Indiana Pacers: Tyrese Haliburton is the physical manifestation of the Hoosier point guard ideal

Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers (Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images)
Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers (Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images) /

Somewhere in Indiana, there’s a harsh, fluorescent-lit multipurpose room functioning, according to its name, as a hub for seat-saved, adolescent networking and as the hallowed halls of the state’s most cherished education, basketball. Instruction delivered by the most impassioned savant- a gym teacher, a loving parent, a school alum- to a group of student dreamers with visions of Steve Nash, Diana Taurasi, Jason Kidd, Tamika Catchings, and Steph Curry in their heads, all of them crossing their fingers behind their backs, hoping to finally be told, “you get to run point today.”

Indiana basketball academia will always prioritize a few lofty tenets. Hard-nosed man defense, engrained through the endless repetition of shell-drill variants, is foundational. Motion offense predicated on constant off-ball screens, back-cuts, and ball movement- “now run it without dribbling until you get an open layup”- is a given. The philosophical ideal of a player on the team who’s most responsible for touching the ball the most, organizing and initiating offensive sets, being a lead bulldog on a tough defensive possession, and emulating George Washington himself in the leadership of their peers, a “true point guard,” is absolutely essential.

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Oscar Robertson (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

How could it not be? Sure, shooting will always be an Indiana staple, Larry Bird made sure of that. But, the coaches so many of our generational love affairs with the game grew up with the best ever at his position, Indianapolis-raised Oscar Robertson, “The Big O”. Averaging a triple-double for your first five professional seasons just about guarantees a few generations where you’re an archetype for a half-century in a state obsessed with broken peach baskets.

For decades, Pacers fans have been imposing this “true point guard” ideal to their judgment of the rosters in Indianapolis. Not since Mark Jackson, who averaged at least 8 assists per game each year he was with the Pacers, have Pacers fans seen their “true point guard” on Pacers hardwood. The lack of an offensive leader with gaudy assist numbers was a constant topic of conversation during the runs to the Eastern Conference finals in the early 2010s. George Hill just wasn’t enough to reach lofty Hoosier expectations. Since then, DJ Augustine, Darren Collison, and Cory Joseph certainly couldn’t win admiration in the state, and even Malcolm Brogdon, who sporadically threatened triple-doubles, couldn’t garner the “true point guard” label.

Mark Jackson, Indiana Pacers (Photo by TOM MIHALEK / AFP) (Photo credit should read TOM MIHALEK/AFP via Getty Images)
Mark Jackson, Indiana Pacers (Photo by TOM MIHALEK / AFP) (Photo credit should read TOM MIHALEK/AFP via Getty Images) /

Now, however, the slumbering zeal of Pacers point guard fandom has been awakened. Tyrese Haliburton is, by all accounts, the physical manifestation of the Hoosier point guard ideal. Since his shock trade to the Pacers from the Kings for Domantas Sabonis, Haliburton’s leadership, playmaking, and gaudy assist numbers have stoked the warm embers of Hoosier hearts. To Pacers fans, the trade overwhelmingly favored their team, because we know there’s truly nothing better in basketball than a team who is winning because of their charismatic, talismanic, leader point guard. That’s the hope that Haliburton represented.

Haliburton no longer represents hope. He is a symbol for an underdog Indiana Pacers team who is overdelivering in the 2022-2023 NBA season.

Tyrese has delivered plenty of performances to satisfy Hoosier hunger for creative playmaking from the guard position. His first impressions were extraordinary. He racked up 45 points and 22 assists in his first two games in a Pacers uniform. Since then, he’s only improved. Haliburton constantly probes the defense, looking to get his teammates going, jumping high in the air and finding open seams in defenses just before landing. If somehow teams manage to cover up all his passing lanes, he’ll find space for a floater in the lane, a driving right-handing hook off the glass, or a step back three over a close contest.

Indiana Pacers
Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

Tyrese now leads the league in assists, won a game in LA with a perfect last-second dime to Andrew Nembhard, and even manages to take a game over by scoring 35 points and dishing 9 assists, even if it was in a loss to a broken Brooklyn team. There’s no reason to believe Haliburton won’t continue to deliver more pulse-quickening, heart-throbbing moments for Pacers fans for years to come. Just 22, and monetarily incentivized to stay with the Pacers in the long run, we can place our hopes and dreams in him who is the Indiana basketball point guard ideal.

Somewhere in Indiana, on cold driveway concrete, a group of young friends is gathered, geared up with Pacers hoodies and sock caps- “no gloves, because it throws off my shot”- and one of those young, idyllic Hoosiers called point guard on their team so that they could beat their friend off the dribble, rise up in the lane, shout “Hali!” and dump a no-look pass under the basket to their buddy for an open dunk on the hoop they lowered to 8 feet. Such is the Hoosier ideal.

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