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2020-21 Kings Season Preview: Tyrese Haliburton

The rookie has brought some enthusiasm to this Kings squad.

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our 2020 Kings Season Preview series, where we’ll be looking ahead to what this season will bring for every member of this Sacramento roster and pondering both best and worst-case scenarios. Today, let’s start with Tyrese Haliburton.

How did he get here?

The Kings drafted Haliburton with the 12th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. He was a standout in his sophomore year, earning all-Big 12 honors for the 2019-20 season, when he averaged 15.2 points, 6.5 assists, and 5.9 rebounds per game. He also shot 62.1 percent on 2-pointers and 42.6 percent on 3-pointers during his two-year collegiate career at Iowa State. Most mock drafts had Haliburton going in the top 10, so it was something of a coup when the Kings scooped him up so late.

What is his best-case scenario for 2020-21?

Haliburton wins Rookie of the Year. Considering Haliburton’s success in college and Sacramento’s investment in him (they gave up on Bogdan Bogdanovic partly because they wanted to clear minutes for their draft pick), he will have the opportunity to put up big numbers right away. Haliburton said in his press conference immediately after being drafted that his goal is to be the NBA’s top rookie. He said he works best next to another ball handler, he wants to push the tempo, and he likes playing next to lots of shooters. The Kings did their best this offseason to provide Haliburton with all three.

The best-case scenario for Haliburton is that he immediately finds synergy with De’Aaron Fox. The two of them have a natural give-and-take as complementary ball handlers and collectively push the pace for this young Kings team. With one of them on the floor at all times, this Sacramento squad is always running and trying to get easy baskets in transition. Despite his unorthodox form, Haliburton’s shooting accuracy carries over from his Iowa State days, and he provides adequate spacing around Fox in the instances when he’s playing off the ball. At 6’5 and recently bulked up to 185 pounds, Haliburton isn’t a defensively liability. Rather, he shows off his ability to make plays on both ends of the floor by being impactful as a help defender, leading to some highlights in the other direction.

The Kings may not win a lot of games, but they’ll be competitive and exciting, and Haliburton will be one half of the engine that makes them go. He’ll live up to his nickname of “little Magic” right away and give fans a reason to watch Sacramento every night.

What is his worst-case scenario?

Fox and Buddy Hield remain the starters, and along with Cory Joseph, soak up the lion’s share of the minutes at the guard spots, leaving little time for Haliburton to get off the bench. Despite adding Alvin Gentry to the coaching staff and making a big show of revamping the offense this offseason, Luke Walton stubbornly makes the Kings play a more plodding style that doesn’t make use of multiple ball handlers simultaneously, and Haliburton only gets to play when Fox is on the bench.

Haliburton’s shooting stroke doesn't translate to the pros, and he becomes a spacing liability in the half court, where he isn’t athletic enough to create for himself. He gets picked on defensively without a long enough training camp period to learn the team’s terminology, and Walton benches him because of his mistakes on that end of the floor. As his development stagnates, the Kings question the logic of using a lottery pick to draft a guard who will be playing behind Fox and Hield, who each have multiple years left on their contracts.

Haliburton has a great opportunity to play a large role on a team that he believes is a perfect fit for his talents this season. He should be a valuable sixth man who keeps the energy level high and who impacts the game even without having the ball in his hands. Even if it takes some time to get going without Summer League and an extended training camp, Haliburton’s work ethic should enable him to be a productive rotation player by the end of his rookie season.