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Changing of The (Shooting) Guard?

(Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Tyrese Haliburton has been incredible. Is it time for Luke Walton to adjust the starting lineup?

When the Sacramento Kings selected Tyrese Haliburton with the 12th overall pick in the NBA Draft last November, several draft experts referred to the move as the steal of the night.

Adding a young, lengthy guard with the ability to knock down the long-ball gave Sacramento an ideal backcourt mate for De’Aaron Fox to run with in the coming years.

Whoops. I put ‘years’.

The correct time frame was actually days.

Haliburton didn’t need to wait very long to make an impact in the rotation, already proving to be a talent that needs to be on the floor more than not for this Kings team.

The 20-year-old guard has been the team’s top distributor this season, dishing out 5.5 assists to go along with 12.1 points per game–the third-highest average of all 2020 draftees.

Haliburton has been a force on the defensive end, showing veteran-like awareness on the floor at all times. Trailing only De’Aaron Fox, the rookie is second on the team in steals per game (1.4) and steals total (11).

Coming off of a successful college career at Iowa State, critics noted Haliburton’s unorthodox shooting motion, stating that it could hinder his production in the NBA.

Through 10 games, that has not been the case by any measure.

Among league leaders, Haliburton is currently 11th in the NBA in three-point field goal percentage (50%). On the Kings roster, the rookie only trails reigning three-point champion Buddy Hield in total three-pointers made (19 to Hield’s 33).

It isn’t just the outside game that is working for the 6’5 guard, either.

Haliburton is shooting 52-percent from the field, good enough for third among all rookies and third on the Sacramento roster.

After missing two games due to a bone bruise on his left wrist, Haliburton returned to the lineup on Wednesday night looking to help Sacramento snap a three-game losing streak.

In a back-and-forth contest against the Chicago Bulls, the Kings entered the fourth quarter tied at 84-84, needing an offensive boost with De’Aaron Fox sidelined with hamstring tightness.

Haliburton put on a show, scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter on six-of-7 from the field and hitting all three of his three-point attempts. The rookie played like a five-year veteran, creating offensive magic for himself and his teammates to help stave off a late Bulls run.

He even got to supply the game-ending dagger for the cherry on top of what was memorable night.

Along with his superb play, the young guard holds conducted, composed and impressive interviews with the media. Haliburton speaks like a player that wants to put his team first at all times, a refreshing aspect to see in a young rookie.

Most importantly, Haliburton speaks like a player that wants to win basketball games. You can tell how much losing bothers him.

After allowing a franchise-record 144 points to Toronto on Friday night, Haliburton told the media that he and his teammates should be upset by the blowout loss.

“Hell yeah,” Haliburton said on if he and his team should be bothered about the Raptors scoring output. “I’m going to go home and watch the game over when I get home. I hope that others do the same.”

Portland posted 125 points on Saturday night, prompting the rookie to once again share his displeasure with the defensive effort.

“You can’t give that up consistently in an NBA game and expect to win. It’s frustrating. We’re young but that’s not an excuse by any means,” he said. “We gotta figure it out. There is nobody coming to save us, we gotta do it ourselves. At the end of the day, we’re the guys on the court and we just gotta be better.”

When starting center Richaun Holmes was ruled out of Saturday’s game against Portland due to a sore ankle, head coach Luke Walton inserted Haliburton into the starting lineup for the first time in his young career.

The rookie replicated his eight assist total from Friday night while scoring 12 points (5-8 FG) and swiping a steal.

Following the game, Walton stated that a shakeup to the starting lineup has been discussed, claiming that everything and anything is possible.

“Everything is always on the table, as far as where we can look to make improvements and adjustments,” Walton said. We’ve talked about it, and Tyrese has been very good.”

Walton went on to say that it isn’t always necessarily the five-best guys that get to start, which is a solid point.

A lot of good teams–such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers–play some of their best players in reserve roles (Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams, etc.). This ensures that there is little-to-no drop off in production when the starting players go to the bench for rest.

Having one or both of De’Aaron Fox and Haliburton on the floor at all times is a goal for Walton and his staff. Would moving the talented rookie to the starting lineup full-time derail the bench unit?

Last season, Buddy Hield was moved to the bench after a rough first-half of the season.

While it has only been 10 games this season, the 28-year-old is having his roughest stretch of shooting to begin a season in his career, only having knocked down a career-low 33-percent of his three-point attempts.

Over his last four games, Hield is shooting 27-percent from three-point range.

After being shifted to a reserve role last season, Hield saw his production improve. Over 28 games as a reserve, the sharpshooter averaged 17.9 points per game on a blistering 45-percent clip from three-point range.

As a starter last season, Hield shot 41-percent from downtown.

While Buddy was not a fan of his move to the bench, his production improved once his role shifted. Is this something that Walton could look to replicate this year?

Starting a lineup of Fox, Haliburton, Barnes, Bagley and Holmes could be a nice shakeup for a team that has lost five of its last six games.

The bench unit of Cory Joseph, Buddy Hield, Glenn Robinson III, Nemanja Bjelica and (occasionally) Hassan Whiteside is not the best looking group on paper.

However, Walton could stager Fox and Haliburton’s minutes after the first six-or-so minutes of the game. On Saturday night against Portland, Walton subbed out Fox for Joseph with 7:44 remaining in the quarter, leaving Haliburton in to run the offense.

Fox then re-entered the game for Haliburton with 4:29 remaining in the period.

This is something that Walton can do to ensure that one of Fox and Haliburton remain on the floor while also limiting minutes for the duo. Having both guards in the lineup during crunch-time is the ultimate priority.

As Walton said, the five-best players don’t always start–but that doesn’t mean that they won’t finish the game.

In my opinion, the ideal game close-out lineup for Sacramento is the following:

  • PG: De’Aaron Fox
  • SG: Tyrese Haliburton
  • SF: Buddy Hield
  • PF: Harrison Barnes
  • C: Richaun Holmes

Those are the five players that you want on the floor when the game is tied with five minutes left.

Richaun Holmes, the NBA’s current leader in field-goal percentage, is the team’s interior anchor and an efficient rebounder. Harrison Barnes has played arguably the best basketball of his career this season and plays solid defense in the post.

Marvin Bagley III has not proven to be playable late in these close games, likely due to the fact that he struggles to stop the ball on defense.

Walton has gone away from Bagley in every close game so far this season, opting to roll with the lineup that I listed above. In time, hopefully Bagley can solidify himself as a respectable defender in the league to ensure that he is on the floor for closing time.

Buddy Hield is struggling this season and could use a change of scenery. While a move to the bench could be on the horizon, that doesn’t change the fact that Sacramento needs to have him on the floor in close games.

The hustle and constant three-point threat that Hield brings to the table every night is enough reason to plug him in late. Playing him off ball in a lineup featuring speedy distributors like Fox and Haliburton could benefit the catch-and-shoot threat that is Buddy Hield.

A move to the bench for Hield is not a kiss of death, by any means.

Sacramento is struggling.

After a 3-1 start, the team is 1-5 over its last six games. Without Haliburton’s late outburst against the Bulls, it’s very possible that this team is looking at a six-game losing streak.

Tyrese Haliburton is making it difficult to keep him off of the floor. It’s best for the team that the young guard begins the game on the floor.

To me, it’s a matter of when–not if.

When will Walton pull the trigger? This week’s slate of games against Indiana, Portland and Los Angeles should bring some clarity to the rotation.

If one thing is clear, it’s this:

Tyrese Haliburton is not who we thought he was.

He is far better.

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