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Grading Haliburton's breakout rookie season with Kings

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Rarely do you see a rookie step on the floor and instantly look like he belongs at the NBA level. Tyrese Haliburton not only talked the talk, but he walked the walk in year one, and the Kings were the beneficiary.

Within a handful of games, you could tell that Haliburton was special. He can run a team, come up big in clutch time and he’s disruptive on the defensive end. 

The former Iowa State star has plenty of things to work on, but the outline of a building block player is there and year two should be exciting to watch. 

This was general manager Monte McNair’s first selection running the Kings and he hit a grand slam.


20-21 Stats: 13.0 points, 3.0 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 47.2% FG, 40.9% 3pt

Sacramento has tried a few different looks next to De’Aaron Fox, but this one feels like a long-term fix. The pairing of Fox and Haliburton just fits together seamlessly, although there is plenty of room for improvement.

The true brilliance of Haliburton is his ability to fill different roles, depending on the situation. He can stay on the perimeter, space the floor and knock down the open triple. He can score at all three levels when shots aren’t falling for others. And when a teammate needs to get involved in the offense, Haliburton is a pure set up man. 

Despite some peaks and valleys throughout the year, Haliburton proved to be an incredibly efficient player. Not only does he work well with others, but he plays within himself and rarely makes mistakes.


As a playmaker, Haliburton has elite court vision and an uncanny ability to control the movement of his team on the floor. He uses crafty moves to set up his defender and he’s one of the best lob men on the team. His jump passes can be unnerving at times, but like many other aspects of his game, Haliburton thrives in the unconventional.

Even without a standard summer league and months to learn a system, Haliburton posted an incredible 5.3-to-1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio in his first NBA season. For a player with a usage rate of just 18.1 percent, he posted a 24.6 percent assist rate.

When Haliburton needs to score, he has a variety of options at his disposal. He shot an impressive 40.9 percent from long range on the season and that number could have been higher if he had a traditional summer to build up his body for the rigors of a 72 or 82 game schedule.

While he didn’t make it a point of emphasis, Haliburton shot an impressive 43.6 percent from 10-16 feet and 46.3 percent from 16 feet to the 3-point line. His midrange game was strong, as was his floater in the lane. 

From 3-10 feet, Haliburton shot 51.4 percent, using a variety of high arching flips to score in traffic. At the rim, Haliburton knocked down 67.4, including 17-of-18 shooting on dunk attempts. He’s great in transition and a perfect fit if the Kings crank up the pace next year. 

Like Buddy Hield, Haliburton needs to find a way to get to the free-throw line. The rookie failed to record a single free throw attempt in 31 out of 58 games and he went to the stripe just once in nine other games. That means that in 40 out of 58 games, he took one free throw attempt or less. When you are a 85.7 percent shooter from the stripe, you need to find a way to get there more often.

While Haliburton was a very good rebounder at the NCAA level, that is one aspect of his game that didn’t translate well to the NBA. He posted just three rebounds per game in 30 minutes of action, with .7 of those coming on the offensive end. There is plenty of room for growth here, especially when you consider that he nearly averaged six rebounds per game at Iowa State in his sophomore season. 


When your defense is as bad as the Kings’ was this season, there are going to be very few people who get high marks. Haliburton knows his overall defense was unacceptable, but the instincts are there.

Long and rangy, Haliburton plays the passing lanes extremely well, which is why he averaged 1.3 steals per game on the season. He is a gambler of sorts, but there were countless times when he read the opposing offense perfectly and was standing in the perfect spot.

He needs to improve as an on-ball defender, but that will come with time in the weight room. Haliburton started the season at a listed 185 pounds, but there is no way he was even close to that weight by the end of the year. He needs to find a sustainable weight during the Kings’ summer program and then do his best to maintain that throughout the season.


As he gets stronger, Haliburton will find it easier to fight through screens and keep his man in front of him on the perimeter. He got pushed around a bit, especially late in the season before he went down with a knee injury. 

RELATED: Grading Hield's season for Kings after shooting struggles

Like Hield, Haliburton did a solid job of defending the arc, but once the ball found its way inside the 3-point line, he struggled. Inside of six feet, Haliburton allowed his opponent to shoot 73.3 percent on the season, 13.2 percent above average. From 10 feet in, Haliburton’s man shot 9.9 percent higher than average. 

Some of this is a team defense issue. Slow rotations left Haliburton and others on an island. But a lot of this is just the inexperience of a young player that didn’t get a true offseason build-up to learn the system and work on his body.

On the plus side, Haliburton is an engaged defender that has nice length and excellent lateral quickness. When he gets stronger and has a more conventional build-up to the season, he should show improvements. 


Grade: A

Haliburton was a breath of fresh air in Sacramento. From his play on the court to his postgame interviews, he is a player that fans instantly fell in love with and there is major potential for growth.

In year two, he clearly needs to stack on weight and get stronger if he hopes to make the leap to the starting lineup. He also needs to find his voice with the first team and not always take a secondary role with the group.

This is an elite playmaker, efficient scorer and disruptor on the defensive end. His basketball IQ is off the charts and the Kings found a big-time keeper with the No. 12 overall pick. 

Does he need to work on his game, get stronger and improve? Absolutely, but rarely do you find a steal at the back end of the lottery, especially if you are the Kings. Haliburton is a game-changer for a team in desperate need of an influx of talent.