The New York Knicks have been looking for a lead guard for so long. They might find him in this year’s point guard-heavy NBA Draft.

He may not have the size and the athleticism of Magic Johnson and LeBron James but Tyrese Haliburton has their combination of vision, high basketball IQ, charisma, and leadership qualities.

Haliburton has closely watched both guys growing up with Johnson belonging to his father’s generation and James from his generation.

“I watched a lot of old, throwback basketball like the 80s and 90s stuff growing up because my dad is an old head. For me, Magic Johnson has always been my guy,” Haliburton said during his Draft Combine interview.

“His passion and spirit on the court but his vision and his impact on winning, I don’t think people really understand how much of a winner Magic Johnson really is. That probably is my inspiration.”

Magic Johnson has won five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers during the 80s. James, on the other hand, is fresh from winning his fourth title, his third with three different teams.

Haliburton grew up in Wisconsin alongside recent NBA Bubble breakout star Tyler Hero of the Miami Heat.

Haliburton was the tallest kid during his fifth grade that he was pigeonholed as a center.

“I hated being a big man,” Haliburton recalled.

He had his breaking point during one of their team practices. He grabbed a rebound and began to run the ball up the court, directing play.

“I told coach, ‘I can play the point, let me play the point’,” Haliburton said.

And he made his point with conviction. He’s played that position ever since until his freshman year in college.

Haliburton and Herro went separate ways in high school and carved their own path.

Haliburton went to Oshkosh North High School and developed into the best point guard in Wisconsin. As a high school senior, he led Oshkosh North High School to a 26-1 record averaging 22.9 points, 6.2 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 3.5 steals, and 1.7 blocks. He capped off his phenomenal senior year with a 31-point effort, including 24 in the second half and a perfect 18-of-18 trip at the line, to win the Division I state championship and was named Wisconsin Player of the Year.

Despite his high school accolades, he was only a four-star recruit out of high school. But Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm saw something else in Haliburton.

“He’s been rockstar here since Day One. I think that attracted us and that made him a priority in our recruiting process,” Iowa head coach Steve Prohm told Empire Sports Media.

Prohm’s program at Iowa has produced the likes of Georges Niang, Monte Morris, and Talen Horton-Tucker in the NBA. His program has zeroed in on high-character guys and great personalities.

“When we talked to him on the phone, sat with him in their living room with him, and watched him play, he checked all those boxes,” Prohm recalling his recruitment of Haliburton.

Two years later, Haliburton has emerged as the potential first lottery pick from coach Prohm’s program.

In just a short time with the Cyclones, Haliburton has been to the NCAA tournament, won a Big 12 tournament and he’s won a gold medal with Team USA U-19 with a performance that catapulted him into one of the best prospects in this year’s NBA Draft.

Just like his idol, Haliburton has the infectious smile and charisma of a Magic Johnson.

He’s just got an unbelievable spirit and phenomenal personality. And I always joked with him that when he’s done playing, he’ll be the governor of Wisconsin,” Prohm said. “He can walk into any room and can have an amazing presence.”

Like Johnson, Haliburton has only played two years in college before declaring for the NBA. But unlike the former Laker legend, Haliburton isn’t the consensus top overall pick. He’s not even the most highly-touted point guard in the Draft. That label belongs to LaMelo Ball.

And Haliburton’s case as the second-best point guard in the Draft has strong resistance from Frenchman Killian Hayes.

But Haliburton has the supreme belief that he’s the best facilitator out of the group, something that he saw in Johnson and later on in James.

“LaMelo is scoring the ball at three levels. I think I’m the best facilitator out of the group and I think Killian defends at a high level,” Haliburton said of their different strengths.

It’s not hard to see why Prohm can see a vision of Haliburton being a Wisconsin governor someday. Just by listening to Haliburton eloquently answering each media question, showing grace under pressure, is just half of the equation.

He says all the right things. But he’s also done all the right things.

The other half of Haliburton’s brilliance can be seen in the body of work he’s done on the court.

Bleacher Report’s Draft analyst Jonathan Wasserman has indicated in a recent appearance on KnicksFan TV that Haliburton had A+ interviews with teams. Haliburton has gone on record that he has talked to three teams so far — New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors, and Detroit Pistons.

And if the Knicks would have Hayes and Haliburton available for the eighth pick, Wasserman believes the Knicks would choose the Iowa standout.

But it seems that the Knicks’ interest in Haliburton is not as strong as the other prospects such as two-way wingman Isaac Okoro whom the Knicks have inquisitively scouted as reported by Ian Begley of SNY.

Prohm said he’s never met with the Knicks yet and admitted that his communication with them was just confined to text messages.

“I have not talked to the Knicks personally. Just a little bit of texts with one of the guys that’s new over there. But that doesn’t mean that my staff has not talked to them. I don’t ask them all the teams they talk to,” Prohm told Empire Sports Media.

Regardless of how the Knicks view him, Haliburton said during his Draft Combine interview that he sees himself fitting in New York.

“I like the Knicks roster and I think they are an up-and-coming team,” he said. “Obviously, they have a lot of guys that can play the point guard spot in Elfrid [Payton] and Dennis [Smith Jr.] and Frank [Ntilikina] but I’m prepared to do whatever I have to do, so if it was the Knicks I’m prepared to do whatever is asked of me. If that’s play the one, or slide to the two or come off the bench or start, it doesn’t really matter. I’m ready.”

Haliburton’s Draft projections have been all over the place. The uncertainty of this Draft presents a strong case for Haliburton to be one of the sure things.

Aside from his phenomenal vision and high-efficiency play on the court, Haliburton brings flexibility at the backcourt.

When he arrived in Iowa, Haliburton was pegged to become the backup point guard behind senior guard Nick Weiler-Babb. But an injury to their starting shooting guard Lindell Wigginton had prompted Prohm to slot him in the starting unit right away next to Weiler-Babb.

Playing outside his natural position didn’t stop Haliburton from making an impact on the team.

“As a freshman, the goal was to put them in a position to have immediate success and gain confidence. We had a senior guard (Weiler-Babb) who was phenomenal at the position. With the way we play, and what we always emphasize — spacing and ball movement, Tyrese was still able to be the second in assist to turnover ratio as a freshman and he almost led our team in assists as a freshman,” Prohm said.

Haliburton started 34 out of 35 games as a freshman and averaged 6.8 points, 3.6 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and almost a block per game while shooting over 51 percent from the field and 43 percent from the three-point region. He ranked third in the nation in offensive rating (136.8) and his 4.5-1 assist-to-turnover ratio was the second-best in the nation and led the Big 12.

He’s also broke the 44-year school record with most assists in a single game when he dished out 17 against a lone turnover in a blowout win against Southern.

“He’s such a willing passer and a giver that he’s so good in the pick and roll and his vision is phenomenal. He’s a high-assist, low-turnover guy and off the floor, he’s all about the right things. You talk about character and what’s the right thing for the team,” Prohm said.

On the defensive end, Haliburton joined last year’s top overall pick Zion Williamson (Duke) as the only true freshmen nationally with 50 steals and 30 blocks.

“That’s why Tyrese is good at understanding scouting reports. He has great anticipation and a great feel. He’s really good away from the ball. He really understands how to trap, double the post, understand rotation,” Prohm said of Haliburton, who has been watching and breaking down game films since his middle school.

His stint with Team USA in the summer before his sophomore year has shot up his confidence even more. He returned to Iowa in high spirits and he embraced a bigger role in Prohm’s system.

In a clean seven-game sweep, Haliburton averaged 7.9 points, 6.9 assists, 2.4 rebounds, and 2.3 steals in 25 minutes per game in the 2019 U19 FIBA World Cup. He also shot 56 percent of his three-pointers on his way to being named to the tournament’s All-Star Five.

Haliburton showed elite playmaking next to elite talents in a team that boasts of tournament MVP Reggie Perry, Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, and Kira Lewis, Jr.

His phenomenal play in the world championships was just the tip of the iceberg.

“Obviously, we lost a lot of those guys from his freshman year that he moved into the primary point guard responsibility and he flourished with that. But the other thing he did a great job is he’s really shown people that he can score as well,” Prohm said.

Haliburton broke out in his sophomore year that led to his decision to declare for the NBA Draft.

When the college season was cut short by pandemic, Haliburton was sixth in the Big 12 in scoring (15.2), second in FG percentage (50.4), first in assists (6.5), first in steals (2.5), second in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.3), third in 3FG percentage (41.9) and 13th in rebounding (5.9).

Haliburton though hasn’t seen action since February due to a wrist injury but if there’s something positive that came out of it is that he showed what he’s really made of.

After injuring his wrist late in the first half, Haliburton had his Mamba moment. He still started the second half and played through the pain, essentially with one hand to help the Cyclones build a 49-35 lead before sitting out the last 16 minutes of the game. His teammates held on to the victory, 73-63.

He was later on diagnosed with a left wrist fracture that prematurely ended his final year with the Cyclones.

“When he got injured, one thing he showed us is he’s all about the right things. His parents still traveled to the games. They still came to the home games. He still followed the scouting reports. He still communicated from the bench. He’s waving the towel. He’s talked to his teammates. And he was all-in to the very end,” Prohm said.

“He was crushed because he doesn’t want to leave this place but he needed to go pro. It was his time and he’s more than ready.”

Analytics guys would fall in love with Haliburton’s high-efficiency play. But his lean frame and unorthodox shot have made him a polarizing figure in the Draft.

Aware of those knocks on his game, Haliburton has locked up in Wisconsin in preparation for the Draft training with his former AAU coach Bryan Johnikin. He said he worked three times per day doing lifts in the morning and spending on the basketball court in the afternoon.

From 170-lb, Haliburton has checked at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas recently with 18 lbs additional muscle — a product of his six days a week lifting in the weight rooms for two months.

And what about his shot?

Haliburton and the people around him have the “why fix if it ain’t broke” mentality.

“I think it’s so overblown the stuff about my (shooting) mechanics because I don’t think film or numbers lie,” Haliburton said.

“I think I shot the ball really well both years. If people watched, they know the range is not a problem for me. If that’s what people want to talk about go ahead. But we can revisit that question in a couple of years and see what people will say,” he added.

Prohm didn’t even try to tweak it. And why would he do that if Haliburton’s shooting is off the charts?
“I didn’t [tweak it]. He shot over 40 percent from threes for two years in a row. It’s gone in ever since I’ve seen him play. He’s got great range and size. I didn’t really want to change his shot. In the next level, they may, they may not,” Prohm said. “If you’re shooting over 40 as the top guy in the scouting report, that’s pretty good.”
Derek Murray, Babcock Hoops Director of Scouting, who personally watched Haliburton worked out in Las Vegas, also wondered if there will be changes in his shooting mechanics.
“While at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas, we asked some of the trainers and coaches there the same thing: ‘Will there be any adjustments to the shot?’ And the resounding answer was ‘I doubt it. It may be funky, but it goes in and goes in often. He’s regarded as one of, if not the, best shooters in the gym every day, so no rush to change it’,” Murray told Empire Sports Media.
In Murray’s book, Haliburton is “easily a top-5 point guard.”
“I like him in the back of the top-10, certainly a lottery guy,” Murray added.
Haliburton’s shot at NBA stardom won’t necessarily hinge on his shot but he has acknowledged this knock on his game, particularly shooting off the bounce. Haliburton has gotten better and more comfortable shooting off the dribble in Las Vegas as noted by ESPN’s Mike Schmitz. Haliburton already has the offensive gifts to run a team or even slide to become a combo guard. But Prohm believes that if Haliburton can unlock his potential on the defensive end, then the sky’s the limit.
“One thing that he needs to get better at, he knows this, and teams I sure know this is just guarding one on one. He’s gonna have to continue to grow and get better at that but I think he’ll do that with his length and size, his ability to be coached, and as he matures,” Prohm said.
He may not be as fanciful as Ball, or as strong as Hayes, but Haliburton impacts winning in the most efficient way whether at the point or as a two-guard.

“I’m a basketball player. Whatever you need from me I’ll do. If you want me to play the PG, I’ll do that. I think I facilitate better than anybody in this draft. I think I can run a team right away, but if you want me to play the two and knock down shots and defend, I think can do that as well. So whatever’s really asked of me, I’ll do,” Haliburton said.

Haliburton has all the makings of not just a great point guard, but also as a great ambassador of the league. Prohm sounded like a broken record with all the right buzz words but Haliburton has shown he can walk the talk.

“He’s got great temperament, maturity, and humility to fit in any role. He understands what’s needed from him. He’s gonna buy-in and do what’s best for that team,” Prohm said.

“He’s never too high and never too low and he understands the work ethic that it takes to be successful.”

Haliburton, in some ways, is being viewed by skeptics just like how he believes people view Magic Johnson relatively to Larry Bird or Michael Jordan.

People also really don’t understand how much of a winner Haliburton is.

This article first appeared on Empire Sports Media and was syndicated with permission.

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