AMES — Iowa State men’s basketball coach Steve Prohm reiterates that everybody carves their own path.
Former Iowa State point guard Monte Morris was a highly-sought 4-star recruit in high school. He spent four years with the Cyclones, was drafted late in the second round by the Denver Nuggets and spent a year in the NBA G League. Now, he’s arguably the best backup point guard in the NBA and is in line for a big contract.
Tyrese Haliburton was an under-the-radar recruit who was ready to commit to Northern Iowa before Iowa State and Nebraska came calling. He had an efficient freshman season as a Cyclone but didn’t blow anybody away. Iowa State had a surplus of scorers when he was a freshman and his duty was to distribute and make other people better, which is exactly what he did.
As a sophomore, Haliburton’s role expanded and he proved he can be a reliable scorer and elite distributor. Now, he’s a projected top-10 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, which has been rescheduled to Oct. 15.
“If anybody can learn anything from Tyrese it’s that he did it the right way from the standpoint of, when people came and watched him play, they always came over to me and said, ‘Man, that one has the best chance to be your highest draft pick,’” Prohm said. “They love his spirit, his versatility, his ability to make people better and then he has great instincts and basketball IQ.”
Haliburton is projected to go anywhere from No. 5 overall to No. 10.
Haliburton is projected to be a high draft pick because of his feel for the game, his strength knocking down shots from the perimeter and his ability to use his length on defense and get into passing lanes. At Iowa State, he averaged 6.5 assists while making 3-point shots at a 42-percent clip. He also averaged 2.5 steals per game.
His biggest perceived weakness is his funky looking shot.
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“The most important part for me is that it goes in, and it goes in at a pretty high clip,” Haliburton said on ESPN’s “The Jump” with Rachel Nichols. “My shot has only gotten better and I never work out by myself — I always have someone to put a hand in my face whether it’s my brother or whoever — and as long as it goes in, I’m OK with however it looks.”
No matter where Haliburton is selected, Morris has advice for him.
“When he gets to the NBA, he just needs to do what got him there,” Morris said.
That seems like advice that Haliburton should have no problem implementing since he’s such a prolific distributor. He’s happy to be in a role where he’s not the star and not the go-to scorer, as evidenced by his freshman season at ISU. Even as a sophomore, Prohm said he wanted Haliburton to be more aggressive and not defer to his teammates as much.
“He has a great feel for the game, he’s 6-foot-5, he can shoot it,” Morris said. “When I talk to him, I just tell him to keep working hard. He’s going to see when he gets to the league that a lot of guys that we looked up to don’t really have any work ethic or they have something else that’s holding them back.”
The most difficult adjustment for college players as they enter the NBA is the 82-game regular-season grind, according to Morris.
“You’re not going to play well every game,” Morris said. “The NBA has 82 games and you can have a bad game Tuesday but you have another one Wednesday to bounce back. In college, if you lose Tuesday, you have to wait until Saturday. You have to stay even keeled in the NBA and stay consistent.
“He just needs to do what they drafted him for. If they drafted you, they want you to do the same thing you were doing at Iowa State. I’m sure he’ll be able to do that.”
That’s a big reason Morris has been able to become such a reliable backup point guard. He never forced things at Iowa State and he’s never forced things for the Nuggets.
In his first full NBA season, Morris had the second highest assist-to-turnover ratio in the league at 5.71, which is third best in NBA history behind Tyus Jones in 2018-19 (6.96) and Muggsy Bogues in 1989-90 (5.89). This year, Morris is again second overall at 5.11 — again behind Jones (5.18).
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Haliburton doesn’t need to be Morris, he just needs to be the Haliburton that was at Iowa State.
“Everything else will fall in place,” Morris said.
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