Tyrese Haliburton
(Matt Kryger)

Haliburton Pushing the Pace(rs) into New Era

When the Pacers traded for Tyrese Haliburton in February of 2022, President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard quickly anointed the young guard as “the point guard of our future.”

The future has arrived in Indiana even faster than expected.

As soon as Haliburton got to Indiana, head coach Rick Carlisle handed him the keys to the Blue & Gold’s offense, and he immediately flourished in a larger role.

But the offseason is what really afforded Haliburton the opportunity to fully embrace Indiana, both on and off the court. After a summer full of community appearances and countless hours logged on the Ascension St. Vincent Center practice court, the 22-year-old arrived for training camp as the clear leader of an up-and-coming Pacers squad.

His fit on the court is obvious. A 6-5 point guard who loves to push the tempo and is a lights-out shooter, Haliburton’s game is perfectly suited for the modern NBA.

After last season’s trade, Haliburton increased his averages from 14.3 points and 7.4 assists over 51 games in Sacramento to 17.5 points and 9.6 assists in 26 games with the Pacers. He remained just as deadly from 3-point range – shooting 41.6 percent from distance in Indiana, a slight uptick from his .413 3-point percentage with the Kings – while somehow becoming even more efficient overall, increasing his field goal percentage from 45.7 percent to 50.2 percent.

Haliburton put up those numbers in his first weeks in a new city and on an injury-depleted team that was missing key veterans like Myles Turner and T.J. McConnell. With a full offseason in Indiana under his belt coupled with the return of Turner and McConnell and the addition of rookie sensation Bennedict Mathurin, Haliburton picked up where he left off to start the 2022-23 campaign.

He scored 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting and dished out seven assists on Opening Night against Washington on Oct. 19, then followed that up with 27 points and 12 assists two nights later against San Antonio. That started a streak of five straight points-assists double-doubles, making Haliburton the first Pacer since Mark Jackson in the 1999-2000 season to dish out 10 or more assists in five consecutive games. He scored 20 or more points in eight of his first 11 contests.

“Just aggressiveness and confidence,” Haliburton said of the keys to his strong start to the season. “Confidence has been everything for me. I've spent a lot of time trusting the work that I put in and the fruits of my labor are showing.”

It’s hard not to be confident when you shoot the ball as well as Haliburton, but that stroke is the product of countless nights spent hoisting shots over many years. He has an unorthodox release – in some ways reminiscent of Reggie Miller’s own quirky shot – but is so comfortable and successful with it that it makes lesser shooters question if they learned everything wrong.

But shooting isn’t even Haliburton’s best skill with the ball in his hands. Poll any teammate and they would all call out his passing. He sees the floor like a quarterback and knows how to make the right read. He isn’t afraid to pass in any situation, often even making his decision on where to deliver the ball in mid-air, a skill that even leaves some of his NBA peers in awe.

“Sometimes, when I think you don’t see me, you see me all the time,” Mathurin said to Haliburton in a dual interview with The Ringer. “Couple times I was running, and then a pass just came in front of me. I didn’t think he was going to pass it.”

“The thing is, I catch myself looking up there (at the stats) and it’s just effortless,” McConnell said at a November practice. “The way he’s able to get people the ball…it looks like he’s not even trying. It just comes so natural for him to get people the ball. You look up and you see 15 assists and what’s he averaging – 20 and 10? He’s a special, special player.”

That’s to say nothing of how Haliburton carries himself on the court. He always is full of energy on the court, talking to teammates, reacting to every big play with the enthusiasm to match any 10-year-old in the crowd watching his first game.

Even in times of adversity, Haliburton keeps his head about him. He had his first real off night of the season shooting the ball on Nov. 12 against Toronto – when he went just 3-for-14 from the floor and 2-for-9 from 3-point range and managed just eight points. Still, Haliburton left his imprint all over that game, dishing out a season-high 15 assists and knocking down a crucial three in the final minutes to help seal a comeback victory, bouncing up and down with joy as the shot fell through the net.

"I thought his spirit in the second half was very uplifting for us,” Carlisle said after the game. “We believe he is that kind of leader and he is always going to see things better than they are and humble enough to know when he needs to do better.”

Perhaps the best example of Haliburton’s love for the game came during a back-to-back set last weekend.

Haliburton rolled his ankle in the final minute of Friday’s 99-91 win in Houston and was helped to the locker room by the training staff. The Pacers flew back to Indianapolis and were scheduled to play Orlando the next night. It seemed almost a forgone conclusion that Haliburton would sit that game out to rest.

But Haliburton woke up Saturday morning feeling good, went through his normal pregame routine, and insisted he was good to go. After much persistence, he persuaded the Indiana staff and was cleared to play. Not only did he play, he put together one of his best performances of the season – tallying 22 points, 14 assists, four rebounds, three blocks, and two steals in a 114-113 victory.

“In an NBA world where it's pretty cool these days to sit out games, he did not want to hear about sitting out tonight,” Carlisle said after the win.

Haliburton doesn’t just uplift his teammates on the court. He strives to do the same in the local community. The young star made it a point to see and be seen in his new city over the summer.

First, he went to the Grand Prix of Indianapolis at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and rode in a two-seater alongside racing legend Mario Andretti prior to the race.

Then in July, Haliburton enlisted Mathurin’s help as the two traveled around the city to surprise fans at local parks.

In September, Haliburton hosted Training Camp with Tyrese Haliburton, a free basketball clinic for local children, at Riverside Park. He organized the whole camp and made sure that it was a free event, allowing children from underserved communities the opportunity to meet and learn from an NBA star.

Just two days before the clinic, Haliburton mentioned it in passing to his teammates and coaching staff, offering anyone interested the opportunity to come participate. Seven players and four coaches took him up on the offer, which speaks volumes about the respect he commands.

"He’s all in," Pacers assistant coach Jenny Boucek said. "His heart is all in. He’s here from start to finish and he’s genuinely enjoying giving back and getting to know these kids and making as much impact as he can. It’s a refreshing thing to see."

Realizing Haliburton was poised to become the new face of the franchise, Carlisle organized a couple phone calls over the offseason between Haliburton and one of his most famous former players.

“He’s talked to Reggie Miller a bit, I had those guys talk on the phone one or two times,”Carlisle said during an Oct. 4 appearance on local radio show The Ride with JMV. “There’s some comparisons to him and Reggie, a little bit because of the similarity in their body styles, their personalities, and stuff like that. It’s a completely different position, but being the front man of a small market team looking to do big things is not only a huge responsibility, but it’s an amazing opportunity.”

Haliburton has a long way to go before being put on the same level as Miller, the Pacers’ all-time basketball icon. But based on how he has embraced the city and organization over his first year in Indiana, Haliburton is certainly on his way to carving out his own special place in Pacers folklore.