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Maalik Wayns' Play Is A Reason To Be Optimistic

It's only been three preseason games, but the Sixers are only asking him to be the backup point guard.

Nick Laham - Getty Images

Let’s talk Maalik Wayns, everybody. It’s apparent that the undrafted rookie is at the very least going to make himself wrestling the backup point guard role from Royal Ivey a conversation. There’s no getting around that the fact that the rook has played well in practices (as has been unanimously reported) and in games. Wayns has looked downright Backup PointGuardyish.

We’re still only three games into the preseason and it’s fair to say that the majority of Philadelphia basketball fans are going to overrate a former Philadelphia Catholic League star and Big Five alum who is trying to play his way onto the big club. Heck, I know I am plenty little guilty of it, and still am with Lavoy Allen serving as the most recent example. Hey, it’s what we do in Philly, protect our own, wanting them to do well (except for Kobe). And if everything goes right, we want them to do well here, for the Sixers.

But here’s the tricky little thing about guarding against our own biases: Thus far, Wayns looks like he belongs and has the potential to develop into a very solid backup point guard. Even more than those future aspirations, which were really always possible regarding Wayns, his preseason play suggests that he might be able to help the Sixers this season. Seeing is apparently believing, folks.

Simply put, Wayns has a skillset that causes opposing defenses problems. He forces defenders to make quick decisions on the fly, and basketball players, like presidential candidates, are better when they have time to get organized and know exactly what is coming. In three preseason games, Wayns' averages of 11 points, 5.7 assists, 1.7 turnovers in 23 minutes per game are encouraging.

Let’s go over what he brings to the table (and sorry, no videos or screen shots. For whatever reason, Synergy doesn’t do October service):

1. Speed: Wayns’ best attribute by far is his blinding speed with the basketball in the open court, and with the rookie probably only slated for a few minutes of playing time per game to start the year (if that), he will use it whenever he is in the game. Wayns is a freaking blur in the open floor and pushing the ball at breakneck speed creates problems for the defense.

The pressure Wayns puts on a defense can end in a variety of positive outcomes for the offense. The most obvious is when nobody stops the ball and he simply blows by everyone for a layup. On one play Monday night, even though the Celtics had 4 players in front of Wayns when he caught the outlet pass at the foul line, they only had Jason Terry between him and the basket by the time he had gotten to half court. And that’s where Wayns smells blood, one on one situations where he already has a full head of steam. A nice in and out dribble with the left hand to get Terry leaning ever so slightly that way was followed by a lightning quick crossover and the result was a three-point play. Wayns has the elite quickness with the ball in his hands to be an effective straight-line driver in the open court.

Wayns’ speed also creates matchup problems for the defense, especially if his teammates are willing to run with him. On one play last night, Dorell Wright and Nick Young sprinted the floor to complement Wayns, and while they didn’t get the ball, the Celtics weren’t matched up properly because of the break. Wayns quickly swung the ball to a trailing Hawes, who with the much smaller Terry on him, made an easy pass over the top to Lavoy Allen on the block.

The "push the ball" attitude is infectious, too. Dorell Wright’s ball handling has been much better than advertised thus far, and on one play Monday, Wayns ran the floor with Wright pushing the ball and Young on the other side. Wright hit Wayns with a pass for a layup. Who needs set positions anyway?

In closing, as long as Wayns is in the game, the second unit is going to play fast, and with shooters willing to spot-up in transition alongside the rookie, the second unit could string together some "Seven Seconds or Less" possessions in a row from time to time.

2. Half-court Offense: Wayns needs to do two things well here: Pick and roll and catch and shoot. In the pick and roll, Wayns’ athletic profile both helps and hurts him. At the very least, his quickness and ability to change speeds is elite, which helps in splitting double teams or flat out rejecting screens. But Wayns will get in trouble if he over-penetrates and gets too deep into the lane because of a lack of leaping ability and therefore in his case, ability to finish. He reminds me of his close friend Kyle Lowry up until the leaping ability. Floaters and quick pull-ups will become Wayns' best friend. He looks to be a much better passer than he was given credit for coming out of college though, which could be a product of playing with better teammates. Or it could be a three-game fluke. In reality, it’s probably a little of both.

Monday night, Wayns set up Spencer Hawes beautifully on a pick and roll when he rejected the screen, quickly went left, and hit the diving Hawes (a rarity) for a layup (not a rarity). The delicate balance of being able to change speeds effectively and still play under control is one Wayns will have to learn to be an effective pick and roll player. But he does have the tools to be proficient at running it.

As far as his three-point shooting goes, Wayns was knocked for shooting 30 percent last year at Villanova. But remember, he had a surprisingly weak supporting cast and because of this, Wayns was forced to take many long and difficult shots off the dribble. His form is solid, and he gets decent elevation on his jumper, so now the goal now is for Wayns to take better shots. On Monday, he buried a fairly well contested shot from the corner in Terry’s grill off a post kick-out from Hawes. He doesn't lack the confidence, that's for sure.

3. Defense: This is the area where Wayns will undoubtedly need work, even if it hasn’t particularly shown yet. Here’s a DX report on him from last year:

Wayns is a mixed-bag on defense, lacking the size, length and lateral quickness to project as anything more than decent in the NBA, but clearly possessing the effort and fundamentals to compensate at this level. His biggest problem at this level remains his inability to defend the pick and roll, as he constantly struggles to break through screens. Though he has been a capable defender throughout his career, he will have to prove to scouts that he can guard NBA players.

And I think that evaluation is dead on. Wayns is not one of those guys like Russell Westbrook who has elite speed in whatever he does, because Wayns only possesses it with the ball in his hands. On defense, Wayns’ lateral quickness isn’t a disaster, but it’s still probably below average. Last night he did an admirable job, Meeksian even, chasing Terry around screens, and it’s apparent that he does give effort on that end. And I’ll continue to say the one thing I’ve said for two years about Sixers players who don’t have the requisite talent to be an elite defender: I trust Doug Collins to make him better and at least passable on defense, if he gives the requisite effort needed to succeed.

Again, it’s only three preseason games, but Wayns’ Watch 2012 in officially on. In an area where the Sixers were criticized for not doing enough in the offseason, Wayns has given the Sixers legitimate reason to believe he could fill the backup point guard role and give the team a different dimension this season. And that’s what you can take from the first three games, a guarded optimism.

Oh, and Hawes’ M&M (mustache and mullet) look is ridiculous. That too.

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