tyresehaliburton-111420.jpg
Getty Images

Zion Williamson ain't walking through that door. Ben Simmons ain't walking through that door. Kyrie Irving ain't walking through that door.

Due to its lack of a no-doubt, franchise-changing talent, the 2020 NBA Draft is basically an elongated version of the Pitino Game, with its culmination coming on Wednesday when the No. 1 overall pick -- whoever it is -- will be met with shrugs and apprehension rather than the traditional jubilation and hope. The top three picks are expected to be, in some order, LaMelo Ball, James Wiseman and Anthony Edwards, each of which brings the upside of a multiple-time All-Star and perennial MVP candidate, and the downside of a journeyman maligned for never being able to live up to the hype.

The general principle for drafts across sports is to take the best talent, regardless of fit. But with no consensus on the top talent and the unique challenges of a COVID-19-era draft process, perhaps this year more than ever teams will select the best player for them.

That's just one reason why teams have been taking a long, hard look at 6-foot-5 Iowa State combo guard Tyrese Haliburton, who by most accounts is considered a "safe" pick given his size, skillset and makeup. If there were ever a draft to go safe, this might be it, and Haliburton could also have more upside than he's getting credit for.

Tyrese Haliburton
SAC • PG • 0
PPG15.2
RPG5.9
APG6.5
SPG2.5
3P%41.9
View Profile

The 20-year-old made a huge leap as a sophomore, more than doubling his scoring, rebounding, assist and steals averages while playing just three more minutes per game. He shot an impressive 42 percent from the 3-point line on 5.6 attempts per game last season and he was in the 99th percentile with 1.431 points per possession in spot-up situations, according to Synergy Sports Technology. All this data would lead you to believe he's one of the best shooters in the draft.

There's just one problem: His shooting mechanics are, shall we say, unconventional.

It's easy to watch that shot and think that his percentages might be a bit inflated and a regression is inevitable. After all, Lonzo Ball shot 41 percent from behind the arc as a freshman at UCLA, and has since had to completely revamp his shooting form after poor results early in his NBA career.

But Haliburton's shot, while unorthodox, is fundamentally sound. Ball brought the ball across his body and had an inconsistent release with a lot of moving parts. Haliburton's shot-put, almost set shot looks awkward, but it's repeatable, which is the key to being a great shooter.

Coach and trainer Joe Abunassar, who runs Impact Basketball and has been preparing Haliburton for the draft since July, says he has only made "very small adjustments" to Haliburton's shooting form, as they do with every player. In fact, he thinks Haliburton is one of the best shooters he's ever seen.

"It's very strange, to be honest with you. I've never quite seen anything like it," Abunassar told CBS Sports. "But the ball comes off his hand the exact same way every time. And when that happens, you don't change it. His footwork is the same. He shoots the ball out to 30 feet effortlessly. There are no mechanical problems with his shot. It's just kind of a little different, funky little release. And I will tell you, he's one of the most accurate shooters I've ever been around in my career."

If Haliburton becomes an elite NBA 3-point shooter, his ceiling skyrockets from a useful role player to a potential second star on a good team -- or even beyond. There are some questions as to whether he's a point guard or a shooting guard, but that's becoming less relevant in the NBA. Teams routinely have two ball-handlers in the backcourt, and players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have proven the value of having on-ball and off-ball skills.

Gilgeous-Alexander is a common comparison for Haliburton, and it's easy to see why. They're about the same size and neither is an elite NBA athlete, but they both get to their spots with ease and play with a control that you don't often see with guards at such a young age.

"Haliburton doesn't move, he glides," Abunassar told CBS Sports. "He has this way about him where he's soft on his feet and he just slithers through people."

You can see what Abunassar means in this clip, where Haliburton freezes the defenders with a subtle hesitation, then finds a brief opening to get the ball to his big man for a dunk.

An excellent playmaker in transition (99th percentile at 1.766 points per possession when you factor in assists, according to Synergy), Haliburton is also effective as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, an important role for any NBA guard. His size, craftiness and floater game also make him an efficient finisher around the rim.

People talk about how LaMelo Ball's confidence won't allow him to fail in the NBA, but Haliburton appears to have a similar level of self-assurance. It also sounds like he possesses something that Ball might not -- a relentless desire to win, whether it's a playoff game or a three-on-three scrimmage.

"He doesn't even lose shooting games and contests. If he does, he'll make me do it over so he can win," Abunassar told CBS Sports. "He just makes winning plays and he has a contagious, winning personality, which might sound like a strange statement. Everyone around him is empowered to win."

Put the entire package together and you have a young, competitive player ready to contribute right away who fits the modern NBA as a multi-positional ball-handler and a knock-down shooter. You could do a lot worse with a top-three pick.