NBA 2020-21: How is Kings’ Tyrese Haliburton a contender for the Rookie of the Year?

SACRAMENTO, CA - DECEMBER 15: Tyrese Haliburton #0 of the Sacramento Kings looks on during the game against the Golden State Warriors on December 15, 2020 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBA 2020-21: Even though it is still very early to say but the No. 12 pick for the Sacramento Kings, Tyrese Haliburton has been performing really well for the franchise. He could be a contender for the Rookie of the Year. One thing is for certain, the Kings picked the right man.

Those words are rarely stitched together because the calls traditionally made by the Kings wind up being the wrong number. Or a busy signal. Well, you get the idea.

Essentially, the Kings’ Draft history is rather putrid, and what makes this even more alarming is the team has selected in the lottery for 14 straight years, some years with multiple first-round picks.

That seems almost accidental. The number of stars circumvented by the Kings in the Draft reads like a USA Olympic team: Klay Thompson, Devin Booker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker to name a few.

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In the dreaded 2016 draft, the Kings traded down from 8 to 13, missing Domantas Sabonis (11) in the process; used the 13 on Pappagiannis who was out of the NBA in three years; got the No. 22 pick in a trade and took Malachi Richardson and missed on Pascal Siakam (27); used the No. 28 pick obtained in a trade on Skal Labissiere while Murray was taken with the very next pick by the Spurs.

And just to pile on, the Kings had the No. 2 overall pick just two years ago and took Marvin Bagley III instead of Luka Doncic. This, despite the fact that Vlade Divac, the GM at the time, knew extensively about Doncic ever since the player was just into his teens and had better intel than anyone else. That’s largely why Divac is now the former GM.

But now, the Kings are happy, if understandably somewhat tempered, about the promise of Tyrese Haliburton.

One player cannot erase history, but he can cause some amnesia, and that’s what the Kings and their fans are hoping from Haliburton. Here in the very early stages of the season, Haliburton has not only shown he’s an NBA player — hey, it’s a low bar for the Kings after that 2016 draft — but his game is more mature and polished than most rookies.

In quick time, the No. 12 pick has earned the trust of coach Luke Walton and a place in a three-guard rotation with De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield that has the Kings feeling confident about the present and future of their backcourt.

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I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I worked for this, so I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m surprised or anything like that,” Haliburton said.

Haliburton came with a funky shot release that probably scared some teams, and his 175 pounds on a 6-foot-5 frame doesn’t scream a body that’s NBA-ready. Although he did beat out Tyler Herro for the Mr. Basketball title in Wisconsin, he lacked a rich basketball history as a star.

Yet: Haliburton’s ball-handling skills are a bit better than expected, his elbows-out shot is falling with impressive accuracy, and his basketball IQ allows him to make solid decisions with the ball (only four turnovers in 135 minutes).

He plays beyond his years and we all have the utmost confidence in him with the ball,” Fox said. “He steps up to the occasion. He understands the game so well … you would have thought he’s played a few years already.

Haliburton is shooting 53% from the field, 87% from the free-throw line, and making half his 3-pointers. There’s also the eye test, where Haliburton simply fits into the flow of the game, and the system, rarely forcing anything, moves well off screens and without the ball and glides into his spots.

He’s averaging 10.6 points and 4.4 assists, both top-five among NBA rookies, in 26 minutes per game while getting touches at point guard and off the ball.

With Fox bringing speed and Hield supplying the deep shots, Haliburton is contributing a mix of both and meshing well with those starters.

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He’s one of those players where you feel confident when the ball’s in his hands,” Walton said.

These are somewhat desperate times for the 3-2 Kings, if only because they own the longest playoff drought in the NBA. This is a franchise that craves and needs stability and more signs of prosperity.

Monte McNair is now in charge of the operation and the ex-Rockets front office man is off to a solid start, Draft-wise anyway. Walton had difficulty once arriving as coach last season and the Kings once again failed to make the postseason.

Several times in the last decade, the Kings gave positive signals that turned out to be false. Players came and went and superstars never materialized.

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