AMES, Ia. — There’s a fine line between being the team’s best basketball player — and not taking that superstar ability to the extreme. Shoot early and often. Teammates before self. Doing what’s best for the team.
They’re all legitimate dilemmas — and no one knows that better than Iowa State’s ultra-talented Tyrese Haliburton.
He’s the 8-7 Cyclones’ top scorer. He’s their top three-point shooter. He’s one of the best assist-to-turnover ratio point guards in the country. He’s the Big 12’s top player.
Yet coach Steve Prohm continues to want more early Haliburton, and now that it’s Big 12 Conference time, it’s probably best for Haliburton to heed the advice of his coach — although it’s not exactly in his DNA.
“He’s got to be aggressive,” Prohm said before practice Monday. “There’s a couple possessions (against Oklahoma), where he’s turning down 10-foot floaters or pull-ups — that we ended up getting a decent shot, but he ends up turning down a great shot.
“He always needs to be in attack mode and aggressive. He’s proven that he can do that, but he’s also a wiling passer; he’s averaging 7-to-9 assists a game. He needs to know when we need him to make plays for us to score.”
Against Kansas, for example, the sophomore had four assists before making his first basket — which just happened to come 4 minutes into the second half.
In the overtime loss at TCU, Haliburton didn’t make his first basket until 13:23 remained in the first half. On Saturday against Oklahoma, he had four assists before making his first basket with 6:14 left in the first half.
I’m not criticizing the Big 12’s best player. Never. He, too, knows he’s got to be more offensively aggressive early in games — especially with what’s on the schedule this week. First, it’s at second-ranked Baylor on Wednesday. Then it’s at No. 23 Texas Tech on Saturday.
The only way Iowa State wins is for Haliburton to be at his all-around best. He must be offensively aggressive from the opening tip to the closing horn. The team for whom he starts has a 1-5 record when trailing at halftime. It’s 7-2 when leading at the break.
“I’ve definitely made strides, but there’s definitely opportunities I can improve on,” Haliburton said. “Basketball is a game of reads and mistakes. Sometimes you don’t make the right reads, and sometimes you do. It’s just about learning and moving on to the next possession.”
Strike while opponents figure out if they can be successful playing straight-up against Haliburton. See a one-on-one opportunity? Take it to the rim. An open three-pointer — and sometimes a very long one? Bombs away.
“For sure, he’s brought that up,” Haliburton said when I told him that his coach mentioned early aggressiveness during Monday’s weekly media availability. “It always happens. He texts me. We text all night after games, sometimes. We text in the mornings. We watch film together in the mornings.
“I know I have to be more aggressive early. I’m not going to get as many opportunities as the game goes on, because (opponents) are starting to double me.”
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger knows the line between being a scorer and a facilitator. He’s been to Final Fours. He coached in the NBA. He’s seen and coached against the nation’s top talents. He knows the line between being a superstar scorer and being superstar teammate.
“He’s fantastic,” Kruger said of Haliburton. “He’s a guy that makes the right basketball plays — all the time. He makes guys around him better — and he’s very skilled, himself.”
Stat-stuffer. Team player.
Or someplace in the middle.
“Getting people involved is a part of my game; it makes me who I am,” Haliburton told me after his en masse session with reporters. “That’s not really been a challenge for me.
“The challenge is more getting myself involved early; that’s definitely the bigger challenge. Growing up, it’s always been to get your teammates involved early, so they’re engaged, and then get yourself going. Sometimes if I do that, then I’m not getting myself going, and that kind of hurts.
“That’s definitely the challenge.”
Regardless, Haliburton is considered a lottery pick by many mock 2020 NBA drafts. If it happens, he’d be the third Prohm player to leave college early for the pros during the past two seasons.
“It’s not been a distraction,” Haliburton said of the NBA chatter and scouts who come to watch each game. “I could care less about the NBA right now. I feel like that’s going to happen eventually. I feel like it can happen, but right now, I just want to win.
“I’d trade all the NBA talk and the stats for wins.”
He’s sincere. It’s his team-first DNA.
Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson has been writing for the Des Moines Register for parts of five decades. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 515-284-8132, and on Twitter at @RandyPete. No one covers the Cyclones like the Register. Subscribe today at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal to make sure you never miss a moment.
Source: Des Moines Register