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Is Tyrese Haliburton the Next Great Offensive Floor General?
By Mat Issa
After a 23-19 start that made them League Pass darlings and the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference (thereby granting them play-in immunity), the Indiana Pacers have faltered of late, losing seven of their last eight games.
Ah ha! The gimmicky group has been exposed and will now adhere to the bottom-feeder status they were initially pegged for at the season’s inception!
Not quite. The reason Indiana has played so poorly of late is that they have been missing their third-year stud Tyrese Haliburton, who has missed the last eight contests after simultaneously suffering a knee contusion and elbow sprain during a 119-113 loss to the New York Knicks.
Before this eight-game tailspin, the Pacers sat at a respectable 15th in Offensive Rating under Haliburton’s watchful eye. But since his injury, they have been operating as the second-worst offense in the association.
There’s no way it’s all Haliburton. No one player can have that giant of an impact.
Under normal circumstances, this counterargument is generally true. No one player is an island. Basketball is a team game. Teams win games, not players.
But Haliburton isn’t just an ordinary player. And it’s not just because he’s young and full of promise (you know how we tend to overrate youngsters’ ceilings). It’s the massive leap he’s taken this season. One that has left a statistical footprint that suggests superstardom.
By using our Global Search Tool, we can create a set of filters that helps us pinpoint players throughout league history (dating back to 1980) who have posted comparable seasons to Haliburton.
Before you look, I’d sit down because the list of names you’re about to see may surprise you.
Cerebro Statistical Query: The only NBA Players since 1980 with a PSP, 3PE, FGS, and DSI of between 80 and 100, and an ATR between 50 and 70 (minimum 30 games played)*
*Data Provided by Cerebro Global Search Tool
See Haliburton’s Full Profile Here
Yep. Literally only All-Star guards are included on this list with Haliburton (who is hopefully a soon-to-be All-Star himself).
Now, for the purposes of our examination, let’s narrow our focus to four names on that list: Tyrese Haliburton (obviously), Mark Price, James Harden, and Stephen Curry.
NBA historians likely know Mark Price as the prototype for the future captain of the Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns. A sort of Steve Nash before Steve Nash, if you will. And just like his future successor, Price was an offensive juggernaut.
Haliburton is similar to Price (and Nash) in that he is an inherently selfless offensive focal point. If the season were to end today, Haliburton would stand to be the league leader in assists, averaging 10.2 per game. On top of that, he hardly makes a mistake while partaking in his magnanimous endeavors, posting an assist-to-turnover rate of 3.9 to 1 (Price’s career-best was 3.36 to 1).
It’s this combination of playmaking volume and efficiency that makes these two guards the only players from the list above with a Floor General Skills (FGS) score of over 90.
(Sidenote: Nash also had nine seasons with a FGS of 90 or higher but didn’t qualify for our Global Search because of his lower defensive playmaking numbers.)
When he’s not creating for others, Haliburton is a lethal scorer for himself. After all, even in today’s scoring-inflated league, you don’t earn 20.2 PPG by just showing up.
Haliburton’s weapon of choice for bucket-getting is the three-point shot (97th percentile in our 3-Point Efficiency metric this season). However, because his team lacks any serious advantage creators outside of himself, he hardly ever gets to profit off of easier catch-and-shoot opportunities – only 24.3% of his 7.4 threes per game are of the catch-and-shoot variety (per NBA.com).
No matter, even the tougher pull-up jumper is an efficient shot for this marksman, as he’s knocking down 40.5% of his 5.5 attempts per game.
This brings us to the James Harden comparison. Remember a couple of years ago when Harden first started executing that zero-step stepback jumper that everyone thought was a travel? Well, Haliburton doesn’t care what you think. He’s embraced Harden’s creation and added to his own repertoire (as well as his elongated sidestep jumper).
One knock against Harden that he’s had to endure for his entire career is that he is mostly stationary after he gives the ball up. This deficiency is not unique to Harden. It is a common tendency among many high-usage ballhandlers to stop contributing once the ball has left their hands.
As we’ve been trying to establish, Haliburton isn’t with the status quo. When he gives the ball up, he’s immediately looking to cut, come off a screen, or set one himself. It’s in this way he bears resemblance to known off-ball assassin Stephen Curry.
Haliburton runs around the court with the endurance of a seasoned marathon runner, and his perpetual movement puts an even greater strain on his adversaries because they can’t relax after they force the ball out of his hands. They have to keep defending him for all 24 seconds of the shot clock, just like teams do with Curry.
Speaking of running up and down the court, we need to introduce one more name into the Haliburton puzzle: Magic Johnson.
Since he never shot many threes, Johnson never posted a 3-Point Efficiency of 80 or higher during his playing days, so he didn’t fall under the conditions of our query. But still, one could argue that he’s the player Haliburton plays like the most.
As we said, the Pacers don’t have much in the way of creation outside of Haliburton (there’s a reason people thought they would be bad), and as a result, they don’t have a very dynamic halfcourt offense (25th in halfcourt offense, per Cleaning the Glass). So, to remedy this, they try to push the pace as much as possible to circumvent halfcourt stagnation, and get straight into transition (2nd in transition efficiency).
And there is likely no greater modern-day conductor to a transition-heavy offense than Haliburton. Whether it be off of makes, misses, or forced turnovers, it doesn’t matter. The Indiana Pacers look like the Indiana Lakers, and Haliburton looks like a Midwest Magic Johnson.
Now, Haliburton isn’t without his flaws as an offensive player. Even as a 20+ point per game scorer, his volume isn’t as high as the all-timers (81st percentile this season), and he also doesn’t generate as many free throw attempts as you’d like to see from a player of his caliber (59th percentile).
But even with those minor shortcomings, the similarities between Haliburton and these four offensive legends are undeniable. Price’s (and Nash’s) playmaking volume and efficiency, Harden’s self-generated shooting, Curry’s insatiable thirst for movement, and Johnson’s penchant for pace and pazazz. These are the pieces that make up Haliburton’s programming.
Those are special pieces, and it makes sense because Haliburton is a special offensive player.