Tyrese Haliburton
(NBAE/Getty Images)

Already an All-Star, Haliburton Has Pacers Ahead of Schedule

The Pacers always knew they were getting a special player in Tyrese Haliburton.

"We have a point guard of our future," Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard proclaimed last February after the blockbuster trade that brought Haliburton and Buddy Hield to Indiana from Sacramento. "And if you have been in this business a long time, getting a point guard that is young with upside and you feel like you can build around for the next 10 years, those don't come around very often.

"Tyrese is that guy. We feel like not only on the court, but off the court, he brings a persona that we need."

By the time Haliburton arrived in Indiana, he had already shown plenty of potential during his first year and a half in the NBA. But no one in the organization, from Pritchard to head coach Rick Carlisle and on down the line, could have expected Haliburton to be this good this quickly.

It isn't hyperbole to say that Haliburton has completely altered the direction of the Pacers franchise over the course of his first year with the Blue & Gold. On Thursday, six days shy of the one-year anniversary of the trade that sent him to Indiana, Haliburton was named an All-Star for the first time.

The 22-year-old has quickly won over fans and peers alike with his dynamic play on the court. He has also earned the respect of coaches across the league, who voted him as one of seven All-Star reserves from the Eastern Conference.

The pace at which Haliburton plays on the court mirrors his meteoric rise into the NBA's upper echelon. Upon his arrival in Indiana, Carlisle handed Haliburton the keys to the Pacers' offense and he immediately flourished in his first opportunity as a full-time point guard.

Haliburton averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 assists in 26 games for Indiana after the trade deadline last season. He dedicated his summer to getting better and building bonds with his teammates -- Haliburton was notably present at offseason workouts at the Ascension St. Vincent Center throughout the summer -- and has reached another level this season.

Through 40 games, Haliburton is averaging 20.2 points and 10.2 assists. He leads the team in both categories and leads the NBA in assists. If he can hold onto that title, he would be the first player in franchise history to lead the league in assists and shatter the franchise record for assists in a season (Mark Jackson has the highest single-season average at 8.7 assists per game in the 1997-98 season).

Haliburton is also aiming to join rarified air. Just 13 players in NBA history have averaged 20 points and 10 assists over the course of a season -- a group that includes Oscar Robertson, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and LeBron James. No one has ever accomplished the feat while also shooting 40 percent from 3-point range, but Haliburton is right on the precipice with a .399 3-point percentage entering Thursday's game against the Lakers.

With his skills as a passer, it's no surprise that Haliburton has made quick friends in the Pacers locker room. He's always looking to set up his guys for an open three or connect with them on a lob. But Haliburton's connection with his teammates goes beyond the court. He has created genuine relationships with every player in Indiana's locker room, a rapport on display after every practice, where you can always find Haliburton hanging around with his teammates, flashing the same trademark smile Pacers fans have grown accustomed to seeing at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Between his stellar play and his ability to bring people together, Haliburton deserves plenty of credit for the Pacers' outstanding start to the season. Indiana was 23-18 and sixth in the East on Jan. 11 before Haliburton injured his left knee and elbow in a game at New York.

It's also a testament to Haliburton's importance that the Blue & Gold scuffled against a difficult schedule in his absence, going 1-9 with Haliburton sidelined before he returned for Thursday's game against the Lakers.

It may have seem far-fetched a year ago that Haliburton would make the All-Star team at 22, but by the time Thursday's announcement rolled around, it was a foregone conclusion.

It has been obvious for weeks that Haliburton had built a resume worthy of an All-Star nod. Carlisle said as much back on Dec. 23 after Haliburton delivered the pinnacle performance of his superb season, scoring a career-high 43 points and setting a new franchise record with 10 3-pointers -- including a game-winner in the closing seconds -- to lead Indiana to a win in Miami.

"Tyrese Haliburton is our All-Star," Carlisle said that night. "In less than a year, he's completely changed the trajectory of our franchise, he's completely changed the vibe and the direction of our franchise. Nights like tonight show the type of great young player he is."

In fact, there's a real argument that Haliburton should have been chosen as one of the two starting All-Star guards from the Eastern Conference instead of making it as a reserve. That doesn't matter to Haliburton as he celebrates his first All-Star selection, but he should be an annual fixture in that conversation moving forward.

A year ago, the Pacers were a team searching for a new direction. They traded for Haliburton, hopeful that he could one day lead them to new heights.

12 months later, he is an All-Star.

The Pacers not only have a new direction, but they've started to climb back up the mountain of NBA relevancy. With Haliburton leading the charge, the sky is truly the limit.

Tyrese Haliburton: 2023 NBA All-Star