true-shooting percentage (60.2) and PER (16.5).

But to truly appreciate just how effective Haliburton is each time he touches the ball, consider that while he’s 16th in usage rate (15.8) among rookies playing over 15 minutes, he ranks in the 100th percentile in assist-to-usage rate (1.47) at his position in the entire NBA, per Cleaning the Glass. The pass-first wing consistently swings the ball to Sacramento’s big men in prime scoring position, placing in the 95th percentile in assist rate (26.8).

What makes No. 0 both special and fun to watch is that the 20-year-old takes care of the ball as well as Chris Paul in his rookie year, and along with textbook chest passes, sprinkles in spectacular lobs and behind-the-back dishes that conjure memories of a young Jason Williams.

With 92 assists compared to only 28 turnovers, a 3.29 ratio, he’s contributed to far fewer miscues than the other lead ball-handler in his class, including LaMelo Ball (2.47 AST/TO), Immanuel Quickley (2.22) and Killian Hayes (1.47).

Of the 85 players in the League with 50 or more possessions in the pick and roll, Haliburton has committed the 11th-fewest turnovers, losing control of the ball only 8.5 percent of the time; for comparison, Ball’s turnover rate is nearly twice as high (16.9). The Wisconsin native has similarly been in command in transition, where he's not only miles ahead of all rookies, but sits among the NBA’s best with 1.39 points per possession (81st percentile), according to NBA.com.

Those who thought his unconventional shooting form wouldn’t translate to the NBA are busy issuing retractions. Haliburton erased that perception instantly, making 10 of his first 20 shots from downtown, and has been money in the bank from just about any spot on the floor. According to CTG, he places in the 79th percentile among wings in effective field-goal percentage (59.7), has been excellent in the mid-range (85th percentile) and elite on corner triples (95th; 13-of-22 overall).

Another factor that makes Haliburton’s output so noteworthy is how and when he’s accumulating the bulk of his numbers.

He’s come off the bench in all but one contest, but when the game is in the balance, with the seconds ticking down in the final frame, he’s already earned the trust of his coaches and teammates to make winning plays. Haliburton, who’s tied for ninth in fourth-quarter minutes in the League (9.2), is either first or second among rookies in points, field-goal percentage, assists, threes and steals.

In clutch situations, defined as the last five minutes when the score is within five points, Haliburton has drained 4-of-5 from long distance — and 5-of-7 shots overall — delivering knockout punches from as many as 10 feet beyond the arc. Across the entire NBA, only seven players have made more triples in crunch-time than the Kings draftee, and of those, just one with as many attempts has been more accurate.

On the other end of the floor, Haliburton has sealed several wins by intercepting passes with his long reach when opponents least expect it. A defensive demon, who might be the most disruptive and dominant perimeter force the Kings have featured since Doug Christie, Haliburton has accumulated excellent block (1.2) and steal rates (1.7), ranking in the 89th and 68th percentile, respectively.

His fingerprints have been all over at least four Sacramento victories already.

In a rematch with Denver on Dec. 28, Haliburton gave his team a massive lift down the stretch, connecting on a shot from just inside the center-court logo, dishing five assists and adding a steal and fastbreak layup in the fourth quarter to give his team a double-digit cushion.

Against Chicago on Jan. 6, he made 6-of-7 from the floor — 3-of-3 from long range, including a dagger from the corner — to finish with 15 points, four rebounds, two steals and a block in the final 12 minutes alone. He did it again a few weeks later versus the Knicks, contributing 16 points, five rebounds and four blocks — the most in a single game by a rookie this season —and once again drilled a clutch triple to put the game out of reach.

In last Friday’s win over Toronto, Haliburton racked up his first double-double with 10 points and career-high 11 assists, and his three in the final minute gave Sacramento a decisive four-point cushion.

The lineup data backs up the eye test: Haliburton makes his teammates better. When the rookie sensation has played alongside De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, with Harrison Barnes and Richaun Holmes in the frontcourt, the Kings have outscored opponents by 14.6 points per 100 possessions, a mark that ranks in the 79th percentile among all qualified units in the League, via CTG. On 56 possessions where Haliburton has played with the usual starters in place of Hield, that group has similarly registered a plus-7.1 net rating.

There’s no debating the Kings guard is the consensus steal of the Draft, and after being named the West’s top rookie for December and January games, he may soon need to begin clearing space on his mantle for the year-end trophy.

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