Over the years, NBA teams have been guided by many principles when selecting players in the NBA Draft. However, getting the best player available has been a strategy at times overlooked and often misconstrued.
In an era of accumulating assets for future gain, careers have at times taken a backseat to potential trade gains or better draft capital that may or may not be realized. As such, the decision of a select few impacts the lives of many, for better or worse depending on which side you are on.
The Sacramento Kings have been largely missing rather than hitting when it comes to drafting players over the past decade but them taking Tyrese Haliburton with the 12th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft may be the point they can look back at as the moment where they finally turned the corner after more than a decade of futility.
The selection of Haliburton was an interesting one as it was seen as both a savvy and eyebrow-raising move. A highly regarded guard out of Iowa State University projected to go early in the draft, Halliburton was a big guard with two-way potential that some worried would not get enough playing time with Sacramento, which at that time was already boasting a loaded guard rotation in De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Cory Joseph, and Delon Wright.
Fast forward to the 2021-2022 season and the Kings have not only given Haliburton opportunities, but they have easily looked smart with how he has repaid their trust in him.
His statistical averages have more or less remained the same over two seasons, but the fact that he was able to maintain the same level of consistency and so far avoid the proverbial sophomore slump is a feat in itself. Part of it has been in the subtle improvements he has made with his shot selection and in turn, accuracy.
On the surface, things still look the same as Haliburton still makes nearly three-fifths of his shots from inside the 3-point line (58.2 percent versus 41.8 percent). An offseason devoted to building on strengths and ironing out weaknesses, however, has seen him shoot better from point-blank range (from 67.4 percent to 76.1 percent) and even from close to the 3-point line (51.2 percent from 46.3 percent). Not only has it allowed him to maintain the same level of production, it has also shown that he can do more with less.
When Fox was sidelined for four games due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, Sacramento got an even longer look at Haliburton with the keys to the offense. The 21-year-old averaged 18.1 points (on .496/.490/.857 shooting splits), 10.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.3 steals over that span and even played well when Fox returned.
Even prior to Fox’s injury, there have been rumblings that the Kings were opened to include the former Kentucky Wildcat in trade discussions. Haliburton’s recent string of performances have certainly stoked the fire, but it may be wise to see how the pairing works over the course of this season.
This isn’t to say that he hasn’t had his lumps, as Haliburton struggled offensively in the Kings’ 122-114 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers despite finishing with a game-high nine assists.
Limiting Haliburton was clearly on the agenda as he has continued to become responsible for much of Sacramento’s offense. Never mind that Fox had 30 points and usually has strong games against the team that could have drafted him back in 2017. The Lakers seemed to be comfortable with Fox having his way, and while it nearly bit them back in the end, clutch baskets from LeBron James and Malik Monk coupled with a zero-turnover performance from Russell Westbrook were enough to earn the victory.
Haliburton did atone for his offensive shortcomings the following night, scoring 24 points in a tough 108-102 loss to the undermanned Atlanta Hawks. Unfortunately, his streak of at least seven assists in a game came to an end, as he didn’t register his first assist until the 7:56 mark of the third quarter and finished the game with only two.
Points were not a problem for both Fox and Haliburton as they connected on a number of baskets and combined for 54 points, but it wasn’t enough to complete the comeback against the short-handed Hawks, who got points from everyone in their eight-man rotation.
With the loss, the Kings fall to 16-24, which still keeps them a half-game from the San Antonio Spurs from the last spot in the play-in. It won’t get any easier, though, as they will take on the Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers, and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the coming days.
The Sacramento Kings will likely not be competing for an NBA championship anytime soon, but those title aspirations may have been sparked the moment Tyrese Haliburton fell into their laps in the draft.