Tyrese Maxey’s Upside
As the Philadelphia 76ers navigate this unprecedented year of disruptions, one of the most pressing needs is determining what they really have in Tyrese Maxey. Undoubtedly, Maxey has been a revelation over his 6 weeks in the NBA. Surprisingly, Maxey fell to the 76ers at pick 21 in November's NBA draft. The 6'2" Maxey had been projected to be a late lottery after his lone season in Kentucky.
Almost immediately after he was selected, tweets from none other than Lebron James and John Calipari lauded the selection and Maxey's game. That was a wake-up call for many of us who had been surprised by his fall, wondering if teams saw something that draft analysts did not. James' strong endorsement was particularly enlightening, and it became clear that Maxey had been working with the Klutch organization in Los Angeles before the draft.
That night I asked Maxey about his time with Lebron James and Ben Simmons, and he admitted that he had worked with them and others in Los Angeles since May.
So it should not be a huge surprise that he has looked more poised than a normal rookie thus far in his career. But as reports surfaced that the Rockets were demanding Maxey in any negotiations for James Harden, an interesting question arises. How good Can Tyrese Maxey actually be?
So far, Maxey has been mostly asked to be a downhill scoring guard, and he has thrived in that role. But ultimately, at his size, you'd judge his true value to a team by his ability to operate as a true lead guard and facilitator. Here is an exchange from Friday night when I asked Doc Rivers about Maxey's drive and floater game potentially opening up lob opportunities for other players.
Blevins: Hey, Doc teams look like they're willing to live with Tyrese in the mid-range pull-ups and the floaters. When they start to come out and challenge him, is he working on, instead of a floater, a lob to, maybe, Dwight or someone like that?
Rivers: No, I'm fine with what he's doing, and you know the reason he's getting those floaters is cause he's beating people off the dribble. If you take the floater away, this probably leads to a layup, so that's not a concern. He knows how to throw a law pass. But that's not something I'm going to sit around teaching all day. I can tell you that. We want him to keep working on his overall game. And he's been absolutely wonderful. And not only doing it but wanting to learn. So, no he's, he's fine.
So what does that tell us? My interpretation is that it says that a good coach is keeping things simple for a rookie guard. Maxey will be given that opportunity, off the bench to play in attack mode, with a green light, when he is on the floor. So far this season, Maxey is passing seemingly every test. Shooting 48% from the field and nearly 19 points per 36 minutes are absolutely everything you could reasonably ask from a rookie.
However, if you think about the Sixers making a push to a championship run, you have to look at Maxey from two distinct lenses.
1. Bench microwave: He is fantastic as a player who can maintain a lead when the starters are on the bench. Outstanding in this role. But his shot selection inherently has limitations on it's expected efficiency. Opposing coaches preach discipline to defenses about taking away shots from three and at the rim. This leaves a soft zone of open areas from 8-20 feet from the basket, and that is where Maxey is thriving. Those shots carry a much lower chance of getting fouled, and they are only worth 2 points best case. To carry an elite 60% true shooting, a player must make 60% of those shots. Historically very few NBA players are capable of doing that,
2. Trade asset for a superstar: This is where it becomes crucial to know exactly what you have. So far, he has lit up the league, and GMs around the league are going to fall in love with him. Any discussion for Bradley Beal or a Zach Lavine type player will include Maxey in the discussion.
So are there any red flags that make you question his ceiling? What is Maxey's ceiling? The night of the draft, Maxey pointed to two players he wanted to emulate in the NBA, Jamaal Murray and Jrue Holiday. Both of those players thrive in a combo guard role, Holiday being an outstanding defender and Murray being a green light scorer next to a pass-first center in Nikola Jokic. Maxey is smaller than both of those players but is probably lighter on his feet and bouncier than either,
Another comparison is De'Aaron Fox, the lightning-quick guard in Sacramento, and another Kentucky product. Fox is the closest physical comparison to Maxey in the league but came into the NBA as more of a facilitator and less of a scorer. Maxey compares favorably to Fox when it comes to overall scoring ability, and he will likely be a better shooter at three levels than Fox.
And then when you watch Tyrese Maxey's floater game, a play that is extremely difficult to master, you see shades of Mike Conley. Conley has made a long career for himself as a relatively undersized guard with an extreme feel for the game and touch on the "Giant Killer," the floater from the middle of the paint. Conley is now thriving in Utah in his 14th year in the league.
So the question ultimately becomes, is Maxey Jamaal Murray? Jrue Holiday? De'Aaron Fox? Mike Conley? The answer to this is what Daryl Morey and the rest of the league are trying to figure out. Whoever guesses first and right about his ultimate ceiling will win.
To be clear, the 76ers have no desire to move Maxey, but they are very likely to want to make a big move for another star as they look to compete with Brooklyn and the teams out west. His name will come up in virtually every talk, and knowing if he is untouchable or not will quickly become the million-dollar question.
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