The Sacramento Kings haven't always lucked out in terms of player recruitment, but they struck gold when Tyrese Haliburton dropped to them at No.12 in the 2020 NBA Draft. The rookie sensation out of Iowa State has been one of the few bright spots for the Kings in a largely lackluster campaign.
Tyrese Haliburton has been impactful right away with his pinpoint shooting, feel for the game and ability to make big plays. He's featured in 54 games for the Sacramento Kings this season, averaging 12.8 points, 5.1 assists and three rebounds per game.
Tyrese Haliburton on early days in the NBA
Although he's established himself through the course of his rookie year, Tyrese Haliburton had received his seal of approval much earlier. Hall of Famer and LA Lakers great Magic Johnson had christened him "Little Magic" just a day after the NBA Draft. Haliburton is grateful for all the comparisons, but he's staying grounded.
"It's a blessing for me, and it is a really cool feeling to have people compare me to anybody in the NBA," said Haliburton. "My whole life I wanted to play in the NBA and being compared to any NBA player means the world to me. I know that to be here, I had to stay very humble and not think that I am as good as people would tell me. I always keep that underdog mentality to help me keep striving for more. It's a great honor, but I know that I have to stay grounded to reach the best of my ability as a basketball player."
Even though Tyrese Haliburton's living the dream of playing in the NBA, the road leading up to the league wasn't always straight. Haliburton had to prove his naysayers wrong, especially those who claimed that his unorthodox shooting form wouldn't translate into the NBA.
Tyrese Haliburton's redeemed himself by averaging 41.2% accuracy from downtown, but he's had to put in a lot of hard work for achieving the desired results.
"Just perfecting my craft every day," Haliburton said. "I don’t take a bunch of days off or anything and I'm really working at it to be a good shooter. In general, you have got to put a lot of reps into it, and it's not something that can be done in one day. You have to be consistent in your work ethic. It’s just something I’ve worked on basically my whole life, especially during the long pre-draft process in between, the restart of NBA and then the draft."
Tyrese Haliburton's efforts have translated into valuable production on the court and he's even in the running for the Rookie of the Year accolade. He's currently ranked fourth on the official ladder.
There's every chance that Haliburton could end up with the award but he isn't going to fret much if he doesn't.
"Rookie of the Year is a great achievement...and it would be awesome if I was able to win that," Haliburton said. "But at the end of the day it's just an award. I'm not going to let it make me feel like I didn't have a good enough season or that I did have a really great season."
Tyrese Haliburton on his clutch gene and playing winning basketball
It's not just his ability to drain buckets efficiently that separates Tyrese Haliburton from the rest of the current rookie class. Haliburton is a clutch player who's already turned up big on several occasions for the Sacramento Kings.
He scored a dagger three-pointer against the Toronto Raptors back in January despite having missed six of his previous attempts from downtown. He even scored the go-ahead for the Kings late in their win against the Minnesota Timberwolves last Wednesday.
Haliburton took the time to explain the trick that has helped him become the go-to player for his team down the stretch at such an early stage in his career:
"I grew up like a lot of different kids out there in the world who at the end of workouts go 5..4..3..2..1 shooting the ball hoping to make it. If you miss, you put another mental five seconds on the clock and keep trying to hit the game-winner before you leave. That’s something I’ve done my whole life."
It's not just the approach that helps Haliburton perform for the team in dire moments. It's also his belief that at the end of the day, you simply have to impact winning.
"My whole life I’ve wanted to be a big-time player and a great player," Haliburton declared. "I feel the best players are there to win games. When it gets to it at the end of games, you can count on them. That's always been a part of my approach my whole life. I feel like when my name is called upon, I've got to be ready to make plays."
Tyrese Haliburton on his rookie campaign with the Sacramento Kings
Interestingly enough, Tyrese Haliburton was a winning player all his life before entering the NBA. Haliburton won a state title while playing for Oshkosh North High School and was selected to the All-Big 12 Second Team during his sophomore year at Iowa State.
The situation hasn't been the same with the Sacramento Kings, who are currently the 12th seed in the West with a 24-36 record. Haliburton is learning from these previously uncharted waters too.
"I am just using these losses as lessons to learn from whenever they happen," Haliburton remarked. "It’s important because that feeling I get when we lose, that anger…I gotta remember stuff like so that I don’t continue to let that happen as my career goes on. I’m young and I hope and pray that I have a long time in the NBA to play basketball so just learning from it and using that to fuel me and make me better."
The Sacramento Kings are currently 6.5 games behind the 10th seeded Golden State Warriors. It's looking rather likely that they'll miss out on the playoffs for the 15th straight season. Tyrese Haliburton took a moment to evaluate the Kings' campaign:
"I think, we've been up and down all year, we've had stretches where we looked really good and stretches where we didn’t do that well. We are young but that’s no excuse to find. We have to find the consistent play that's going to help us not only in this year to make a playoff push but next year and as the years go on."
Even though the Sacramento Kings continue to struggle, big things can be expected of Tyrese Haliburton. He's turned up big in the Kings' loss to the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, recording 24 points and eight assists.
With De'Aaron Fox getting sidelined due to the NBA's health and safety protocols, Tyrese Haliburton will be burdened with additional responsibility. He'll be hoping to shoulder the same with aplomb while leading the Kings' final push for a play-in tournament spot.