Tyrese Maxey is Ready for the Next Step

Mitchell Leff/USA TODAY Sports

Tyrese Maxey is Ready for the Next Step

NBA

Tyrese Maxey is Ready for the Next Step

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@TyreseMaxey on Twitter

The Ben Simmons debacle in Philadelphia has been one of the NBA’s premier headlines over the past couple of weeks. Although chatter has died down since Simmons left the team, a mark has been left. The 76ers have done a remarkably good job over the past couple of weeks, standing at 5-2 to start the season. Although Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris have generated most of Philly’s offense this year, it’s the play of sophomore point guard Tyrese Maxey that has kept this afloat while Simmons has been sidelined.

Maxey, a crafty guard who spent his freshman year playing for Kentucky under John Calipari, had a solid but unproductive rookie season. It wasn’t necessarily his fault he didn’t put up gaudy counting stats. He showed terrific flashes throughout the year but simply didn’t play enough minutes to really put everything all together. Now, he’s a full-time starter and one of the 76ers’ leaders in minutes per game. 

Maxey’s best trait without a doubt is his scoring; in particular, his ability to get to the rim. Although he doesn’t possess the shiftiest handle or the quickest of first steps, Maxey wins with straight-line speed and finishes at the rim thanks to his body control and finishing craft. He toasts drop coverage in the PNR and attacks gaping holes in the defense. He wasn’t blessed with nuclear athleticism but he’s decisive on his drives and he does a great job accelerating out of a standstill.

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He may already be in the upper echelon of guard finishers as well. Getting to the rim is one thing, converting those shots is another. Maxey has finished 69.8% of his shots at the rim so far. That’s a wildly impressive number for anyone, nevertheless a 6-foot-2-inch, 20-year-old. 28.5% of his shots come at the rim as well, so roughly 3.6 shots attempted per game from there. Beyond the numbers, it’s clear why Maxey is such a prolific rim finisher at such a young age.

For starters, he has elite touch. His floater game is a perfect complement to his driving game and it’s a brilliant way to show off his touch. He uses his understanding of driving angles to find the most efficient way to the rim and he compensates for his lack of vertical athleticism with elite finishing craft. He’s ambidextrous around the rim and does a great job using wrong foot/hand scoops and finishes to avoid looming rim protectors. 

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Maxey should in theory develop into a good-to-great pull-up shooter. He’s been a solid mid-range shooter so far this season (50.0% from 10-16 ft) and is shooting a terrific 38.9% on pull-up threes so far this year. The problem is that his consistency as a shooter has been troubling. In his freshman season at Kentucky, he shot 29.2% on threes. During his rookie season with the 76ers, he shot 30.1% from three. He’s yet to really prove he can be a consistent shooter from deep and that could limit his ceiling as an on-ball creator.

But, there’s still reason to be optimistic about Maxey’s shooting upside. For starters, he’s always been an elite free throw shooter. In college, he shot 83.3% from the line and so far in the NBA, he’s shot 87.5% on 89 total attempts. Free throw percentage is a good indicator of future shooting success and Maxey’s indicators look incredibly promising.

There’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about Maxey’s scoring. It’s feasible for him to be a 20-point-per-game scorer, maybe even as soon as next year. With his ability to get and finish at the rim plus continuous improvements as a pull-up shooter, he could be Philadelphia’s go-to scoring option on the perimeter. He fits much better around Embiid than Simmons because he can space the floor while Embiid isolates in the post. You no longer have to play four-on-five on offense in a halfcourt setting in the playoffs.

However, let’s not act like Simmons completely killed this team. His facilitating and defensive prowess at the point of attack were as good as advertised for the 76ers. There was some concern about how Maxey was going to be able to handle those responsibilities. Well, so far this season, he’s done a terrific job at filling his shoes.

Passing has never been Maxey’s calling card. He’s always been a score-first player who, while unselfish, looked for his own shot before giving it up for others. Not only that, but he wasn’t able to make advanced reads in the PNR and he had tunnel vision when attacking the basket. He’s still young and still has some of those issues but the improvements he’s made as a lead facilitator have been quite promising.

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It’s not an advanced read nor a particularly difficult pass, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s simple, well placed, and it generates an easy two points. Maxey doesn’t need to be a terrific passer, he just needs to learn how to leverage his gravity and how to set up his teammates.

On that particular play, he does a great job leveraging his gravity. Jaxson Hayes is in drop coverage and he’s clearly expecting a floater. Maxey recognizes and throws a floating lob pass over the top right into Paul Reed’s hands for the dunk. He’s taking what the defense is giving to him and that’s all he really needs to do for Philadelphia.

He also needs to simply get the ball in their hands. Embiid needs his low-post touches, Tobias Harris is their most consistent perimeter scorer, and Seth Curry has been scorching hot since the season started. These guys need to get the ball and Maxey has done a good job getting it to them. He knows how to pick his spots well, he doesn’t dominate the ball, and he has a good shot selection. Maxey may be an odd fit as a point guard but he’s playing his role extremely well.

Mitchell Leff/USA TODAY Sports

Ben Simmons’ best skill is his defense and it’s not much of a debate. He’s an elite perimeter stopper who frequently lockdowns the opposing team’s best shot creator. He combines immense physical tools with a high motor and his development curve dating back all the way to his days at LSU has been wild to track. While Maxey isn’t the versatile, do-it-all stopper that Simmons is, he’s been terrific at the point of attack for the 76ers.

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He’s always engaged on the ball. He routinely puts smaller guards in jail by overwhelming them. He’s got incredibly functional length and he’s a great shot-blocking guard despite not even being 6-foot-4-inches. Maxey isn’t an incredible athlete but he doesn’t need to be. His effort combined with his frame and toughness makes him a nightmare matchup.

All in all, Maxey has looked the part of a future NBA star over the past couple of weeks. His high-scoring potential is what really sells me on his stardom but it’s his improvements as both a facilitator and defender that make me so impressed with his growth curve.

He’s a terrific complement to Joel Embiid on both ends of the floor as well which is so terrific for the 76ers long term. The Simmons divorce in Philadelphia may have to come sooner rather than later because Maxey looks more than ready to take his starting job long-term.

All stats recent as of 11/11.

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