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A look back at Tyrese Haliburton’s rookie season with Kings

The No. 12 pick in last year’s NBA Draft provides Sacramento with a foundational piece for the future.

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

One of the highlights of the Sacramento Kings’ 2020-21 season was the play of Tyrese Haliburton. The rookie appears to be the steal of the 2020 NBA Draft. General manager Monte McNair and the organization were lucky that 11 other teams passed on the Iowa State, and he fell in their laps at No. 12.

Haliburton finished fourth among all rookies in scoring (13.0), second in assists (5.3), and third among in 3-point percentage out of any rookie who had more than 100 attempts from beyond the arc.

The 21-year-old is among the three finalists for the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. Although LaMelo Ball or Anthony Edwards will likely win the award, it’s good to see Haliburton get some national recognition.

Haliburton’s arrival gave head coach Luke Walton a much-needed playmaking option behind star point guard De’Aaron Fox. Haliburton gave the second unit a steady offensive option when Fox was getting some rest.

The rookie’s NBA career got off to a good start. Haliburton averaged 11.2 points and 5.8 assists in January and went on to win the Western Conference’s Rookie of the Month honors.

As impressive as he was in January, Haliburton’s game went to another level the following month. He averaged 16.2 points and 5.3 assists while shooting 45 percent from deep in February and once again was named the conference’s Rookie of the Month.

An injured calf kept Haliburton out of the lineup for four games before the All-Star Break, and he was slow to recover. He struggled with his shooting once he returned, going just 18-of-53 from the field over six games before Haliburton exploded for 28 points in a win over Cleveland on March 22.

However, the Kings began to struggle as a team, and Haliburton was part of the reason why the team lost nine games in a row in March. He averaged 11.4 points during the skid, and his 3-point percentage began to slide.

Haliburton was able to turn things around following the losing streak, but his season only lasted another eight games. He injured his knee in a 111-99 win over the Dallas Mavericks, which initially appeared to be more serious than it was. Haliburton will be able to resume on-court workouts shortly.

All in all, it was a successful rookie year for Haliburton. He flashed his potential, and his game has a certain level of maturity to it not often seen in 21-year-olds.

One area Haliburton will need to improve on is his conditioning. He looked tired on certain nights, which isn’t surprising given that the last offseason was extremely limited due to the pandemic.

Haliburton said he plans on adding strength during his offseason training program during his season-ending media availability.

“Getting stronger is a big part — just kinda coming into my ‘man body’ or whatever, just living in the weight room,” Haliburton said. “At the same time, another important thing is just continuing to grow my relationships with my teammates.”

Once Haliburton improves on his conditioning, it will help with some of the consistency issues he had during his rookie campaign. One of the most difficult adjustments first-year players had to make this season was dealing with a condensed schedule and a lack of practice time, so it wasn’t surprising to see Haliburton fade during certain stretches.

The conditioning and consistency will certainly improve in Year 2. The good news for Sacramento is that Haliburton has proven that he has the potential to be a cornerstone piece for the franchise. With Haliburton and Fox as the building blocks, the Kings appear to be on the right track.

He also has the right outlook and goals when it comes to what he wants to accomplish.

“We want to get the Sacramento Kings back to the playoffs,” Haliburton said. “That’s what I am focused on for next year.”

What do you think of Haliburton’s long-term potential? Do you think he showed enough to prove that McNair should view him as a cornerstone piece?