The most intriguing player in the NBA draft: Iowa State's Tyrese Haliburton

Tyrese Haliburton was a 6-foot-4 point guard and only weighed 170 pounds when he was entering his freshman year at Iowa State. The Cyclones had one of the most talented teams heading into the 2018-19 season with incoming freshman Talen Horton-Tucker, sophomore guard Lindell Wigginton and senior Marial Shayok. NBA scouts started packing the gym early in the season to evaluate an elite roster that would eventually go on to win the Big 12 that year.

“An NBA scout came up to me after one of our practices early on in the season, pointed to Tyrese and said, ‘He’s going to be your highest draft pick out of this whole group,’ ” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm told Yahoo Sports.

Haliburton didn’t have an outstanding practice and didn’t shoot well, but he was the best player on the court. The skinny and undersized incoming freshman had an unorthodox jump shot that needed some work. Still, the talent was obvious.

“His feel for the game, ability to get along with teammates and [his] skill set is something that set him apart from the other players and something NBA scouts saw early,” Prohm said.

Fast forward two years and that NBA scout turned out to be right. Both Horton-Tucker and Shayok were taken in the second round of last year’s draft, Wigginton went undrafted, and Haliburton is a projected top-10 pick and one of the most intriguing players in the 2020 draft class.

Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton reacts after making a 3-point basket during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Kansas State on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)
Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton reacts after making a 3-point basket during a February game against Kansas State in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)

If you’re a casual basketball fan, chances are you did not see Haliburton play last season. The fact that he averaged 15.2 points, 6.5 assists, 5.9 rebounds and shot 50.4 percent from the field is pretty remarkable considering Iowa State went 12-20 and 5-13 in the Big 12. Haliburton’s season also ended early due to a fractured wrist suffered against Kansas State on Feb. 8, and postseason play was nixed because of COVID-19.

So who is Tyrese Haliburton?

Well, he is now a 6-foot-5 20-year-old with an estimated 6-8 wingspan who has the tools NBA teams are looking for in a lead guard. With his length, he can guard all three spots on the perimeter and he was one of the best passers in college basketball.

In 22 games this past season, Haliburton ranked in the 99th percentile in both spot-up shooting and assists in transition, according to Synergy Sports. He averaged 1.4 points per possession and that number increased to 1.6 when left unguarded. He had nine or more assists in six games and is effective in both half-court sets and the open court. His skills were on full display in November in front of several NBA scouts at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament at Paradise Island in Nassau, Bahamas, where he averaged 10.7 assists in three games.

“After that first tournament down in the Bahamas, it was pretty clear Haliburton would be a high pick in this draft class,” one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “His court vision and his high basketball IQ were just so impressive, and those two things stayed consistent all season.”

Haliburton’s jump shot isn’t a cause for concern, but will need some work at the next level. He has a slow windup starting in front of his chest and his elbow flares out a little bit. “If you think my shot now is ugly, my shot when I first got to high school started at my knees,” he told Jonathan Tjarks of the Ringer. “I don’t really care what people say about my shot as long as it’s going in. I know I’m going to have to alter it. I’m altering it right now just because it’s going to be tougher with being guarded more. But this is how I’ve hooped my whole life. And it’s been working. It’s just now about repetition and putting time into it.”

Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball is an early NBA comp to Haliburton due to his high-level passing and unique shot mechanics. Ball was the second pick in the 2017 NBA draft and has had a decent career in the NBA despite having to modify his jump shot. “Every comparison that I ever see about me until I play my first game is going to be Lonzo. We had basically similar college numbers. I have an unorthodox form like he does, and I’m tall and light-skinned,” Haliburton told Josh Hart on his Lighthearted podcast. “So, you’re always going to hear that comparison. It makes sense. We play similar types of basketball.”

Teams such as the Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks could benefit from the addition of Haliburton. He could navigate the NBA and learn a ton from playing behind Steph Curry on the Warriors, and there’s something very intriguing about him joining RJ Barrett in New York.

“He’s going to fit in really well wherever he goes because of his character, his humility, his skill level and basketball IQ,” Prohm told Yahoo Sports. “He can play the point guard and he’s an excellent passer, but he’s also versatile enough to play other positions. He can impact that game with or without the ball and then he’ll adjust well just coming in as a rookie and accepting his role.”

In a top-heavy draft with a lot of question marks, Haliburton remains one of the safer players in this class and could offer major upside for the right franchise.

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