Ever since the Kings drafted him, Tyrese Haliburton has has made his name as one of the top rookie talents in the league.
Haliburton has put together a great first year and though his stat line may not be as eye-popping as LaMelo Ball’s or Anthony Edwards’, it’s hard to grasp the full story with numbers alone.
With just a little over a month left in this shortened NBA season, the Rookie of the Year race is set to come down to the wire. Does Haliburton have what it takes to finish on top?
A Look at His Numbers
Haliburton put himself on the map, ranking second among all rookies in assists and steals, and third in points. Beyond his statistical numbers, it’s his high shooting percentages, efficiency, and defense that builds a serious case for Haliburton.
Joining the 50-40-90 club is a feat no rookie has accomplished and one only eight have ever reached. He may be attempting just 0.9 free throws a game, but the fact that he is knocking down 2.2 threes a game on a 41.8% from behind the arc is simply incredible.
Of course, the largest hurdle for making that club is the overall shooting percentage, and in that department Haliburton isn’t fooling around, posting a 48.2% for a first year guard. For reference, Fox shot 41.2% from the field in his rookie year while averaging 11.6 points a game.
On the other end of the floor it’s less straight forward. Haliburton’s defensive rating is an unsavory 116.1, but the figure does a better job of obscuring what Haliburton does on the defensive end than it does at conveying anything.
Watching Haliburton, he is a sprightly on-ball defender with a knack for intercepting passes with his way of clogging passing lanes and anticipating the opponent’s ball movement.
Most impressive among his rookie performance is the role Haliburton plays for Sacramento. It’s difficult to imagine the Kings having a a season that comes down to the last few games for a spot in the playoffs or the play-in tournament without Tyrese Haliburton.
He spent the majority of the season playing key minutes off the bench and as a key piece in Walton’s closing lineup that ranks as one of the best units in the league. Now, as a starter, Haliburton helped lead the Kings to a 7-1 record before dropping 4 straight. But even with this current losing streak, the Kings are still in the battle for a play-in tournament spot.
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His stat line sings many praises, but the Kings’ record as of late has highlighted Haliburton’s leadership, defensive presence, and IQ, which really pushes Haliburton to the top of this race.
Haliburton is having a season that merits serious consideration for the Rookie of the Year award, but as always, there are other first-year players that will give him a run for his money.
At one point this season, Ball was leading all rookies in points, assists, and rebounds while guiding the Hornets to a playoff spot.
Ball was the Rookie of the Year front-runner before breaking his wrist late in March. Although his injury was said to be season-ending at first, new reports have said that Ball might be able to see the court before the season’s end.
A handful of games at the end of the season could give LaMelo Ball enough regular season playing time to sway voters his way, but much of that relies on the quickest possible recovery and on a lull in performance for all of his fellow candidates.
With Ball injured, Anthony Edwards is Haliburton’s biggest competition for the Rookie of the Year award, and for good reason.
The first overall pick in the 2020 draft is leading all rookies in scoring and is coming off a March where he averaged 24.2 points per game, earning him the Western Conference Rookie of the Month.
Even though Edwards is a high-scoring rookie, his shooting percentages aren’t all that great, shooting just 39.4% from the field and on 16.5 shots a game compared to Haliburton’s 10.5. Edwards is taking six more shots than Haliburton each contest but is only scoring four and a half more points than Sacramento’s starting shooting guard.
The big question is if voters will take this into consideration. Although stats don’t always paint a complete picture, the fact that Edwards will probably finish the season as the highest scoring rookie will earn him a hefty chunk of votes.
But one thing Edwards is lacking is being on a good team. The Timberwolves are the worst team in the NBA and there is no competitive push for a playoff spot
In contrast, not only was Ball putting up big numbers, the Hornets were excelling. Same with Haliburton and the Kings since he was moved to the starting lineup. Charlotte and Sacramento likely wouldn’t be in their positions without their respective rookies; Minnesota would still be a bottom-feeder without Edwards, just more so.
Quickley has turned out to be a nice pick up by the Knicks after they traded for him on draft night. He is a solid player who comes off the bench for a New York team that is eighth in the Eastern Conference standings.
Among the players in the conversation, Quickley is definitely the weakest in individual numbers. He’s not putting up crazy numbers like Ball or Edwards, and even though he is scoring a modest 12.2 points a game, he’s only doing so on 38.4% shooting.
His prominent place on a playoff team will garner some votes, but if Quickley really wants a legitimate shot at coming in first in the ROY race, he will need to go off in the final month and a half for New York. Even that may be an understatement.
The case for Haliburton is a strong one, but it isn’t air-tight.
Haliburton has collected viable attention for his efficiency on both ends and his standout IQ— two aspects that go hand in hand. Rarely does Haliburton take a bad shot, and his feasible chance of reaching the 50-40-90 club backs up that notion.
Add to it his brilliant passing and what you have is a maestro with the ball. His AST/TO ratio is the best among rookies playing over 20 minutes a game and good enough for a high spot in the league.
Not only is Haliburton insanely efficient, but he has already established himself as key piece for the Kings in winning ball games.
It helps his case that LaMelo Ball will miss significant time and even with a regular season return, chances are that Michael Jordan won’t want to put his young star in the making at risk. On the other hand, Anthony Edwards begins to slide far behind Haliburton when it comes to efficiency.
With two Rookie of the Month awards already in his pocket and with the Kings looking much better since his move to the starting five, Haliburton has made a strong case.
The largest case against Hali lies in his stat line. He doesn’t lead rookies in any major statistical category, and that would be his biggest drawback.
There’s no doubt that Ball’s top-three ranking in the three major statistical categories is convincing. And Edwards’ 17.6 points per game is great for a rookie regardless of his shooting percentages and team record.
If Ball comes back and plays a handful of games as the Hornets grab a playoff spot, then it will probably go to him. Since he was putting up the best rookie numbers and leading his team to wins, a late season comeback would just confirm the award as his.
Edwards poses a problem as he is just beginning to heat up. March was the first month that Haliburton didn’t win Rookie of the Month, and Edwards was the one who scooped it up with his stellar play. If he continues to finish off the season scoring over 20 points a game, voters might not have any other choice than to give the award to Edwards.
There’s still a lot of basketball left, and a lot can happen, but the Rookie of the Year award is Haliburton’s to lose. It was LaMelo Ball’s before his injury, but as they say, the best ability is availability.
It’s unlikely that Ball will come back and play significant regular season minutes if the Hornets grab a playoff spot, while Edwards just shoots the ball way too poorly for an already poor team.
Plus, Hali isn’t merely pushing a case for the Rookie of the Year, he could very well join the 50-40-90 club. But above all, his largest argument is in the way that Haliburton looks like a seasoned vet.
Haliburton might not blow people’s minds with his stat line, but when actually watching him on the court and seeing how well the Kings have played since his transition to a starting role, he begins to separate himself from the competition.