Detroit Pistons draft preview: Haliburton’s IQ, character, versatility make him a prime candidate at 7
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History says it’s a virtual certainty a future All-Star, perhaps even a future MVP, will be available when the Pistons go on the clock to make the seventh pick in the 2020 NBA draft.
It’s too early to judge the 2018 and ’19 drafts – though early returns suggest form will hold as young players like Tyler Herro (13th pick in 2019) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (11th pick in ’18) already appear on an All-Star track – but go back a decade and every draft has produced players who either already are or will be multi-time All-Stars or even MVP winners who were taken with the seventh pick or beyond.
The 2017 draft has already produced All-Stars in Donovan Mitchell (13th) and Bam Adebayo (14th). Jamal Murray, a breakout star of the NBA’s Orlando bubble, was the seventh pick in 2016. Devin Booker was the 13th pick in 2015 and Nikola Jokic went 41st in 2014.
Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo was the 15th pick in 2013 and three-time All-Star – and three-time NBA champion – Draymond Green was the 35th pick in 2012. His Golden State teammate, Klay Thompson, was the 11th pick in 2011 when two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard went 15th. Paul George was the 10th pick in 2010 and two-time MVP Steph Curry was the seventh pick in 2009.
So when Dwane Casey said in early October, after months of digesting video of top prospects, he was confident the Pistons would get a foundational piece at the seventh pick, he had history – and faith in the eye of new general manager Troy Weaver – in his corner.
Leading to the Nov. 18 draft, Pistons.com will profile 12 candidates to hear their name called when the Pistons announce the pick. Next up: guard Tyrese Haliburton.
FIRST-ROUND CANDIDATE: TYRESE HALIBURTON
ID CARD: 6-foot-5 guard, Iowa State, 20 years old
DRAFT RANGE: Ranked 8th by ESPN.com, 8th by The Athletic, 4th by SI.com
SCOUTS LOVE: There isn’t a prospect in the draft who’ll generate as many accolades for character and basketball IQ as Haliburton. His upbeat personality and intelligence shines through in interviews. “He’s the complete package in terms of intangibles,” Iowa State assistant coach James Kane told Mike Schmitz of ESPN.com. Haliburton was clearly the most impressive of the players the NBA arranged to make available for remote interviews with media as part of the virtual combine held recently. Haliburton is an anomaly – a generic three-star recruit who quickly established himself as a one-and-done candidate as an Iowa State freshman. He chose to return for his sophomore season, where he took over as Iowa State’s primary playmaker and clear leader, averaging 15.2 points, 6.5 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 2.5 steals while shooting .504 overall and .419 from the 3-point arc. And those numbers came despite the fact Haliburton broke his wrist in late December yet played through the injury for more than a month before being forced out for the season. In the heavily scouted Battle for Atlantis last November, Haliburton averaged 22.7 points, 7.0 assists and 7.7 rebounds against high-caliber opponents Michigan, Alabama and Seton Hall while shooting .542 overall and .452 from the 3-point arc.
SCOUTS WONDER: The same reasons that rendered Haliburton, who hails from Oshkosh, Wis., a recruit virtually ignored by high major schools – his visits other than Iowa State were to Northern Iowa, Nebraska and Cincinnati, notably not to in-state schools Wisconsin and Marquette – are the ones causing internal discussion in NBA front offices. Haliburton isn’t a run-and-jump athlete and that leads to concerns about his impact translating to the NBA. He played mostly off the ball as a freshman, where his IQ also served him well, and he likely will be successful in that role in the NBA, as well. But if he is less effective as a point guard and has difficulty beating defenders off the dribble, his NBA appeal is muted to some degree. There’s also some doubt about whether his superb 3-point accuracy in college – Haliburton hit 42.6 percent of his triples over two college seasons and 57 percent of his shot attempts were triples, including 5.6 threes per game as a sophomore – will translate to the NBA given an unorthodox shooting motion and a slower release. Haliburton says he’s been focused on refining his mechanics but expressed utmost confidence that he’d establish himself as a 3-point shooter in the NBA.
NUMBER TO NOTE: 2.0 – That’s how many free throws a game Haliburton averaged, remarkably low for a primary ballhandler who played 37 minutes a game. In contrast, other college guards considered first-round picks such as Anthony Edwards (5.3), Cole Anthony (5.8), Kira Lewis (4.2) and Tyrese Maxey (3.9 despite playing mostly off the ball) all averaged significantly more per game with the gap even greater in per-40 minute averages.
MONEY QUOTE: “A basketball player. Whatever you need from me, I’ll do. I think I facilitate better than anybody in this draft – I think I can run a team right away – but if you want me to play the two and knock down shots and defend, I can do that, as well. Basketball is transitioning more and more to small ball or position-less basketball, so I think I can fit anywhere. It doesn’t really matter to me.” – Haliburton to media when asked if he considers himself a point guard or shooting guard during the NBA’s virtual combine.
BOTTOM LINE: Keeping in mind how new general manager Troy Weaver has emphasized the importance of character, seconded heartily by Casey, Haliburton stands as one of the most attractive Pistons draft candidates. Haliburton’s IQ, playmaking, character and 3-point shooting with size as a plus at point guard and the versatility to play any perimeter position makes him a strong candidate to be the pick if he’s still there at seven. Will that happen? Golden State has sent out smoke signals that has the Warriors linked to any number of players – Killian Hayes, James Wiseman and Haliburton among them – with the second pick, so Haliburton’s draft range could start there, conceivably. Atlanta, picking just ahead of the Pistons, is another team that has been linked to Haliburton. As of late September, though, Haliburton said he’d met virtually with only three NBA teams – the Pistons, the Warriors and the Knicks, who pick one spot after the Pistons.