The Sacramento Kings might not be crazy for selling high on Tyrese Haliburton

Two days prior to Thursday's NBA trade deadline madness, the Sacramento Kings did something.

It's a #KANGZ world we live in, so naturally the move was widely panned across the airwaves and the worldwide web -- and for good reason, too. Why would this team, currently 21-36 with a bottom-five Net Rating, deal its best young prospect? Particularly when said prospect has averaged 17 and 9 over the past 24 games?

(From Kevin Pelton's trade grade series on

Despite all the public outcry, I'm actually not opposed to the concept of selling high on Tyrese Haliburton, here's why:

But the former points raise some valid concerns. After a minuscule, P.J. Tucker-like usage of 9.2 percent as a freshman, Haliburton underwent a drastic build-up to… 20.1 percent. The chase for efficiency is admirable, but part of being alpha/main offensive engine is generating buckets when nobody else can – even if it results in a stat line that isn’t always clean and sparkly. Something is clearly amiss when the shooting numbers for a team look like this, which begs the question: Is Tyrese Haliburton inherently too unselfish, or is he merely incapable of soaking up a greater burden?

This excerpt from my pre-draft scouting report of Haliburton, when despite posting ludicrous efficiency numbers for the 2019-20 Cyclones, the team was actually a middling offense (39th out of 87 in Offensive Rating among high-major schools). I was skeptical of his upside for this reason.

Tyrese is a basketball supercomputer — pinging the rock to the open man, scurrying around the arc without the ball, making incisive decisions off closeouts — but at the same time, sometimes it's imperative to disrupt the algorithm. Throw the risky pass. Play with physicality/force. Put your head down and get to the rim.

While Haliburton has clearly excelled in the league thus far, has he broken this mold? Or is he still what he's always been, a superstar in his role?

Even for a limited Sacramento team, Haliburton never soaked up a larger scoring burden -- as all three of De'Aaron Fox (18.2), Buddy Hield (15.9), and Davion Mitchell (14.5) all outpaced him (12.0) in field goal attempts per 36 minutes. Tyrese upped the ante a bit in his final 8 games in the Purple and Black — when De'Aaron Fox was nursing an ankle injury — but both his own and the team's efficiency fell off as a result.

To me, this hints at a greater issue with Tyrese Haliburton: the very clear limitations in his game.

The Oshkosh native is a very peculiar player, with a distinct set of strengths and weaknesses. These weaknesses are threefold, and they all work in concert to impact Haliburton's shot-creation ability.

1. Handle

Aside from a few quick crossovers, Tyrese doesn't really have any moves. It's almost like he's dribbling with a pair of oven mitts on.

The only time he's able to fool defenders is through the threat of his jump shot.

This lack of deception is by no-means a deathknell, but Haliburton is also extremely uncomfortable playing with his left hand. He might as well be Hansel Emmanuel out there. There was a December game against the Warriors where the game-plan was clearly to "keep Tyrese Haliburton away from the right side of the floor." How do you build a team around a blemish this drastic?

2. Rigidity/frame

Haliburton doesn't really have layers to his attack -- something to cause a major reaction from the defense. Tyrese's slender frame is a prime culprit of this. Watch here as Tyrese is unable to keep his defender Alec Burks on his bank ("put in jail") and therefore can't puncture the Knicks defense.

Among the 27 players with at least 300 pick-and-roll (ball-handler) possessions in 2021-22, only LaMelo Ball, Darius Garland, Dejounte Murray, and Reggie Jackson sport lower free-throw rates. And like many of us skinny folk, Haliburton possesses incredibly tight hips. Exploding through defenders (a la Luka Doncic) or gliding around them (a la Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) simply isn't in the cards, at least not right now.

It's as if Tyrese Haliburton is playing in a box, and things get messy when he tries to power through it.

3. Finishing ability

This also manifests itself in scoring around in the rim. Without much vertical pop, Tyrese often resorts to high flips off the glass and other difficult touch shots to avoid shot blockers.

On the season, he's making just 49.1% of his two-pointers -- the lack of a charity-stripe visitations to buoy his percentages hurts here as well.

Tyrese Haliburton has done admirably to adapt in the face of these stark limitations. Firstly, he has a brilliant court-sense and awareness of the other nine players. His vision truly has no bounds. Here he spots Kuminga helping from the corner and effortlessly whips a laser through odd spacing.

Haliburton is a special passer, but he's also capable of manipulating defenses on a game-to-game basis. Act one is how he opens up passing windows with his eyes.

One of the preeminent kings (no pun intended) of the jump pass. Act two, which is key, is how he engages the defense to believe that he's a scoring threat -- thus unlocking new passing avenues to his teammates. Watch here as he stays patience through rescreens (even with DiVincenzo going under) until he forces a rotation, then holds off the corner man sinking down.

Or here, as he feints that he's going to challenge Mitchell Robinson at the rim until the very last moment.

He's even shown a nascent stop-and-start element this season.

A left-handed hesi!

This craftsmanship is how Tyrese Haliburton sits near the top of the league in assist-to-usage ratio (whereas his former teammate De'Aaron Fox ranks near the bottom). Credit him for adding a decent floater package as well. At a certain point though, the newest member of the Pacers needs to concoct more surefire methods of actually bending the defense, which leads to our next point...

For his career, Haliburton is 105 of 270 (38.9%) on pull-up 3s. Only Troy Daniels (327 attempts), Stephen Curry (2,701 attempts), Kyle Korver (391 attempts), and Seth Curry (413 attempts) have shot a higher percentage in the NBA. This seems to be a revelation for Haliburton and his career arc...or is it?

The story of Tyrese Haliburton's existence: ruthlessly efficient, insufficient volume. Haliburton ranks second in the league in pull-up three percentage in 2021-22, yet takes less than 3 of them per-game (for context, 37 players take at more). So what gives? Between his unselfishness, funky release, or something else, Tyrese Haliburton hasn't fully unlocked this weapon. Defenses still duck under screens. I'd like imagine the fully-formed version of Haliburton bombs away with impunity, but I need to see it first. The evolution of his off-the-dribble shooting is likely the most important swing factor in his development as a franchise cornerstone in Indiana.

But when you piece together all of the deficiencies to Tyrese's game, his limited ceiling zooms into focus. He's never been a go-to scorer, and it's difficult to imagine he ever will. Per Cleaning the Glass, Sacramento attempted just 28.6% of its field goals within 4 feet with Haliburton on/Fox off -- good for 28th in the league over a full season. This is just one of the costs of Haliburton's play style as a primary option. Another is that his teammates are forced to take the more difficult (often late-clock, self-generated) shots from the field.

Is a star really wired to feed Damian Jones there? Per Second Spectrum, 41.1% of Haliburton's field goals are taken early in the shot clock (at least 15 seconds left), second to only Terence Davis.

According to pbpstats, every King aside from De'Aaron Fox shot better inside-the-arc when Tyrese was off the floor.

Player With Without
Alex Len 52.4% 61.5%
Buddy Hield 41.2% 42.7%
Chimezie Metu 52.3% 60.0%
Damian Jones 66.2% 67.9%
Davion Mitchell 44.5% 49.1%
De'Aaron Fox 52.0% 50.3%
Harrison Barnes 49.8% 50.9%
Marvin Bagley III 51.6% 58.9%
Maurice Harkless 62.5% 65.2%
Richaun Holmes 68.8% 69.8%
Terence Davis 50.8% 58.2%
Tristan Thompson 44.3% 60.4%

Of course, Haliburton is very, very good at basketball, and will be for quite some time. He's also the type who is best with other dynamic pieces -- the ultimate "scalable" player.

In an ideal world, he's surrounded with guys who can capitalize on the little advantages that he creates (i.e. starting the blender), or attacking a tilted defense on the second side.


Unfortunately, that's not the place that the Sacramento Kings find themselves in right now. The franchise, coming off 15 straight playoff-less seasons, is bereft of high-end talent -- and thus unable to maximize the services of an efficiency wunderkind in Haliburton. What they currently need is someone to help raise them from 35 wins to 45 wins: a floor-raiser. It makes much more sense when you examine the trade from that context.

But this line of thinking also requires faith in organization. A trust that the team's evaluation is correct about the fit of De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, and that both are worth investing in. A trust that their evaluation is right on Davion Mitchell: starting two-guard of the future. A trust that Haliburton isn't a future star in waiting.

Are you prepared to have this belief in the Sacramento Kings organization? Of course not, even if the idea of selling high on Tyrese Haliburton — with seven-plus years left of team control and the gleam of "what could be" still shining brightly — may not be crazy after all.

(This is a FanPost from a member of the Sactown Royalty community. The views expressed come from the member, and not Sactown Royalty staff.)