As you’re watching another Pacers game without Tyrese Haliburton, you’re probably thinking what I’m thinking: this is a very, very different team without No. 0 on the court. Not nearly as productive, organized, free-flowing or fun. They look like a shell of themselves when he’s not in uniform.
Because Haliburton has changed everything.
And it’s not just me saying it, but also head coach Rick Carlisle, team president Kevin Pritchard and other players around the league.
“He’s a great young player,” Carlisle said last week. “Very vibrant, very skilled. Great leadership. Getting better all the time. A franchise pillar, obviously.
“He’s changed everything with this organization. He’s changed the entire vibe of it, he’s changed the atmosphere day-to-day in the locker room and the way people view Indiana Pacers basketball. He loves the challenge. He loves the responsibility of the challenge in being the leader on the court.
“Nothing but props to him. And, he’s nowhere reached his ceiling as a player.”
The Pacers (31-38) dropped to 3-13 this season when he doesn’t play. And that’s when they’ve also turned in some of their worst performances, including a 117-97 loss Monday night in Detroit to a team that is tanking and had lost 11 games in a row.
How about that 110-99 loss in San Antonio two weeks ago? That’s right, no Haliburton and that turned into an embarrassing performance. Arguably their worst showing of the season.
There shouldn’t be this big of drop-off. There can’t be. Not against the lottery-bound Spurs, Pistons — or any other team for that matter.
When their All-Star point guard is playing, like before this two-game trip in Detroit, he’s beyond special. In those three previous games, he averaged 32.3 points and 15.3 assists per game while shooting 46.6% from beyond the arc, 95.2% at the foul line and led them to two wins.
There are two grand takeaways: The team must figure out how to prevent such steep drop-offs; although he is the tone-setter and is the orchestrator on the floor, other Pacers must pick up the slack when he’s in street clothes.
The other takeaway is encouraging because it’s another reminder of how Haliburton doesn’t just lift the team with his play, but also the play of those around him. That’s the true mark of a star player — does he elevate others?
And Haliburton absolutely does.
Center Myles Turner may be the best example of that. Yes, he’s the solo 5 this season but he’s playing the best basketball of his career: 18 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, 38.5% from outside and he’s having fun again.
How about “big brother” Buddy Hield? He’s averaging 17.3 points and shooting 42.8% from outside this season in his first full season with the Pacers. He’s the only one to play in all 69 games. And his play, shots taken and shooting percentage aren’t nearly as good without Haliburton, who becomes the primary concern for defenses, gets the team running and always makes the smart pass.
Against the Pistons on Monday, Hield finished with seven points on 1-of-7 shooting. In those 10 games Haliburton missed after injuries in New York, Hield failed to reach double figures in four — and twice he failed to even make a 3-pointer. And he’s been making almost four per game this season.
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