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Tyrese Haliburton, the NBA’s interception king

Tyrese Haliburton is breaking new ground with his nursing stats this season. But don’t overlook what he’s doing in defense of the Indiana Pacers.

Tyrese Haliburton is having a great season with the surprisingly talented Indiana Pacers, pushing himself into all sorts of odd statistical territory.

His assist for Andrew Nimbard in the three-point game against the Lakers on Monday night gave him a total of 40 assists and 0 turnovers over his past three games, NBA first. He leads the league in passing percentage, at 52.4 percent, and is on his way to becoming only the seventh player in NBA history to finish a qualifying season with an assist percentage above 50 — the other six being John Stockton, James Harden, Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and Steve Nash.

His assists may be the most striking aspect of his stat profile, but he also averages 19.9 points per game and is within striking distance of joining the 50/40/90 club. With 20 games, all else being equal, converting three missed free throws, three missed shots and five 2-in missed chips would put him above those thresholds.

But for now, I want to focus on an incredible oddity regarding the Halliburton heist total.

Nobody in the NBA picks passes like Tyrese Haliburton

So far this season, Haliburton has averaged 1.8 steals per game, fifth most in the league. Over his three seasons in the NBA, he finished second in total steals (247), behind only DeJonte Murray. In play-by-play annals, steals are categorized as either missing-ball steals (driving the ball away from a dribbler) or poor pass stealing (intercepting a faulty pass). The chart below shows the top 500 players in minutes played over the past three seasons with their steals separated by type.

Not only is Haliburton an exception in the total number of steals, he is on a whole island in terms of the percentage of his steals that come from catching opponent passes. Of the 51 players who have had at least 150 total steals over the past three seasons, only 14 have earned 70% or more of their steals from opposing passes. Halliburton is the only player above 80 percent.

Obviously, Haliburton’s size (6-foot-5) and wingspan (6-foot-8) factor into the space around the point of attack. But he also has a terrific awareness of where passing angles are going to materialize as plays develop.

It also seems fair to ask if this skill and awareness could be linked to his abilities as a passer. He’s so good at seeing these angles and knowing where the space will open up as an offensive player that he can see a mirror image of the defense.

Another consequence of this imbalance, which results in stealing passes rather than direct pressure on the ball player, is that it avoids a lot of needless fouls. Of the 15 players who have had at least 200 steals over the past three seasons, Haliburton, Jimmy Butler and Dillon Wright are the only three who have had more steals than errors.

Putting all the pieces together, we have a picture of Halliburton that is just as unique as his offensive contributions and a two-way fundamental that should make the Pacers feel incredibly optimistic about their present and future.


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