Haliburton1
Tyrese Haliburton celebrates a made three pointer. Photo by David Purdy of Getty Images.

DOB: 2/29/2000

Height: 6’ 5”

Weight: 175+ lbs

Wingspan: 7’

College: Iowa State

Position: Guard

This week’s prospect is one of the more frustrating talents I’ve watched since this season’s version of Lauri Markkanen. Tyrese Haliburton is one of the most dynamic offensive players in all of NCAA hoops, but he had the misfortune of playing on a sub-par Iowa State team that never really let his talents shine to their fullest. I watched a number of Iowa State games this week, against several top ranked opponents, and what I think I know about Haliburton boils down to this: His enormous potential is marred by a number of flagrant red flags.

A good way to understand what Haliburton is on the court is to throw out an NBA comparison player. The pro I think Haliburton most favorably compares to is Lonzo Ball of the New Orleans Pelicans. He has the size, vision and unselfishness of Ball, with a slight edge in athleticism and length, but is lagging behind Ball in overall basketball IQ and strength. Haliburton is a tremendous passer, and would have averaged double digit assists per game if he had been playing with more talented teammates. So let’s kick this Prospect Watch into high gear with a look at what makes Tyrese Haliburton worth a top 10 draft pick.

I’ve already said it, but it bears repeating, Tyrese Haliburton is one of the most dynamic offensive players in the NCAA today. Iowa State had him playing as both an on- and off-the-ball guard. When on-the-ball, Haliburton is a near flawless decision maker, quickly finding cutters with pin-point passes, or collapsing the defense and finding the open perimeter shooter for easy catch-and-shoot opportunities or dumping the ball off to a big hanging out under the basket for the slam. While off-the-ball Haliburton is a good perimeter shooter in his own right, and more than capable of making the right extra pass to whichever player happens to be open. There is nothing too flashy about Haliburton’s game, even the fanciest of his behind the back, no-look passes tend to be more efficient than flash. He just consistently makes the right play at the right time.

Defensively, Haliburton’s length is his best attribute. His spindly arms make it difficult to get a pass past him, and easy to poke a ball loose from a distracted dribbler. He is a very opportunistic defender, not really suited to being a lock down on-the-ball stopper, but more than capable of patrolling the passing lanes. Iowa State used a number of different defensive looks depending on who they were playing, including some zone, and for the most part they tried to keep Haliburton from being the on-the-ball defender, or directly involved in pick-and-roll defense. It’s not that he doesn’t have the quickness to stay with his assignment, it seemed it was more about his inability to fight through picks due to the slightness of his physical frame.

And here is where I need to start voicing the frustrations, the “red flags” if you will, that I have with Haliburton’s game. For as talented as he is on the offensive end of the court, there are some real concerns about his play on defense. He can be caught napping. He will get back-door-cut. He is awful at closing out on shooters, biting hard on the first pump fake, using every ounce of his athletic ability to soar past the shooter and into the stands while his opponent calmly drains an open shot. Haliburton is a decent enough help defender and rarely gets into foul trouble, but he can get lost on pick-and-roll coverage, and has a difficult time chasing off-the-ball opponents around picks. He is by no means a lost cause on defense, his high basketball IQ and his length will give him a chance at becoming a competent defender in the NBA, but if he doesn’t work to limit these flaws he could end up as a bench player for the majority of his professional career.

A couple of paragraphs ago I was comparing Tyrese Haliburton positively to Lonzo Ball on offense, let me give you another player he compares to in terms of unrealized potential: Lauri Markkanen. Just like Lauri, Haliburton seems to disappear for long stretches of a game, some of it is due to the incompetence of his coaches and the scheme they were running at Iowa State, and the other part of it seems to be his unselfish deference to his teammates.

As I said before, Haliburton played nearly every minute of his injury shortened season, and was clearly the best player on Iowa State, yet his usage percentage was a mere 20.1%. There were 5 teammates ahead of him in USG% that saw regular minutes for Iowa State. From the outside looking in, that’s a gross misuse of your star. I couldn’t understand why Haliburton spent so much time playing off the ball, he is one of the best decision makers in the world, shouldn’t he have the ball in his hands as much as possible? It wasn’t until about the third game that I realized why he spent so much time off the ball; Tyrese Haliburton struggles to break down defenders off the dribble.

Vision, passing, offensive IQ, tight handles, Haliburton seemingly has everything you’d want in a floor general. But that lack of dominance that gives a player an edge in getting around a defender with their dribble, or the drive to take over a game and win at all costs, seemed to be non-existent when it came to Haliburton. And then I watched Iowa State play then ranked #1 Baylor and I was even more frustrated. Haliburton can absolutely take over a game, and dominate, and play with a nastiness that says “I know I’m better than you, and it’s not even close,” and all it seems to take is to get him motivated.

During the game against Baylor, there was a sequence close to the end of the first half that saw Haliburton scoring or assisting on something like 8 unanswered Iowa State points, in what seemed like less than 2 minutes, and all it took was for him to get angry. It happened directly after a missed call by a referee that led to a Haliburton turnover and an easy fast-break basket for Baylor. A visibly upset Haliburton simply took over the game as a way of showing the refs how badly they messed up. It was as if he was saying, “Tyrese Haliburton doesn’t make that kind of mistake, look at what I do.” He was everywhere on defense; picking off passes, forcing turnovers, turning those turnovers into points for Iowa State. He hit jumpers, he passed for assists, he even had a put-back dunk on a missed lay-up from a teammate he had passed the ball to on a fast-break. It was a scary display of his unstoppable basketball prowess, and it left me frustrated and asking, “Why hasn’t he been doing this all along?”

Just like Lauri Markkanen, it was an exhibition of flash-in-the-pan brilliance, the kind that leaves fans aching for more. Haliburton looked like Reggie Miller beating the New York Knicks. But in the second half of that same game against Baylor, Haliburton disappeared. He didn’t score is first field goal of the second half until the game was well and truly over, with Iowa State down by nearly 20 and less than 4 minutes left on the clock. Like I said, just like Lauri Markkanen. Was it his inability to get past defenders? Was it his unselfishness with the basketball? Was it the misuse of his talents by an incompetent coach and scheme? Probably all of the above, but it’s this sort of inconsistent production that mars the indisputable talent of Tyrese Haliburton.

All that said, Haliburton has tremendous potential, and is definitely a top 10, if not top 5, pick in this upcoming draft. He is most assuredly a player the Bulls should’ve been scouting this entire season. Even now, I am imagining a back court featuring a fully matured Coby White and Tyrese Haliburton in three or four seasons for the Bulls, and it might be the best in the entire NBA.

Until those two are playing together in front of an adoring United Center crowd, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!