EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

NBA Draft Combine: Killian Hayes, Tyrese Haliburton assess their games

Oct 2, 2020, 2:00 PM
Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton celebrates after making a three-point basket during the second h...

Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton celebrates after making a three-point basket during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma State, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 89-82. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

With six weeks to go until the 2020 NBA Draft, we’ve still got some time for the picture in the lottery to clear up a bit.

Aside from Georgia guard Anthony Edwards and Memphis center James Wiseman feeling like a firm lock to go in the top-5, everything else seems up in the air. Point guard LaMelo Ball should be included in that group, but honestly, who knows with him. He has more than earned a platinum-level wild card status.

There’s a muddled-up group from 4-14 that doesn’t grant much clarity beyond who we can assume is more likely to go in the top-half than the bottom-half, and vice versa.

With that in mind, the two names at point guard that are the consensus top ball-handlers outside of Ball are France’s Killian Hayes and Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton.

The Phoenix Suns have a clear need for a third guard and also an eventual successor to the 29-year-old Ricky Rubio. This draft suits them well to find that player, and that pair of names is the two being mocked to Phoenix the most at this point.

From an outside perspective, the 19-year-old Hayes is someone evaluated as a combo guard.

The lefty is ranked highly at this point for his scoring prowess, particularly at all three levels. His three-point shooting was a disappointing 29.4% this past season in Germany, but like most of his game, he’s smooth shooting off the dribble and that’s a big plus for the NBA transition.

Hayes averaged 11.6 points and 5.4 assists per game for Ulm in Germany on 24.8 minutes a night, and has the size and athleticism to play both spots at 6-foot-5.

There’s a lot to clean up, like that shooting efficiency and his handle, but the upside for Hayes as a primary initiator who can do everything you want a lead ball-handler to do is there.

So it’s interesting that while mentioning he’s comfortable at both guard spots, Hayes consistently referred to himself as a point guard and being a floor general while on a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday.

That shined through when he was asked about the Suns.

“A team like that that already has a great scorer like Devin Booker, just trying to make the game easier for him,” he said of what he’d look to do in Phoenix.

The 19-year-old prioritized a move to play professionally in Germany because of how he wanted to be used.

“I grew up. Because in France I was more like the secondary point guard, and when I came to Germany, I really had the keys to the team,” he said.

“[The coaches] really trusted me as the main point guard. I really grew up as a leader on the court.”

Hayes’ court vision and passing ability flashed for Ulm in a way that had him rise up draft boards. But to keep himself fresh as an off-ball guy, he said he’s working on off-ball movement between now and the draft.

That would be a part of his game he’d need to develop further if the Suns drafted him, with a whole lot of the ball being in Booker’s hands.

Haliburton is the more “pure” point guard. In something that has to be highlighted especially in this class because of how much it struggled with decent and efficient production, Haliburton posted 15.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game for the Cyclones in 36.7 minutes a game.

He’s not much of an explosive athlete and it’s a bummer that a 6-foot-5 point guard with great length doesn’t do much scoring around the rim or get to the foul line. But a lot of Haliburton’s talents are accentuating, from his catch-and-shoot numbers at three-point range (42.6% on all 3s at 4.2 attempts per game over two seasons) to his off-ball defense.

That’s pretty amusing to consider when we’re talking about Hayes and Haliburton at the same time, because those skills actually make Haliburton more suited to be a combo guard than Hayes, and Haliburton is one of the best playmakers in the draft.

“Right away I think I’m coming in as a guy who can make shots and somebody who can facilitate at a high level and I think I’m a really good off-ball defender,” Haliburton said Wednesday. “I think my IQ is very high and I know where to be at the right time … I think right away you get those three things.”

Haliburton acknowledged his weaknesses, looking to get better as an on-ball defender and as a scorer off the dribble with his finishing, specifically mentioning how the NBA is mostly a pick-and-roll game now.

He even highlighted how plenty of NBA defenses (including in the playoffs) have employed drop coverage, meaning the big man will sag below the screen and allow the guard to shoot from three if it’s there. Haliburton was beaming while saying that because all he saw was aggressive hedges and traps at Iowa State.

This is an elongated way of saying that Haliburton came off hyper-aware of his game, even going on for a few minutes about the intricate details he picked up looking for more opportunities to shoot off the bounce.

As discussed in this space for the past few months, there are few better fits for Phoenix than Haliburton.

“I think I’m a basketball player before I’m a point guard or a shooting guard,” he said.

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NBA Draft Combine: Killian Hayes, Tyrese Haliburton assess their games