Is it time to buy into the Tyrese Haliburton hype?

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Remember The Greatest Show on Turf?

The then-St. Louis Rams that had a 4-12 record in 1998, with a struggling offense that didn't turn around until 1999, when Kurt Warner was elevated to the starting spot.

After Warner took over under center, the rest was history. That Rams team led the NFL in scoring in 1999 with a high-octane offense that ran their opponents off the field. Warner was a key part of that attack, gashing opponents with passes and distributing the ball to his receivers. Warner would go on to win the NFL MVP award, leading a Rams team that eventually won the Super Bowl that season.

Perhaps we are seeing history repeat itself this season in the NBA.

The Indiana Pacers had a 35-47 record in the 2022-23 season while ranking 19th in offensive rating. Indiana's young point guard, Tyrese Haliburton, played well and showed a lot of promise as the floor general of its offense. One season later, Haliburton has made a tremendous leap, quarterbacking a Pacers' team that leads the NBA in offensive rating and has catapulted into playoff contention in the Eastern Conference. Haliburton and the Pacers reached Saturday night's inaugural NBA in-season tournament championship game with an unlikely run, knocking off two teams with the best records in the East, the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks

Haliburton has the Pacers playing like the NBA version of those 1999 Rams. Indiana has become the greatest show on the court and absolute appointment television. The Pacers are a delight to watch, not only because of their brand of fast-paced, high-efficiency offense, but also because they rank next-to-last in Defensive Rating, which means their opponents also tend to have high-octane, high-scoring performances.

But how is Haliburton doing what he is doing? And what are his chances of winning the MVP of the in-season tournament (+150 at ESPN BET), most improved player (+400), and NBA MVP (+1500)?

Lets examine these questions below.

What does Haliburton's "leap" look like?

Haliburton is the focal point of the Pacers' offense, a maestro off the dribble who consistently delivers the ball to his teammates in position to shoot. He creates open looks by probing the opposing defense off the bounce, threatening with elite long-range shooting that forces defenses to extend out to him. Haliburton then uses his quickness and length (he is 6-foot-5) to either attack the rim or pull in the defense and set up assists. His numbers reflect this.

Haliburton leads the NBA with 12.1 APG, a significant lead over second place Trae Young (10.6 APG). He also leads the league with 531 passes leading to a shot (per Second Spectrum), ranking ahead of Nikola Jokic (493). Among the top-10 players with the most passes leading to a shot, Haliburton's 98.0 completion percentage is second only to Tyrese Maxey (98.6 completion percentage) and his 5.4 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks third among full-time starting point guards.

Those advanced metrics beyond the box score tell an important story, that Haliburton is not only generating a high volume of shots for teammates, but he is also doing so with incredible efficiency. He is rarely careless with the basketball, epitomized by his NBA record 25-plus assists with zero turnovers and 50-plus points over his past two games this week.

And he's just playing it safe. In Thursday's win over the Bucks, Haliburton delivered an alley-oop from half court that Obi Toppin finished with a reverse dunk. He is passing teammates open with high skill-level looks and rarely making mistakes despite the degree of difficulty, NBA quarterbacking at its finest.

But Haliburton isn't just a passer and floor general. His elite scoring ability is also part of the package that makes him such a weapon on the Pacers offense. Haliburton has made 4.0 3PG, fifth in the NBA, and is knocking down his treys at an career-high 44.1 3P% ... though it should be noted he has shot at least 40% from beyond the arc in every season of his career.

And Haliburton is creating his shots almost entirely off the dribble. According to basketball-reference, Haliburton has only been assisted on 36.6% of his 3-point shots, and 23.5% of his shots altogether. That means about one in three of Haliburton's made 3-pointers are assisted, and about one in four of his shots altogether. He is creating the rest of his scoring volume himself and is still able to finish at outstanding level. Haliburton's true shooting percentage 67.4 (TS%, accounts for 3-pointers and free throws as well), first in the NBA among guards and just ahead of Stephen Curry (67.1 FG%). Like his passing, Haliburton's scoring efficiency isn't a by-product of playing safe as he has averaged 26.9 PPG, tied for 12th in the NBA.

Can Haliburton take home some hardware?

Haliburton leads the NBA in assists, is among the league leaders in scoring, has elite efficiency as both a passer and a scorer and is leads the top offense in the NBA. He also has the Pacers winning at a clip few anticipated coming into the season ... including a the in-season tournament championship game. Haliburton is building a heck of a resume, which begs the question: is he a legitimate candidate for any NBA awards?

He is currently +150 to win the in-season tournament MVP, but the award will likely come down to who wins the championship. If the Pacers upset the Lakers on Saturday night, Haliburton is almost guaranteed to be the tournament MVP. That is why his MVP odds and the Pacers' money line odds to win the game at ESPN BET are identical. The Pacers have thrived in the underdog role all tournament long, so Haliburton has a reasonable chance to win.

Look out for Haliburton in the most improved player market (+400). Tyrese Maxey (+110) has been the prohibitive favorite for MIP so far this season and Haliburton hadn't seemed like a likely candidate because he was already an All Star that averaged 20 PPG and 10 APG, which wouldn't seem to have enough improvement upside for the award. But his scorching start to the season has shown that even an All Star can make a leap. His improvement to more-like 27 and 12 is astonishing, and over the last few weeks Haliburton's averages are closer to 32 and 13. If there Haliburton continues to keep up this pace while guiding the Pacers to the playoffs, he has an absolutely viable chance to win MIP.

He also has a puncher's chance to win MVP (+1500). Haliburton entered the season as such a long shot that I didn't see a viable way he could win. But his play during the in-season tournament has drawn the eyes of players, fans and award voters. If Haliburton is able to produce a historical average like 30 PPG and 10 APG, while leading the Pacers to a top-4 seed in the East and earning high-profile accolades like an in-Season tournament championship and MVP, he would absolutely be a viable candidate for MVP at the end of the season. With the way he has played so far, I don't think the list of "what ifs" is too far-fetched.