Kings' Tyrese Haliburton is playing like a Rookie of the Year favorite

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kings' Tyrese Haliburton is playing like a Rookie of the Year favorite


Kings' Tyrese Haliburton is playing like a Rookie of the Year favorite

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Sacramento Kings rookie Tyrese Haliburton was a lottery pick in 2020. But he is already showing flashes as a longtime franchise piece.

After a solid college career, in which he averaged 15.2 points and 5.9 rebounds and 6.5 assists with 2.5 steals per game as a sophomore, he was selected No. 12 overall. Then in the annual GM survey, 43 percent of general managers said Haliburton was the biggest steal of the night.

As the first player selected by the new front office in Sacramento, led by executives Monte McNair and Wes Wilcox, his performance was going to be examined even more closely than the usual draft pick.

Fortunately for the Kings, the former Iowa State standout has made a splash early. He has looked hot coming out of the gates, looking like a seasoned veteran and Rookie of the Year candidate.

Against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night, Haliburton established strong chemistry in the second-unit with big man Richaun Holmes. They shared the floor for 13 minutes and the Kings outscored the Nuggets by 16 points during that time.

Not only were the two able to connect on a big-time alley-oop but the rookie was also able to hit Holmes for 3 assists during just the fourth quarter of the match.

The most impressive moment of the game was arguably when Haliburton deceived his opponent by keeping his eyes laser-focused on the basket in front of him as he charged towards the basket. Then, at the last second, he perfectly delivered a no-look pass to Holmes in the paint.

As you can see in the play above, he is a natural fit operating the high screen and roll as a distributor.

When including passes, per Synergy, he has finished 23 possessions as the pick-and-roll ballhandler. Thus far, despite being in just his first professional season, he has yet to record a turnover on this play type.

In fact, his assist-to-turnover ratio (7.0) ranks second-best in the NBA among those who have averaged at least 20 minutes per game. That is especially wild considering, as a rookie, Haliburton already has the confidence to fire off absurdly impressive passes like this one.

One of the most alluring factors of his game is that he is not particularly ball-dominant but he still manages high effectiveness.

Simply put, the offense does not have to run through him in order for him to have an impact. This suggests that he will eventually be able to play far more minutes alongside De’Aaron Fox, offering a legitimate secondary playmaker without taking the ball out of the hands of their franchise player.

For example, as a sophomore for Iowa State last season, he was the only high-major underclassmen with an assist rate above 35 percent while recording a usage rate below 22 percent (via Bart Torvik). This season, per Cleaning the Glass, his assist-to-usage rate (1.87) trails only 10-time All-Star guard Chris Paul for the best in the NBA.

We can see flashes of this already. Through four appearances, Haliburton has recorded 42.7 passes and 7.0 assists per 36 minutes. This means 16.4 percent of his passes have been a dime. When considering No. 3 overall pick LaMelo Ball has recorded 70.6 passes and 6.3 assists per 36 minutes (9.0 percent assist-to-pass ratio) through his first three games, you can see the stark difference.

Few had worries about how his passing would fare as a pro, though, so perhaps the best news is that Haliburton has also been an above-average shooter.

NBA trainer Joe Abunassar told CBS Sports that while Haliburton has a “different, funky little release” on his jumpers, there were not any mechanical issues with his form.

Considering he shot 42.6 percent on his three-pointers during college, doubts may not have been valid. But raised eyebrows have calmed as Haliburton has started his pro career 8-for-16 (50.0 percent) from beyond the arc and 12-for-21 (57.1 percent) from the field when taking a jump shot.

Overall, his effective field goal percentage (72.0 percent) ranks as the best in the NBA among non-big men who have played at least 130 minutes thus far. Even with room for regression to the mean, that hot start should silence any remaining critics.

As a defender and rebounder, he has often used his plus-wingspan to gain an edge over his man. Commonly known as a cerebral player with a high-IQ for the game, he very rarely fouls and likely won’t be played off the court during crunch time.

Haliburton has shown why many were confident he was an incredibly special young player. As he continues to progress and earn a bigger role, fans around the league have plenty to look forward to in his basketball career.

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