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Experts Analysis

Hali-lujah: Making the case for Haliburton as a top-5 fantasy player

by Zak Hanshew
Updated On: October 10, 2022, 4:39 pm ET

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The mythos surrounding Tyrese Haliburton continues to evolve as the 2022-23 NBA season approaches. And with it, his fantasy basketball ADP. After a surprising rookie campaign with Sacramento in 2020-21, he followed it up with an even better sophomore season in which he finished 22nd in per-game fantasy basketball value and developed an almost cult-like following that's approaching De'Anthony Melton levels of fandom. 

This fantasy hoops writer is ready to don a hoodie and put on some black and white Nikes in support of Hali. I put my money where my mouth is and ranked him in the top-5 of my NBC staff rankings, so this is far from pre-season bluster. The ranking may seem a bit ludicrous, but it can be defended, and that's what I'm going to do as I lay out why Tyrese Haliburton will finish the 2022-23 season as a top-5 fantasy player in 8-cat leagues.

The Numbers

The No. 12 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft quickly proved that his slide down draft boards was a mistake for the 11 teams who passed on him. As a rookie, Hali averaged 13.0 points, 5.3 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 0.5 blocks and 2.1 threes. Per Stathead, he's the only rookie in history to average those numbers. As if the historical performance wasn't enough, he did it with shocking efficiency, posting shooting splits of 47.2% from the floor, 85.7% from the charity stripe and 40.9% from beyond the arc. Haliburton finished 65th in per-game fantasy value in 9-cat leagues and 70th in 8-cat, despite playing a majority of the season in De'Aaron Fox's shadow.

Sophomore slump? Haliburton never heard of it, as he finished the 2021-22 campaign with averages of 15.3 points, 8.2 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 0.6 blocks and 2.1 threes while shooting 47.3% from the field, 84.2% from the free-throw line and a blistering 41.4% from three. He finished 22nd in 9-cat per-game fantasy value (21st in 8-cat) and seventh in totals thanks to 77 games played. Haliburton's major leap came with just a minor jump in usage from 18.2 to 19.0. Now that he's the guy in Indiana, what kind of usage can we expect in 2022-23?

Usage

Remember that Fox guy I mentioned above? He's a player who needs the ball in his hands, and he saw a healthy 29.7 usage rate in 91 games with Haliburton. In those 91 contests, Hali saw a 17.2 usage rate with averages of 12.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.6 blocks, 46.5/41.9/82.6 shooting splits and 2.0 triples. In 44 games without Fox, Haliburton's usage rate jumped to 21.3, and his production got a strong boost to 17.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 9.5 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.5 blocks and 2.2 triples. Surprisingly, the 23.8% bump in usage rate didn't coincide with a decline in efficiency. His shooting splits were 48.5/39.9/86.1in those contests. In his first full season with the Pacers, Haliburton is expected to see another jump in usage, and if we calculate a 25% increase from his 21.3 usage rate without Fox, we can project him at 26.6. 

Usage rate isn't everything, but historically, players who finish in the first round and especially in the top-5 have usage rates closer to 30.0, rather than the 21.3 Haliburton has commanded without Fox in the lineup. Most importantly, Haliburton's efficiency didn't suffer with expanded usage. As a player who will push for 20 points per game, he's not going to be in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid or Bradley Beal territory with his scoring. Instead, his fantasy value will be driven by high assist and steal numbers and elite efficiency. Players typically suffer a decline in efficiency when asked to take on a substantially larger role, which is where some of the doubt about Haliburton's ceiling comes into play. His 41 games without Fox are a strong indication of how well he can perform as Indiana's go-to scorer and perimeter defender. Increases in the abovementioned counting stats with relative similarity in efficiency is how Hali will ascend into the top-5.

Highlights and History

How high can this guy fly? Let's take a look at some of his highlights from the 2021-22 season and some historical firsts on his resume.

Haliburton scored a career-high 38 points in a January 29 loss to the Sixers, adding seven assists, three rebounds, three assists and five triples.

He scored 30 points in an April 1 loss to Boston, adding three steals, two assists and a rebound while cooking on 6-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc.

Haliburton is one of 10 players under the age of 22 to record at least 17 assists in a single game. The two most recent before him to do it were Trae Young and Luka Dončić, players who are perennially selected in the first round of fantasy drafts. Hali finished with 25 double-doubles last season, which marked a career-high. 

Per StatMuse, he's one of four 21-year-olds with at least 17 assists in a game over the last 15 seasons, joining Darius Garland, Doncic and Trae. His 17-assist performance on April 3 against Detroit came with zero turnovers, and he joined LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul and Steve Nash as the only players with 17 assists and zero turnovers in a game over the last 15 seasons.

Haliburton had a blistering stretch of play from December 17 through January 2. In nine games, he averaged 19.3 points, 10.4 assists and 2.7 triples while shooting better than 50% from the floor. He recorded double-digit assists in eight of those contests and became the first Kings player in 40 years to post four straight games with at least 20 points and 10 dimes.

I used Stathead's season finder to identify players 20-22 years old who finished a single season with averages of at least 15.0 points, 8.0 assists, 2.0 threes, 1.5 steals and 0.5 blocks on 46% shooting from the floor and 40% shooting from beyond the arc. Haliburton was the only result, and after removing the age parameters, I found that he's the only player of any age to have such a season. In addition to these remarkable firsts, he's also one of 15 players in NBA history to average 8.0 assists and shoot 40% from three in a single season, and the youngest by far at age 21. The next youngest on the list is Chris Paul, who did it at the ripe old age of 24.

In 2021-22, he finished 12th overall in steal rate and 8th in block rate among guards. Haliburton's efficiency on offense and ability to rack up defensive stats makes him quite a unique fantasy player, and guys who can provide substantial production in out-of-position categories such as blocks (Derrick White, Matisse Thybulle) are always valuable in fantasy hoops. 

Scoring

When examining Haliburton's game critically, it's important to address his scoring. After averaging just under 15 points per game through two NBA seasons, it's appropriate to ask if he can be a team's go-to offensive weapon. Here's what we know about his offensive game:

  • Among players with at least 1.0 field goal attempts per game in isolation situations, Hali trailed only Stephen Curry (1.2) for highest points per possession (PPP) at 1.18.
  • As a pick-and-roll ball handler, he ranked 14th in points per game at 7.7
  • Among players with at least 5.0 pull-up shots per game, Haliburton tied Trae Young for seventh in eFG% at 53.0%
  • Haliburton ranked 11th in three-point percentage at 41.4%

Will Haliburton ever be among the league's top scorers? It's highly unlikely, as his game is predicated on efficiency and distribution. Can he be a 20 point per game guy with the upside to push that average into the low or even mid-20's? Absolutely. 

Team Stats

Haliburton's arrival in Indiana caused noticeable improvements on offense. Here are the Pacers' ranks before and after the All-Star break last season. Haliburton appeared in all 22 of Indiana's games after the break.
 

 

Offensive Rating

Points Per Game

FG%

3PT%

Pre All-Star Break

111.9 (18th)

109.3

45.7

33.5

Post All-Star Break

117.9 (13th)

117.4

47.8

36.9

The fact that he was able to come to a new team and immediately make such a strong impact with limited talent on the roster speaks volumes about his abilities and his sky-high ceiling.

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Supporting cast

The current over/under for Indiana's wins is set at a paltry 23.5, tied with Houston and Oklahoma City for second lowest behind only San Antonio. Oddsmakers are so down on Indiana that Orlando and Oklahoma City are both projected to win more games. Indiana will be a fun team to watch, and there are plenty of fantasy breakouts and sleepers to keep an eye on, but this isn't a team bound for the playoffs. 

The biggest “star” on the team is arguably shot-blocker extraordinaire Myles Turner, whose name has seemingly been on the trade block for the last five seasons. Turner has had trouble staying on the court in each of the last two seasons, averaging just 44.5 games in that span.  

Buddy Hield is the only guy on the team who's averaged 20 points per game in a season, Turner isn't known for his offense, and Bennedict Mathurin could be a capable scorer, but he's unproven as of yet. Offseason rumblings indicate that Hield and Turner may not even be on the roster when the season starts, so to say Haliburton has little competition for touches is a complete understatement.

Haliburton's expectations for himself are quite high heading into the season. He said, “It's not necessarily something set in stone but I want to be a 20/10 player (20 points and 10 assists per game). And I want to be All-Star. Those are my two main goals this season, that's what I have in mind.” A 20/10 season is very realistic given his end of season performance with the Pacers.

Centerpiece

Sacramento shocked the NBA world when the team decided to trade Haliburton and Buddy Hield for Indiana's All-Star big man Domantas Sabonis right before last year's trade deadline. Sabonis was a big addition for struggling Sac-Town, and Haliburton was the crown jewel of the trade package needed to acquire him. Indiana wouldn't have traded Sabonis if it wasn't fully confident in Haliburton's ability to become the eventual face of the franchise. 

In a recent interview for Basketball News, Pacers' GM Chad Buchanan likened Haliburton to Reggie Miller, saying, “We're gonna build our team around him. We had a Reggie Miller mural painted on a building in downtown Indianapolis, and I think our dream is that one day Tyrese will have [his own] up somewhere in downtown Indianapolis.” 

That's high praise for a guy who's only played two months with the team, but Buchanan and his staff must love what they see from Haliburton. 

To reinforce the notion that he can lead the team, Indiana traded Malcolm Brogdon to Boston for peanuts in the offseason, cementing Haliburton's role as Indiana's primary scorer and facilitator.

How he can finish in the top-5

Haliburton has been impressive in his two NBA seasons, but is there really a way for him to finish in the top-5? Let's compare him to some other players with similar points, assists, threes and steals. 

James Harden is the only player ever to average at least 20.0 points, 10.0 assists, 2.0 threes and 1.5 steals while shooting 44% from the field. Why are those numbers significant? Haliburton averaged 17.5 points, 9.6 assists, 1.8 steals and 2.2 threes in 26 appearances with Indiana to close the season. He did so while shooting 50.2% from the field. If he takes the next step forward as a scorer and distributor, it's not hard to imagine him averaging an extra 2.5 points and 0.4 assists per game. If we account for a drop off in efficiency, he's still likely to shoot better than Harden's 44%. Harden averaged 29.1 points, 11.2 assists, 8.1 boards and 3.2 triples that season (2016-17), and Haliburton's rebounding numbers likely won't creep that high. What he lacks in that department, however, should certainly be compensated by his strong efficiency.

If we take Haliburton's Indiana stats from the end of last season and extrapolate them to a full season, they're historically unique. Only four seasons exist in which a player has averaged at least 17.5 points, 9.5 assists, 2.0 threes and 1.3 steals for a single season: Harden in 16-17 and in 21-22, Russell Westbrook in 16-17 and Michael Adams in 90-91. Here are their fantasy finishes:

  • Westy finished 8th in 9-cat but had 5.4 TOs per game. He finished 2nd in 8-cat
  • Harden was 7th in 9-cat in 16-17 with 5.7 TOs per game but finished 1st in 8-cat
  • Adams finished 6th in 9-cat with 3.6 TOs per game but came in 4th in 8-cat
  • Harden finished 12th last season in 9-cat with 4.4 TOs per contest, but he was 6th in 8-cat

Ok, so Haliburton isn't James Harden or Russell Westbrook. We know he won't average a triple-double or score 50 points with regularity, but it's still important to point out just how rare his numbers could be in 2022-23. If you're looking for a more apt player comp, might I introduce you to Chris Paul and Dejounte Murray

Player Comps

The numbers are great, but what's Haliburton's ceiling? Has he flashed any of the incredible upside I've been ranting about, or is this just a case of a fanboy reading too much into a box score? Let's take a look at a couple of comparable players:

  • Chris Paul
    • Paul finished as a top-25 player in both 8-cat and 9-cat formats in each of his first two seasons
    • In those two seasons, he averaged 16.5 points, 8.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 2.4 TOs per-36
    • Haliburton averaged 15.7 points, 7.4 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 2.3 TOs per-36 in his first two seasons
    • CP3 went on to average 21.1 points, 11.6 assists (career-high), 4.0 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 2.5 TOs in Year 3
  • Dejounte Murray
    • At 6'4, Murray is comparable to Haliburton (6'5), and that length is a great defensive tool
    • Murray's biggest spike in usage came last season when he went from 23.5 in 2020-21 to 27.3 in 21-22, an increase of 16.2%
    • Murray's highest usage season saw him average career highs across the board with 21.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 9.2 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.6 TOs
    • His shooting went from 45.3% to 46.2%, increasing in efficiency despite a higher usage role
    • His steal numbers increased despite the spike in responsibility as a scorer

Haliburton's efficient shooting and elite assist numbers make it easy to draw a comparison to the Point God, and if Hali follows a similar trajectory, his breakout can come in his third season just like Paul's did. Beginning in Year 3, Paul had 10 straight seasons of top-10 fantasy finishes in both 9-cat and 8-cat formats. He set single-game career-highs in points (43), assists (21) and steals (9) that season that still stand as personal bests. Haliburton's game most closely resembles Paul in that both are true floor generals who get teammates involved before scoring. Both provide solid steals, both are efficient scorers, and neither need incredibly high usage to post elite fantasy numbers. 

Can Haliburton be this year's Dejounte Murray? There was plenty of hype around Murray at this time last year after a phenomenal showing the previous season. Murray went on to finish in the top-10 and had it not been for his trade to Atlanta, he'd have been drafted in the first round this season. Both are tall with long wingspans that allow them to poke the ball free from opposing players and rack up steals.

Conclusion

Is the hype justified or will Haliburton disappoint fantasy managers who draft him in the first round? He's going to be a primary scorer and top-level defender for a bad team, which means plenty of minutes and a ton of production. The biggest question mark is his efficiency and whether it will remain elite despite a presumed jump in usage. First-round fantasy players almost always have high usage rates, but Haliburton can be the exception to that rule, much like Chris Paul was for many years in his prime. If Hali can keep his shooting percentages near where they've been through his first two seasons, the 20/10 double-doubles with strong steals will propel him into the upper stratosphere of fantasy hoops glory. He's a top-5 pick this season and will be a consensus selection there in 2023-24 drafts and for years to come. Hali-lujah

Zak Hanshew

Zak is a blessed father of four, lucky husband and proud WVU alum. He’s been covering fantasy sports for more than three years for multiple sites. When he’s not writing, he can usually be found strumming his guitar, laughing way too hard at Simpsons re-runs or watching whatever NFL or NBA games are on. You can find him on Twitter @ZaktheMonster.