Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton working his way into the NBA MVP race

Guard Tyrese Haliburton has entered a new realm in the NBA.

It’s territory reserved for stars: increased expectations for him and the Indiana Pacers and enhanced focused on him from opponents and the need for Haliburton to adapt.

His performance in the NBA In-Season Tournament, including group play, the quarterfinals, semifinals and final, and his performance through the first two months six weeks of the season has made him a serious candidate in the NBA MVP race.

"Tyrese Haliburton is now a name that everyone knows, and he's going to be in the conversation for a lot of things from All-Star to All-NBA to MVP, based on not just this tournament but what he's been doing in every single game this year," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said.

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Haliburton averages 27.1 points, a league-best 12.1 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.0 steals and shoots 52.5% from the field, 44.1% on 3-pointers and 88.4% on free throws.

Teams guard him differently now. They don’t want the basketball in his hands as much, and he needs to figure that out and continue to produce.

"People have said MVP, All-NBA, All-Star, whatever if that happens," Haliburton said. "But at the end of the day I just want to play basketball, and I want to succeed as a team, and I know individual success comes with that."

Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton reacts to a play against the Milwaukee Bucks during the NBA In-Season Tournament Semifinal at T-Mobile Arena.
Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton reacts to a play against the Milwaukee Bucks during the NBA In-Season Tournament Semifinal at T-Mobile Arena.

The Pacers are 12-8 and tied with Cleveland for fifth place in the Eastern Conference and just 3½ games behind first-place Boston. Indiana plays Detroit Monday and Milwaukee Wednesday.

With Haliburton, Bennedict Mathurin, Myles Turner, Buddy Hield, Bruce Brown and a deep roster, the Pacers are turning into a team with serious aspirations.

"If guys want to come play with Indy, I'm going to be here," Haliburton said. "I'm waiting whenever guys want to come. But we've got a great group of guys in our locker room as we speak, and I'm focused on that right now.

"It's the NBA, there's a lot of moving parts, but I'm focused on the guys in our locker room right now and continuing on with the season."

Here are USA TODAY's NBA MVP rankings:

10. Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox

2023-24 stats: 30.5 ppg, 6.5 apg, 4.7 rpg, 1.5 spg, 47.8% FG, 36.9% 3P

As Fox plays more games and the Kings continue to win, he will be in the MVP conversation.

9. Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James

2023-24 stats: 25.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 6.6 apg, 1.5 spg, 55.3% FG, 40.7% 3P

James, winner of the In-Season Tournament MVP, averages 25 points in his 21st season, and no player has averaged more than 7.4 points in his 21st season or beyond.

8. Boston Celtics forward-guard Jayson Tatum

2023-24 stats: 27.5 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.1 spg, 49.6% FG, 35.6% 3P

Tatum has had a slight decrease in offensive efficiency in his past 10 games, but the Celtics remain in first place in the Eastern Conference.

7. Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant

2023-24 stats: 31.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 5.7 apg, 1.2 bpg, 52.1% FG, 50% 3P, 89.2% FT

At 35 years old, Durant has scored at least 30 points in 12 of 19 games.

6. Indiana Pacers Tyrese Haliburton

2023-24 stats: 26.9 ppg, 12.1 apg, 4.2 rpg, 1.0 spg, 52.5% FG, 44.1% 3P, 88.4% FT

Haliburton’s star is shining brighter than ever after his start to the season, including his performance in the In-Season Tournament.

5. Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

2023-24 stats: 30.5 ppg, 6.2 apg, 5.6 rpg, 2.8 spg, 54.5% FG, 34.8% 3P, 91.4% FT

With good reason, there’s attention on Gilgeous-Alexander’s offense, but take note: he’s leading the league in steals per game, and the Thunder have the sixth-best defense.

4. Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo

2023-24 stats: 30.5 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 5.0 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.3 bpg, 61.4% FG,

Antetokounmpo is feasting at the rim, shooting 77.8% from the field on shots 5-feet or closer.

3. Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic

2023-24 stats: 31.9 ppg, 8.7 apg, 8.4 rpg. 1.3 spg, 48.8% FG, 38.2% 3P

Points, rebounds, assists and shot attempts are all up and shooting percentages down just a tad compared to season averages in Doncic’s past nine games.

2. Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic

2023-24 stats: 28.4 ppg, 13.0 rpg, 9.6 apg, 1.1 spg, 53.5% FG

The Nuggets have meandered through the early portion of the schedule with nice victories and bad losses, but Jokic continues do his thing as well as anyone in the league.

1. Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid

2023-24 stats: 33.3 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 6.4 apg, 1.9 bpg, 1.0 spg, 51% FG

Embiid is putting together another career-best type season – after winning MVP last season.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NBA MVP rankings: Tyrese Haliburton working way into the MVP race