The San Antonio Spurs need help up front but Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton could solidify their backcourt for years to come.
There’s a solid consensus among San Antonio Spurs fans that the team should use their 2020 draft pick to select either a wing or a big man. It’s the smart path, the team could really use help up front. But there is one guard prospect who could be the perfect complementary player for San Antonio’s existing group of guards.
He doesn’t have the name recognition of LaMelo Ball, didn’t play for a blue blood program like Cole Anthony, or have the overseas appeal of Killian Hayes, but Tyrese Haliburton has spent the last two years in Ames, Iowa growing into the perfect two-way guard for the Spurs.
Selecting Haliburton might seem redundant. After all, San Antonio is already well-stocked with young guards like Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker, and Quinndary Weatherspoon. But with the uncertainty surrounding multiple free-agents this summer, adding a well-rounded prospect like Haliburton to their existing backcourt would be a smart move for the Spurs.
DeMar DeRozan has a player-option coming up and rumors surrounding the star wing indicate that he could be on the way out one way or another. Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli will both be unrestricted free agents, and Patty Mills will be on an expiring deal next season. San Antonio needs to be thinking about what the future of their team looks like.
Despite the noise coming from his two young guards, Gregg Popovich was very hesitant to play Murray and White together this year. He preferred to stagger the two, letting Murray run with the starters while White commanded the second unit. Haliburton’s ability to play on or off the ball would let him slide in next to either one of the Spurs’ current point guards in either a starting or reserve role.
Standing 6’5 with a 7-foot wingspan, Haliburton has the size to contain both guards and wings. With White and Murray, San Antonio already has one of the most promising defensive backcourts in the league. Haliburton isn’t quite as aggressive as Murray, but his defensive potential is greater or equal to White’s.
White averaged 1.3 steals and 1.8 blocks per 100 possessions this year, Haliburton shines past those with averages of 3.8 steals and 1.1 blocks per 100 possessions. White is one of the best shot-blocking guards in the league, if not the best, so it’s unrealistic to hold Haliburton to that standard. But his defensive potential is abundantly clear.
On offense, he can immediately step in as a primary or secondary playmaker. Both White and Murray function best with the ball in their hands but we’ve seen them both take steps forward in their ability to play off the ball. Haliburton’s skill as a playmaker would give the Spurs a variety of guards to lead the attack.
While at Iowa State, he showed a consistent ability to thread passes into tight windows, operate in pick and roll, and consistently set up teammates for easy buckets. He was averaging 6.5 assists per game during his sophomore season and assisting on an astounding 35.3 percent of the Cyclones baskets before his season was cut short due to injury.
Outside of racking up assists, Haliburton is a purely unselfish player. A pass-first point guard, he’s going to move the ball quickly. It’s been frustrating to see the Spurs drift away from the pass-heavy offense that leads the team to success in the past. Adding a guy like Haliburton who can move the ball quickly would go a long way towards helping San Antonio get back to the style we all miss.
As a scorer, Haliburton is an interesting prospect. He’s got the size and agility to take the ball to the hole. He averaged 62 percent on two-point attempts in his time in college. But it’s his shooting ability from outside that’s a bit of a question mark.
Like Lonzo Ball, Haliburton was an effective 3-point shooter in college but it’s not the efficiency of his shot that has given scouts pause, it’s his form. Similar to Ball, Haliburton has a bit of a hitch in his shot that makes it look odd and could give him trouble at the next level. To be fair, it works. He shot 42.6 percent from behind the arc in college. But there are concerns about his ability to sustain that.
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Continuing with the Ball comparison, we saw Lonzo take dramatic steps forward in refining his form this season. It started this summer when videos emerged of him shooting in an empty gym with a much smoother release. The success carried over into the season as he hit a career-high 38 percent of his long-range attempts.
His strange form shouldn’t dissuade the Spurs, or any other team, from drafting him. It can be tinkered with but he’s been efficient so there’s not too much to worry about. Specifically for San Antonio, the Spurs have a good track record of developing shooters. Dejounte is the most recent example.
After shooting 26.5 percent from deep in his sophomore season, DJ took a huge leap and was canning 37.8 percent of his long-range attempts before the season was put on pause. If the Spurs coaching staff can pull off a developmental leap like that there is no reason to believe they would be unable to smooth out Haliburton’s efficient yet strange looking jumper.
Finally, Haliburton has the character that you want in a young player. As an organization, the Spurs put a premium on drafting players of good character. They don’t pick knuckleheads or anyone they have questions about. There would be absolutely no concerns about Haliburton’s personality.
As his college coach, Steve Prohm told The Ringer’s Johnathan Tjarks, Haliburton is as good of a person as he is a basketball player.
“I think he’s just got a pure heart. If I had to focus on one thing, I could tell you a lot about his basketball IQ, his ability to make shots, his character. But I think he just has a pure heart,” said Prohm. “He’s just a giver. A confidence giver. An assist giver. He makes people better.”
That’s exactly the kind of young man you want to add to your organization.
They certainly have other areas they need to address, but if Tyrese Haliburton is on the board when it’s time for the San Antonio Spurs to make their pick it would be foolish to let him slip past. He could be the perfect addition to the Spurs already impressive group of young guards.