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Impact Player: Tyrese Haliburton

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He’s the hero we need and the hero we deserve.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Iowa State Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

If I told you that the MVP of Iowa State at the halfway point is Tyrese Haliburton, I don’t think a lot of people could disagree. Through 16 games, the true freshman is averaging 8.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 2.2 steals per game. He’s shooting an incredible split of 55.7% from the floor and 46.7% from three. He’s also showing shades of Monte Morris with a 4.7-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. And probably the most impressive, he’s playing the most minutes a game in the Big 12 at 34.4 per game. Those stats are unheard of as a TRUE freshman.

His stats alone are very impressive, but the impact he has on the floor goes well beyond numbers. I’m going to take a dive into what aspects of the game make Haliburton such a great player.

Disclaimer: Most of this article was written before the K-State game.

Defense

It’s no secret that Steve Prohm preaches intensity on the defensive side of floor, and it shows this season. This has been one of Iowa State’s best defensive teams in recent memory. A lot of that can be attributed to effort and competitiveness because that’s what defense mainly is. But, you can compete all you want on defense and if you don’t have the intangibles or attributes necessary, it’s pretty easy to be bad at defense.

Tyrese Haliburton competes on defense and goes all out, but he’s also blessed with a 6’5 frame and crazy length. Another thing that he has that you can’t teach is the intangibles. He looks like he has played basketball for a long time and loves to do it. The comparison I would make is another true freshman we saw make a huge impact in Ames, Mike Rose. The linebacker clearly had played linebacker for a long time and had the instincts of one. Effort, talent, and smarts clearly make for one helluva defender.

I went back and rewatched the Kansas game and was watching Haliburton on almost every single play, because, being the nerd I am, watching that type of defense is just eye candy.

This steal above is the first of four he had against Kansas. At first glance, this just seems like a normal steal. But the more I watched it, the more impressive it was to me. Haliburton was in the process of getting back on defense and closing out on Qunetin Grimes in the corner. However, he still used his awareness and length to break up a very good pass from Lagerald Vick.

This play doesn’t show up in the stat sheets because he doesn’t get credit for a block here. Even though he doesn’t get the block, this is about as great of man to man defense you will see. He moves his feet and forces Grimes’ momentum away from the hoop. Along with that, he gets up in his grill to affect the shot and still not foul him.

This play is similar to the last. Marcus Garrett drives in on Tyrese at the end of the shot looking for a runner in the paint. Haliburton plays great defense once again by moving his feet, this leads to him having great position thanks his length. Garrett has to pass out to the perimeter at the end of the shot clock, forcing a bad shot.

It looked like Kansas had an automatic dunk but the length of Haliburton prevented that. Kansas is generally one of the best fast break teams in the country and had a 2 on 1, that just makes this steal all the more impressive.

This is one of those plays where instincts pay off. Tyrese knew exactly what Vick was going to do and he used his quick hands to pick pocket Vick. In my opinion, this is the basketball equivalent of “mossing” someone, which is something that Tyrese tends to do a lot. This steal also led to a great offensive sequence (that you’ll see in a bit.)

This is just a few plays from the Kansas game, but in just these few plays he helped change the course of the game.

Offense

This is where things get scary. Haliburton is really good on offense and he is just scratching the surface of what he can be at Iowa State. ESPN color commentator and fan favorite, Fran Fraschilla said “he’s like a 6’5 Monte Morris.” That is pretty high praise for a freshman, and it might be an unrealistic expectation to live up to, but when you look back at Monte as a freshman, it’s not too far fetched.

Monte Morris came into Ames with not a whole ton of expectations during his freshman year. A lot of people maybe even thought he might redshirt because it would’ve been hard to find minutes behind Deandre Kane and Matt Thomas. He proved that to be silly and was instantly one of the best players on the court. His skill set was ball and game control along with efficiency and smarts.

Sound familiar? That is pretty much exactly how I would describe Haliburton on offense. The similarities between the two are undeniable.

Even though their skillset and styles are very similar, I think the most important trait is how effortlessly they control the offense when they are on the floor. Much like Monte, Tyrese is always one step ahead of everyone on the court and almost always puts himself in the right position on the court.

Iowa State’s offense is at it’s peak when they are running and the ball ends up in Haliburton’s hands at some point. Whether that be him dribbling up court and finding the open man or when he is the open man, if the ball goes through him, it’s likely that points will be scored.

However, there are many ways that Haliburton changes the offense. So I’ll be going over some different ways he did that in the fKU game.

This first play was probably his best play of the game. Lindell Wigginton did a great job of drawing help which spaced out the floor and allowed Haliburton to make this incredible no look pass. From the second he touched the ball, Lard was clearly his number one option. He used his eyes to deceive the defense, because they obviously ignored Lard. Haliburton’s quick hands also delivered a rocket that gave no Kansas defense time to recover and contest the dunk.

Coming off of a steal, Haliburton was lagging behind on the play. That didn’t matter, in fact he used it to his advantage. He saw that Kansas was also short handed, because Vick was also behind the play. Tyrese attacked the weak side of the floor and had a chance for a high percentage layup. He saw two guys in white shirts and one in blue and found a wide open Nick Weiler-Babb, resulting in a three. This is a case of passing open a good shot for a great shot which usually bodes well in transition.

This assist is nothing special, it’s just smart and fundamental basketball. Instead of attacking the basketball at a disadvantage, he holds the ball back and lets the offense come to him. That leads to Shayok being found in stride and knocking down a jumper.

Those were all three of Haliburton’s assists in this game and if you look for something in common in all them it’s the tempo. In all three, he was going downhill and being aggressive. The offense will be best going forward with the ball in Tyrese’s hands and with the offense running.

This play right here just speaks to how good of a shooter he is. Devon Dotson closed out about as well as you can, but Tyrese still got his high arching shot to go in. There is a reason that he leads the Big 12 in three point percentage.

And he’s got (Naz) range.

And this one.

You get the point. He’s a great shooter. He’s a great passer. And he’s really smart. Those are three traits that will make for a really good player.

The Bad

He’s just a freshman, so obviously there is a lot he can work on. The good news is that he’s a freshman, yet he’s is averaging less than one turnover per game and is very mature.

One glaring issue I see is strength. Standing at 6’5 and 160 pounds is obviously something that will affect him over course of his career. The good news is that Haliburton has only been in Ames for half of a year and has reportedly put on the freshman fifteen (the good kind.) If he continues to hit the weights, strength should only be a short term problem.

Here is one instance where Haliburton did everything right on the switch but just got out muscled by the bigger Lawson.

Another thing that could be seen as a problem in his game is aggressiveness. He’s not always aggressive and sometimes he will go on long stretches of just standing in the corner. This could be in part of other players hogging the ball and stalling the offense, which Iowa State tends to do a lot. Nonetheless, if Tyrese was aggressive all of the time instead of 50% of the time, I think we would see a positive change in Iowa State’s offense.

The last issue is something that every freshman struggles with, even Zion Williamson. Consistency. Tyrese will have some really good games and some really bad ones. He’s had a game with 17 assists this season and he’s had several with 0 assists. Consistency is something that gets better with time, there is no doubt in my mind that Haliburton will only get better.

At this point, Iowa State is 2-2 in Big 12 play and is coming off of two terrible losses. In the loss against Baylor, Haliburton was not on the floor for the last five minutes of the game. It’s not a coincidence that the Iowa State offense stalled at the end. Against K-State, Haliburton barely touched the ball in the last two and a half minutes. It’s not a coincidence that when he wasn’t involved, the offense stalled and Iowa State lost.

Iowa State is in a rut right now but it’s comforting knowing that Iowa State and the season is young. It’s still going to be a fun ride, especially knowing that Iowa State has a player with a chance to be one of the best in school history.