Golden State Warriors could have drafted the newest NBA superstar

Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers and Wendell Carter Jr., Orlando Magic
Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers and Wendell Carter Jr., Orlando Magic / Julio Aguilar/GettyImages

In 2009, the Golden State Warriors benefited from a number of teams passing on a future superstar point guard; Stephen Curry fell to them with the seventh pick, and the rest is history. They obviously deserve credit for not passing themselves, or trading the pick, but if one of the teams above them does a better job they never even get the chance.

11 years later it was the Warriors making the big mistake. Heading into the 2020 NBA Draft the Warriors had the second overall pick, quite the consolation prize for an abysmal season where Stephen Curry played just five games and Klay Thompson missed the entire year. The Warriors took James Wiseman, a physical specimen at center.

That move itself, viewed in a vacuum, was a whiff. Wiseman made our recent Warriors' "All-time Draft Bust Starting 5" as the big man has completely failed to develop, currently unable to crack the full-strength rotation for the worst team in the league. Getting such a poor return on the second pick was a massive failure.

The pick looks even worse, however, when you take the context into account.

The Golden State Warriors could have drafted Tyrese Haliburton

The NBA just wrapped up its inagural In-Season Tournament, an addition to the calendar that appears to be a massive success. Teams and players cared about the secondary competition, the games were hard-fought even when they weren't close, and it looks like a development that is here to stay.

In addition to making November basketball games more meaningful than they've ever been, the In-Season Tournament brought us something else: the crowning of a new NBA superstar. Point guard Tyrese Haliburton led the Indiana Pacers to the Championship Game and cracked into the upper crust of NBA stars in the process. He may have lost to LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in that final game, but he also established himself as a star who is here to stay.

As much fun as it has been to watch Haliburton blossom into a pinpoint-passing, fastbreak-running, stebpack-shooting on-ball star, his success comes with a hint of bitterness and regret for a number of NBA teams. Haliburton fell to 12th in the 2020 NBA Draft, where he was drafted by the Sacramento Kings; at least 10 of those teams have to regret their part in making Haliburton a draft-day steal.

That includes the Warriors and former general manager Bob Myers, who took Wiseman instead of Haliburton with the second pick. Myers, working for ESPN on their NBA Countdown team, expressed his regret at not drafting Haliburton, saying "I should have known" in a recent conversation about the exploding star.

In defense of Myers, the entire NBA community agreed that the 2020 Draft was a three-player draft; to see anyone other than Anthony Edwards, Wiseman and LaMelo Ball go in the Top-3 would have been shocking. The Warriors would have had to break with consensus and truly take a chance on Haliburton if they used the second pick on him; it's much more realistic to call them out for taking Wiseman over Ball.

That's not to say there were no voices advocating for Haliburton highly in the draft. ESPN's Kevin Pelton publishes a composite draft ranking each year that combines stats projections with scouting, and in 2020 he ranked Iowa State's Tyrese Haliburton second overall, behind only LaMelo Ball (he had Wiseman at 16th).

The Warriors didn't have to draft Haliburton with the second pick, either. Numerous teams were making trade offers in pursuit of a top-3 pick, and reporting at the time was that the Warriors had multiple offers to trade down in the Top 10.

One such trade would have seen the Warriors trade back to the fourth pick, allowing the Chicago Bulls to leap up and add center Wendell Carter Jr. for their trouble. Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Warriors were likely to use the fourth pick on (Israeli forward) Deni Avdija or....Tyrese Haliburton.

Another popular rumor was that the New York Knicks had offered their own young center, Mitchell Robinson, alongside the seventh pick to trade up with the Warriors. Either option would have given the Warriors a center who has proven significantly better than Wiseman, and also allowed them to add a point guard who has blossomed into one of the best offensive players in the league.

It's easy to look back on a draft with the benefit of hindsight and say a team shouldn't have passed on a player; all 29 other teams passed on Nikola Jokic, for example. Most of the time those true draft "steals" were never in consideration, never a real possibility. Draymond Green, Jokic, Manu Ginobili -- those players came out of nowhere.

That's not the case with Tyrese Haliburton. Leading into the draft he was mocked as high as fourth to the Bulls, and the Warriors were linked to him multiple times during the pre-draft process. On draft night the broadcast itself kept asking which team would take Haliburton, and it was genuinely surprising to see him slip all the way to the 12th picks. The Warriors strongly considered drafting Haliburton, either at No. 2 or by trading back, and they decided to take Wiseman instead.

Imagining the Warriors with Haliburton and Wendell Carter Jr. on the roster. That's not a wild dream; it's a reality that very nearly came to pass. In 2009 the Warriors benefited from teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves wasting their picks; in 2020, it was the Dubs being wasteful.

Watching Haliburton over the next decade will be a joy for NBA fans, even if it will be bittersweet for the Warriors. They blew their pick in 2020, and in the process lost out on the chance to add a future superstar. That's a bitter pill to swallow.

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