MVP Darkhorse? Why Haliburton's stellar performance is impossible to ignore

NBA In-Season Tournament Semifinals: Indiana Pacers vs Milwaukee Bucks
NBA In-Season Tournament Semifinals: Indiana Pacers vs Milwaukee Bucks / Anadolu/GettyImages

Before the season, when people thought of the best guards in the NBA, the conversation revolved around Luka Doncic, Stephen Curry, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Devin Booker, and others. Those guys rightfully deserved to be at the center of those conversations, but as we enter the holiday season, another guard has forced his way in: Tyrese Haliburton.

Haliburton is a huge reason why the Indiana Pacers have shocked the league to start the year. The Pacers currently sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with a 13-11 record, and they are a half-game out of the sixth seed. They were nearly unstoppable in the inaugural In-Season tournament, and went all the way to the championship, where they fell to the Los Angeles Lakers.

They do not get that far without the brilliance of Haliburton. He has played at an MVP level this season and should be among the favorites to win the award. The NBA has not seen this efficient of a playmaker since Steve Nash, and Haliburton is following in his footsteps, and he might even be better, which is crazy to say. Allow me to explain.

Why Tyrese Haliburton is among the best in the NBA.

The Pacers have the best offense in the NBA, as they lead the league in offensive rating at 126.4, and they average 127.4 points per game. They also lead the league in assists per game (30) and field goal percentage (50), and they are inside the top ten in total threes made and three-point percentage. They also play at the NBA’s fastest pace this season.

This is almost unheard of after 25 games, and if the Pacers keep this up, they will statistically have the best offense in NBA history. Haliburton is a huge reason why this offense is such a well-oiled machine. He himself is also on a historic offensive pace and putting up numbers we have never seen in NBA history. Currently, Haliburton is averaging 26 points per game, four rebounds, and 12 assists. He leads the league in assists per game and is inside the top 15 in points per game.

However, what makes his statline even more impressive is how efficient Haliburton has been in the process. He is shooting 52 percent from the field, 44 percent from three point range, and 88 percent from the free throw line. He is putting up these gaudy numbers and is doing it with basically 50/40/90 efficiency. No player in NBA history has put up 25 points and 10 assists on 50/40/90 shooting splits. 

Usually when point guards put up gaudy numbers like these, you would expect some inefficiencies. Trae Young is a perfect example of this. He is putting up similar points, and assists per game to Haliburton, but his shooting splits are 43/38/88. Haliburton’s impact goes beyond just his individual stats as the Pacers go from the best offense in the NBA to one of the worst without their star floor general.

Haliburton's impact on the Pacers is impossible to ignore.

The Pacers did score 144 points against the Miami Heat earlier in the season. That game was a huge outlier, though, because in their other two games without Haliburton, the Pacers scored 104 and 109 points, respectively. Those point totals are way below their season average. Another reason Haliburton’s numbers are so impressive is because of his low usage.

You would think that part of the reason he is averaging these huge numbers is because of his usage percentage. Not so fast. Haliburton only has 26 percent usage this season, and that does not even put him in the top 20 in the NBA. Star players are usually close to 30 percent usage, but not Haliburton. Every metric, every statistic, and every game show how efficient he really is, and that is what makes him one of the MVP favorites.

There are only two guards that you can say are better than Tyrese Haliburton right now: Luka Doncic, and Stephen Curry. Those are two arguably top five NBA players, and Haliburton is playing on their level this season.

If the Pacers manage to finish as a top-six seed in a tough Eastern Conference and Haliburton keeps this up, he should be an MVP finalist. He might just win the award, too. Tyrese Haliburton is here to stay, and the league should be ready for his takeover to continue.