Tyrese Haliburton of the Iowa State Cyclones reacts after making a...

Tyrese Haliburton of the Iowa State Cyclones reacts after making a three-point basket in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks at Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 5, 2019, in Ames, Iowa. Credit: David Purdy

The NBA Draft, maybe this year more than any other, is filled with uncertainty.

The players projected at the top of the draft by most observers have nearly no body of work on which to judge them.

LaMelo Ball opted to head overseas, and injuries limited the chances to watch him half a world away. James Wiseman played three college games. Anthony Edwards played a full season as a freshman at Georgia, but which do you judge him on: the 33-point second half against Michigan State or the 2-for-13 effort (1-for-9 from three-point range) in his last game before COVID-19 shut down the college schedule?

But there is one player who might be the surest thing among the top prospects.

After two seasons at Iowa State, Tyrese Haliburton emerged as a 20-year-old point guard with elite passing ability, an odd-looking but quick release, an accurate shot and an attitude that projects him as a locker-room leader for a decade to come.

So why isn’t he at the top of draft boards? Why does a Knicks source indicate he isn’t near the top of their wish list?

The simple answer may be that in front-office fantasies, the unproven prospects have higher ceilings.

Ball could corral his wild but tantalizing skill set to provide a 6-7 point guard who can score and throw highlight-reel passes. Wiseman will herald a return to focus on big men with his athletic ability and skill. But Haliburton already is what he is, and it’s good.

"I think what’s really valuable about Tyrese is his versatility in accepting roles," said Joe Abunassar, who has had Haliburton under his wing while the guard trained at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas after the shutdown of the season. "He can lead a team or he can be the third guy. He’s had games here where he’s won five in a row and taken five shots total, others where he’s won five straight games and taken 35 shots. He does whatever it takes to win.

"That doesn’t limit him from being a lead star. For example, the Golden State Warriors are not looking for a lead guy, but he can he develop into that. I think 100% he can.

"I’ve had a lot of No. 1, No. 2 picks, and this guy is a difference-maker. As teams look at him, part of that is his approach, his mentality, his personality. Everyone steps up their game when he steps in the game. He’s the most humble guy. I know with him, what you’re getting is a guy that’s going to win games for your franchise.

"There might be games where he scores 30. You hear [about] some kids that haven’t gotten a shot and need to get one off. You’ll never hear that from this kid, but if you need 30 points, he can get it."

The 6-5 guard, who has a wingspan of nearly 6-9, averaged 15.2 points and 6.5 assists per game and shot 41.9% from beyond the arc last season.

ESPN’s ranking of the top 100 players has him at No. 8 — where the Knicks currently reside. Could he be the sort of leader that they desperately crave?

"The time off has been great for him," Abunassar said. "He’s gotten stronger, put on 15 to 18 pounds. He’s a special player, very special. I’ve worked with some great players over the years and I’m not putting him in categories like [Kevin] Garnett or [Chauncey] Billups, but he has that potential.

"He’s a winner. He has an amazing personality. He’s contagious. He’s something that if I was a GM, I’d say we need guys like that."

Voices heard

The Knicks’ Kevin Knox posted a note this past week in the middle of the usual assortment of workout videos, this one proudly proclaiming that he had voted for the first time ever.

Although there was some criticism and questioning of what players would achieve when they pushed for social justice change over the summer, it’s hard to argue that they at least had some effect on the election.

Twenty-three NBA arenas became voting centers — some as Election Day sites, some open for early voting — helping to allow a record number of ballots to be cast nationwide.

And the players, who were criticized for having only 22% of their numbers voting in the 2016 election (Knox was not old enough to vote at that time), reportedly raised that number to 96% in time for the election.


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