Eleven days ago, when Tyrese Haliburton put on a clinic at Wells Fargo Center, finishing with a career-high of 38 points and seven assists in 40 minutes, the possession which stood out most, at least as it pertains to what needs the 21-year-old will immediately address for his new team, registered as nothing on his own stat line.
After hitting several tough shots and repeatedly getting downhill with his floater, the Sixers dialed up the pressure against the second-year guard, greeting him at the level of the first screen with George Niang before following in kind with Joel Embiid’s activity on the second.
And yet, watch Haliburton: Rather than staying on ball too long or aborting his dribble, he uses a hesitation to turn the corner and immediately unloads, creating an odd-man advantage that, while amounting to no more than a hockey assist, shows upside and stands in direct contrast to the plethora of possessions this season in which either negative dribbles were required or the screener was never located, even with Sabonis opening up as a release valve.
To that point, whereas Brogdon is arguably more of a 1.75 in a positional sense, being a combo guard who can occasionally run offense, Haliburton has looked promising this season taking on increased playmaking control, averaging 19.2 points and 10 assists while shooting 50 percent on twos and 39 percent from three over the 12 games in which Fox has not played. Meanwhile, assuming Brogdon eventually returns from his Achilles injury and progresses nearer to his career mark on catch-and-shoot threes (40.5 percent) than what has been the case in 28 games this season (31.9 percent), Haliburton has the potential to exchange Fox’s speed as a second-side attacker and occasional cutter for more credible spacing, perhaps opening driving lanes at the nail or against a tilted defense for both players. Either way, while reasonably interchangeable in an offense that features plenty of sideline interactions and boomerangs between guards, there’s clear advantages to upgrading with Haliburton on-ball, whether flanked by Brogdon or Chris Duarte.
Think back to these two specific games. In Denver, recall how Austin Rivers repeatedly prevented Brogdon from using screens on his right, instead baiting him toward his weak-hand and into a crowd, as a result of his tendency to avoid going left as a shooter.
Secondly, remember what happened in Oklahoma City, when Caris LeVert finished with 10 points on 3-of-19 shooting, with Lu Dort ducking under to neuter actions involving Sabonis.
While also switching guard-to-guard screens, producing excess and inefficient iso-ball.
Now, consider Haliburton, who is comfortable going to his left against drops and unders, with automatic reads to stop-and-pop, as a 40 percent marksman off-the-dribble from deep, albeit on only 2.8 attempts per game.
That said, while certainly beneficial to have in his back pocket by comparison to what has been possible for the Pacers this season and last, he isn’t as likely as Brogdon and LeVert to face that type of coverage as a knockdown shooter, nor will he have Sabonis at his disposal as a screener, hand-off operator, and pressure release, which means more will likely fall to him as an advantage creator, especially in terms of pick-and-roll set-up.
In that regard, Myles is still going to need to improve at slipping against blitzes and making reads out of the shot-roll with more reps, but perhaps some of his possessions, where he points out of swim moves, strangely dives into traffic, or is willfully baited into posting and checked by a much smaller Josh Richardson, while Robert Williams instead matches up with Torrey Craig, will matter less (maybe?) with more functional shooting and craft on the floor to shake him loose at solo five— in the role he’s obviously wanted.
After all, there will certainly be plenty of spread two-man game between Haliburton and Hield, with the latter working as the ghost screener and spacer at the end of quarters, as the Pacers so often do. The former also has a pleasant sense of feel, whether with pass-fakes and eye manipulation to move defenders and make reads all over the floor with skip passes and early/late lobs (hi, Isaiah Jackson!). Or, as he does here, by lifting back toward half-court to create space against push coverage before setting up his defender with a cross-over to reject and ultimately inducing an over.
While perhaps not flashy; that’s rejecting a pick, at least initially, with a defined purpose.
Plus, Haliburton averages 1.2 points per pick and roll when defenses switch screens, which ranks first in the league, minimum 130 possessions, per The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor.
When aggressive, he does fun stuff like this.
Granted, mobile length can bother Haliburton without a screen, such as when Jonathan Kuminga stayed on his hip and played the part of playground bully following a switch from Gary Payton II, but as that nasty side-step three goes to show, he isn’t as reliant on attacking in those situations as Brogdon, whose release typically dictates drive-rather-than-shoot decisions against switches, at least from the top of the key.
Of course, Haliburton isn’t flawless. He can be too deferential in spots, with his usage rate in 904 minutes without Fox (20.2) ranking 32nd among the 39 players averaging at least his same volume of playing time, and there’s a case to be made that his game, built on soft touch and range, would in fact benefit from sacrificing some of his pristine efficiency for rim pressure and willingness to draw contract. In his second season, he’s shot 64 percent at the rim, but only attempted 15 percent of his shots around the basket, good for 21st percentile, while scoring a measly 2.43 points per 100 possessions as free throws — all of which are marks that point toward truncated drives and perhaps being overly selective in terms of passing out of shots.
In that way, getting consistently deeper off ball screens, as he does here with an extra dribble in bypassing the types of pocket passes he would normally deliver to Richaun Holmes in the short mid-range area, will be key to collapsing defenses for himself while also building chemistry, beyond his fake floater, with Isaiah Jackson’s vertical pop.
Defensively, Haliburton has impressive instincts away from the ball where LeVert left plenty to be desired, but the same can be said for Duarte and neither of them, nor Brogdon, should exactly be thought of as running water over screens or watertight across all types of switches, which raises questions as to who will defend high-scoring, quick guards at the point-of-attack, especially given some of the perimeter struggles on that end of the floor, which predate Turner’s absence.
Meanwhile, there will also be the matter of finishing defensive possessions with rebounds. Without Sabonis, the Pacers won’t have to get nearly as creative with defensive match-ups or pre-switching on screens, but unless Terry Taylor is in line for a larger role at the four or the team plays double big in spots (doubtful!) it remains to be seen how they will fare on the glass if Turner continues to be pressed into rotating over to clean up messes for others, while already serving as rim reaper — as he currently ranks 127th in defensive rebounding impact (i.e. if he doesn’t get the rebound, does someone else?), according to the NBA Shot Charts formulation of DREB RAPM.
Those quibbles aside, for a team that, as Chris Paul ruthlessly pointed out in Phoenix, “can’t f—-ing shoot,” there’s a certain degree of irony to finally acquiring the type of guard, along with Hield, who could’ve further opened up what Sabonis can do as a pivot point from the middle of the floor while also benefiting from everything he does to lubricate possessions. But that’s the cost of doing business and what the Pacers may lose in dimension, they will hopefully gain in potential, as Haliburton is younger, cheaper, and more malleable, with the functionality and feel to paper over some of what already was and perhaps will be missing, even as he and the team grow together in a new, likely more prevalent five-out, direction.