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2020 NBA Draft scouting report: Tyrese Haliburton

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, in this edition, we examine Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton.

Tyrese Haliburton is a weird prospect. A 6’5 guard from Iowa State, Haliburton is often billed as one of the class’ top point guards. The issue is he is not one. This is not to say he is incapable of playing the position, but rather that he doesn’t operate like one.

Haliburton is a good representative of a small archetype of players that may be labeled “connectors.” They do basically what it sounds like: link up play. The idea is not to function as an engine of offense by commanding high usage and high control of the ball but instead fill in cracks, make timely decisions that produce scoring opportunities, and generally add without taking away.

In two years at Iowa State, Haliburton proved he was something of a genius in this role. His standout NBA skill isn’t one particular trait but rather his overall feel for the game. He provides a baseline of basketball intelligence when he’s on the floor.

Ideally, the team that selects Haliburton will understand what is and what he isn’t. He shouldn’t be asked to carry an offense. But if he’s used appropriately as a secondary creator, he can provide a large amount of value because it’s hard to find guards who can add real offensive impact without levying a tax in the form of usage.

A common player comparison for Haliburton is Lonzo Ball, with whom he shares a keen passing intelligence as well as an aversion to the foul line. While Ball will likely not provide the ceiling one would hope for from a No. 2 pick, he’s on track to carve out a good career as a valuable role player. Haliburton could pursue a similar path.

Although he’s unlikely to ever become a star, Haliburton could become a “star” role player, the kind that raises a team’s ceiling provided he has the right network support. As a fan of basketball, I really enjoy watching him play. And you get the sense he’s fun to play with.

Offensive Analysis

  • Has a very odd shot form but the ball goes through the net. He’s a career 42.6 percent three-point shooter. While some might worry about his shooting proficiency carrying over due to his peculiar mechanics, I’m not. In addition to great percentages, he also adds great range. Combining the two, you have the right ingredients for success. There are plenty of good shooters in the NBA with ugly shooting forms. Making them is what matters. He was 99th percentile on spot-up attempts and 98th percentile on catch-and-shoot looks, per Synergy.
  • I’m not sure how to capture this statistically, or if it’s even possible, but he has surreal ball placement. He puts the ball exactly where the shooter wants it again and again; he’s truly elite at this, and hard to convey unless you watch him. Iowa State suffered poor shooting, so his numbers on pick-and-roll passes aren’t good, but he’s putting the ball where it needs to be. Will be a great passer in the NBA.
  • Completely allergic to shooting free throws with a truly outlier low .184 free throw rate. He simply exerts no pressure on the rim. Even if he has an open lane to get a shot at the rim, he hesitates. It’s a real liability in terms of offensive value because teams know they can sit on the pass when he’s running pick-and-roll. He has a good floater, but the lack of scoring around the rim is an upside capper. Ideally, his team will understand his limitations here and put him in position to succeed by not asking him to drive offense — he can’t do it.

Defensive Analysis

  • Very good team defender and possesses great instincts for making plays on the ball. Had an elite 3.8 percent steal rate in his final season. He gets you extra possessions via steals. Steals considerably boost the value of the subsequent offensive possession, so this is a nice skill to have. He’s someone who will fit well within a scheme and bring impact in the form of playmaking.
  • He’s among the physically weakest players I’ve ever seen. While he’s a very savvy team defender and a good defender overall, his frailty and unspectacular PnR defense makes him a target on-ball. In a regular season context, where rhythm is king, this is likely not too big of a deal; however, in the playoffs, when opponents scout much more intensely and seek mismatches, Haliburton has worries. I like him as a defender in general, but he has to get stronger in order to hold up at the highest levels.

Fit with the Hawks

Haliburton has been one of the most mocked players to Atlanta over the draft cycle. It’s not hard to see how he would fit with the Hawks, since he would have Trae Young to do the offensive heavy lifting while he operates in his optimal role as a secondary creator. Given the heavy usage that Young commands, Haliburton makes a lot of sense as another playmaking outlet who can do damage without needing many touches.

It can be hard to fit players who need the ball around “heliocentric” stars like Young, since it necessarily means taking away possessions from Trae, which, given that Young is already one of the best offensive players in the league, isn’t always a good thing. Few could thrive with low usage like Haliburton. He could space the floor, make quick passes to the right locations, and raise the overall IQ.

Defensively, the picture is somewhat mixed. While I mentioned above I believe in Haliburton as someone who can be a positive NBA defender, his susceptibility on-ball could create issues next to Trae, who is highly flammable on that end. In a playoff series, having two guards who can be exploited allows opposing offenses to pick their poison, meaning that Atlanta’s coaching staff would need to get creative to supplement their viability. In short, I think it could work defensively, but there could also be big trade-offs down the line when the games matter most.

In addition, it remains to be seen whether investing a high lottery pick in a player who profiles favorably as a role player is the best use of that asset. Given that the Hawks hope to be a playoff team next season, this year’s draft pick could represent their best chance to add another star in the most direct way. In this sense, it might be better to swing for more upside. That’s not to say Haliburton isn’t a good pick, but he’s more of a ceiling raiser than a floor raiser and the Hawks still need plenty of the latter.

Overall, while there a number of prospects I might prefer for Atlanta at No. 6 overall, I do think that Haliburton checks many boxes that the Hawks value. Moreover, with the caveat that rookies are usually bad, I think his high level feel for the game creates avenues for him to contribute early on. And, since his game doesn’t require a lot of time on the ball to succeed, he could fit into Atlanta’s plans to make the playoffs next season. Ultimately, it comes down to your particular inclination for the best strategy with this pick — but I do think Haliburton is a fine selection for the Hawks.