In 2018, Tyrese Haliburton arrived in Ames, Iowa as the Gatorade Player of the Year from the state of Wisconsin. He joined a talented roster at Iowa state, headlined by Marial Shayok and Talen Horton-Tucker, two players who would go on to be selected in the 2019 NBA Draft. Coach Steve Prohm also returned Nick Weiler-Webb, a steady lead guard and organizer of the Cyclone offense.
As a freshman, Haliburton was expected to be a key bench contributor, an inexperienced but talented backup point guard. Those plans were disrupted by an injury to sophomore guard Lindell Wigginton, another very promising player on the Cyclones’ roster. Haliburton found himself thrusted into the starting lineup. The Wisconsin native took full advantage of this opportunity and excelled as a complementary piece. He played off the ball, and revealed himself as a uniquely talented and efficient player.
Between Haliburton’s freshman and sophomore campaigns, he was a key cog for the U-19 USA World Cup championship team, averaging 5.5 assists per game throughout the tournament, and firmly securing his standing as an elite prospect in the upcoming 2020 draft class.
Iowa State’s roster had to be overhauled in the 2019-20 season, as Shayiok, Horton-Tucker, Wigginton, and Weiler-Babb all moved on to the professional ranks. Haliburton was handed the keys to the entire offense, and he continued to blossom. The sophomore possesses rare two-way basketball instincts, uncanny defensive intuition, mesmerizing court vision, and an efficient jump shot, all of which make Haliburton very special.
The chart below illustrates Halliburton’s ability to affect the game at multiple levels, as well as his statistical improvement between his freshman and sophomore campaigns.
|Points per game||6.8||15.2|
|Rebounds per game||3.4||5.8|
|Assists per game||3.5||6.4|
|Assists+Points per Possession||1.61 (100th percentile)||1.38 (97th percentile)|
|Player Efficiency Rating||15.3||25.6|
A broken left wrist, suffered against Kansas State on February 8, unfortunately ended Haliburton’s sophomore season early. He initially sprained the wrist in practice after returning from Christmas break, and missed the December 31 loss to Florida A&M. With the sprain still lingering, he returned for the Big 12 opener at TCU, and had a triple-double. Haliburton would play in the next 10 games, nine of which were against conference opponents, plus one matchup at Auburn. In total, he played in 11 contests at less than 100 percent, but over that span, he managed to post excellent shooting splits (.459/.414/.913) and a nice assist-turnover ratio of 1.7, while averaging 13.2 points, 6.0 boards, 5.2 assists, and 3.2 combined steals and blocks per game. Against K-State, he blocked a shot to stop a fast break and came down hard, re-aggravating the injury from before and actually breaking the wrist in the process.
Despite missing the last 10 games of his season, Haliburton had already cemented himself as a lottery talent. Most draft boards have him in the top 10, and the 20-year-old is generally regarded as the top domestic point-guard prospect in this class.
|Position:||Combo Guard||Team/Class:||Iowa State (So.)|
|Shot Hand:||Right||Stats:||Click here|
- Slightly below-average shooter off the dribble (0.684 PPP, 35th percentile)
- Average pick-and-roll operator (.0637 PPP, 31st percentile)
- Average isolation offensive profile (0.68 PPP, 36th percentile)
- Unselfish to a fault, and reluctant to attack the rim
- Below-average pick-and-roll defender (allowed 0.87 PPP, 24th percentile, this season)
- Lacks top-level quick-twitch burst
- Slight frame (175 pounds)
I would like to discuss the concerns in Haliburton’s overall profile straight away. The Cyclone has terrific positional length and height, but he has a slight frame. He weighs in at a flimsy 175 pounds. This could affect him negatively as a defender and as a rim attacker at the next level. Haliburton was shy to attack the rim in his collegiate career, making just six of 12 attempts within seven feet via drives during his two seasons (57 games) at Iowa State.
In addition to Halliburton’s hesitation to put pressure on the rim, the Iowa State product has struggled to shoot off the dribble. This has caused some skepticism among evaluators. The absence of a pull-up jumper, coupled with his reluctance to attack the rim, could allow opposing defenses to run him off the three-point line, and also affect his ability to be an effective lead guard. The counter argument to these concerns would lie within his ability to playmake and his solid “runner” numbers.
Part of Haliburton’s genius is his willingness and ability to consistently create easy scoring opportunities for his teammates. Yet, there were moments in which he settled for being a facilitator rather than aggressively looking for his own offense. Recognizing the appropriate moments to be assertive offensively is a work in progress for the young phenom. These concerns are fair but minor in my opinion.
The chief weakness in Haliburton’s game resides on both sides of the ball in pick-and-roll (PNR) action. He was uninspiring analytically on offense, averaging 0.63 points per possession (PPP), which ranked at the 31st percentile, and on defense, he allowed 0.83 PPP (50th percentile) defending against the PNR. Considering the high volume of defending and operating in the PNR at the NBA level, these numbers offer valid concern for evaluators. Lacking elite burst and playing alongside below-average talent this season at Iowa State likely contributed to Haliburton’s struggles in this area.
Absence of quick-twitch speed to shed defenders, struggles in the PNR, poor off-the-dribble shooting and a flimsy frame constitute the summary of Haliburton’s flaws as an NBA prospect. Should the Iowa State prospect fail to meet lofty expectations, these qualities would be the likely culprit.
- A high-level overall offensive efficiency profile, ranking above the 97th percentile for points-plus-assists per possession for two straight seasons
- An elite spot-up shooter, ranking above the 90th percentile for PPP for two consecutive seasons
- Above-average 3-point shooter (42.6 percent for his career at Iowa State)
- Elite facilitator with outstanding vision; had a career assist-turnover ratio of 3.0, led the Big 12 with 6.5 assists per game this season, and finished second in the conference with an assist rate of 33.9 percent
- Elite in transition, ranking above the 92nd percentile for PPP for two straight seasons
- A defensive playmaker; this season, led Big 12 with 2.5 steals per game, finished fifth with a steal percentage of 3.74, and ranked at the 90th percentile among 2020 prospects in the Hoops Prospects database for combined steals and blocks per 40 minutes (3.41)
- Has unteachable basketball instincts
- Solid positional height and length
When discussing the positive aspects of Haliburton’s profile, the conversation should begin with his nearly Jedi-level instincts on both ends of the basketball floor. He mentally operates a step ahead of his peers. Innate basketball “feel” oozes out of the point guard’s pores. His “basketball IQ” would measure off the charts. Simply put, he knows how to play.
Haliburton masterfully uses his eyes to manipulate defenders before whipping a no-look pass to a wide-open teammate for an easy basket. He’s a world-class decision maker with the ball in his hands. These abstract qualities bear true in reality with his 33.9 assist percentage, 3.74 steal percentage (both top 50 in the NCAA this season), and his 2.33 assist-turnover ratio. Further evidenced with the fact that he led the BIG 12 by a healthy margin in both assists (6.5) and steals (2.5) per game.
The Wisconsin native clearly takes a certain pleasure in helping his teammates succeed. He plays with an infectious joy, and Coach Steve Prohm has remarked on Haliburton’s ability to win over a room with his personality. Rich Harris, the Senior Editor at HoopsProspects, was able to experience this first hand. Haliburton exhibited an air of extreme confidence when talking to the media; some may even describe it as a healthy amount of cockiness. Haliburton has noted that one of his idols is Magic Johnson, and this preference shines through his personality on and off the court. His intangibles are unquantifiable but are evident when watching Haliburton’s game film.
If Halliburton’s pure basketball instincts are his primary asset, then jump-shooting would be a close runner-up. His career shooting splits of .509/.426/.775 are impressive, but let’s dig deeper. His true-shooting percentage of 63.1 this season was the third best in the conference. The sophomore also ranked at the 99th percentile (1.43 PPP) on spot-up plays, and had an adjusted field-goal percentage of 57.6 on 3-point jumpers.
Halliburton’s elite jump-shooting numbers suggest that he can be paired with almost any backcourt mate at the next level. He can space the floor for a ball-dominant counterpart, or use his facilitation abilities to run an offense. I’ve described these characteristics as a universal-blood type for NBA guards. His natural playmaking instincts and jump-shooting skills give Haliburton the type of versatility that is very highly valued in the modern NBA game.
I’ve studied Haliburton’s physical profile and analytics, and consumed copious amounts of film. I’ve weighed the reasonable pros and cons, and in sifting through all this information, I have settled on the conclusion that Haliburton is a top-5 talent in the 2020 NBA draft class.
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements: Stats used in our scouting reports mainly come from Synergy Sports Technology, RealGM.com, and Sports-Reference.com. Some background information and the photo were courtesy of Iowa State Athletics. Other outside sources are noted with links to the source.