Landing Tyrese Maxey in the 2020 NBA Draft always seemed like a long shot at best for the Philadelphia 76ers. Ranked as a lottery-level prospect by plenty of draft experts, the dynamic 6’3” guard from Kentucky could have easily been drafted well before the Sixers with the 21st pick. But much to the surprise and excitement of the Sixers and their fans, Maxey fell just far enough to make it Philly.
The Sixers’ President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey was ecstatic that he had the chance to select Maxey.
“We were excited to have such a blue-chip prospect there, top 10 in high school,” Morey explained in a Zoom press conference with media after the draft. “I like guards who can guard multiple positions and he can do that. Doc really wants to get out in transition, that’s a focus of Dave Joerger as well, and Tyrese has a history of that. The overall package outside of that, he’s just a guy you get in the lottery and to get him at 21 and at a position of need, we’re very excited about that.”
The Sixers are right to be excited. Maxey has a lot of talent that fits exactly what the team needs. His driving is excellent, with a high level of burst, strength, body control, creativity, ambidextrousness, and elite touch with layups and floaters that will give the Sixers a welcome injection of creation off the dribble.
He can handle a few pick-and-rolls, add a touch of playmaking, and offer some pull-up ability (he has good tools to catch defenders off guard with his pull-ups — he has great change of pace, decelerates quickly, and sets his feet/shoulders well as he elevates into his shots).
Maxey brings a lot on defense, too. While he doesn’t have too much versatility beyond 1s and 2s with his 6’3” frame, he’s strong and physical. He’s disruptive with good lateral quickness and competitive effort on the ball, and has the instincts, awareness and positioning to be a plus off the ball, too.
Some people have focused on Maxey’s 29.2 percent three-point shooting at Kentucky and dismissed his shooting ability because of it, but a small sample of just 113 total attempts hardly tells the full story. Maxey shot 33.7 percent on 602 three-point attempts (6.2 per game) through his junior and senior EYBL seasons. And when taking into account his touch, neat release, flashes from deep range and off the dribble, and free throw stroke (83.3 percent) as well, it’s clear that his three-point percentage at Kentucky undersells his ability and upside.
Nevertheless, one of Maxey’s top priorities in the prolonged lead up to this year’s draft was to develop his jumper and prove that he’s a better shooter than his showing at Kentucky suggests. He’s been working out two or three times a day, starting at 6 am when he takes 750 to 800 shots. He sets himself challenges to increase his streaks of consecutively made shots. His latest record? 36 made threes in a row.
“I want to show people that I’m a way better shooter than what the numbers say,” Maxey said in his first Zoom call with reporters as a Sixer. “What I’ve been doing is working out at 6 am, go lift at 8, I’m back in the gym at 10 and sometimes going back later in the day. I want to be able to show everybody that I can knock down those threes. I’m a way better shooter than my numbers show, and that’s one thing I want to show at the next level.”
Daryl Morey mentioned Maxey’s pre-college performance as a promising indicator for his shooting ability, and added how encouraged the Sixers are by his mechanics as well.
“I was thrilled because I think teams tend to fix in on weaknesses instead of celebrating strengths,” Morey added after the draft. “He was a top USA Basketball guy, and it was a year where you could maybe find more value with the very limited views because obviously, the college season didn’t finish. Historically, guys with his pedigree coming in who play at an effective level on a top team, you’re putting yourself in a really good spot to get a player who can help over time.”
“We do a lot of things to try and look at mechanics and look at other measurables to see how he will shoot in the pros, and we strongly believe Tyrese will shoot better than the number that sticks next to his name. We’re optimistic on his shooting.”
Maxey spent more time in a secondary role off the ball while he was at Kentucky. He believes that kind of experience — attacking scrambling defenses, running a few pick-and-rolls, and serving as more of a secondary ball-handler — has prepared him for the NBA, and to fit with the Sixers in particular.
“I think it helped me a lot,” Maxey began when talking about how his role at Kentucky will help him complement Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. “I really appreciate the circumstance that I was in at the University of Kentucky because now I feel like I fit into the new-age NBA, with guys like Jamal Murray, CJ McCollum, even Damian Lillard, Jrue Holiday, different guys like that, who have to play on and off the ball. Now, it’s just another asset to my game where I can play on the ball if I have to and, when guys like Joel and Ben are in the game, I can play off the ball and find ways to help the team like that.”
Maxey also understands how important his shooting (in a variety of ways) will be next to Simmons and Embiid.
“I’ve been working on it all. Catch-and-shoot off of different actions, off-the-dribble, you have to have all of that in today’s game. I feel like if you can’t be able to knock down shots from everywhere on the court, wide-open threes, especially now playing with a guy like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid who cause a lot of attention, it’s going to be hard to be on the floor. That’s a main focus on someone like me in today’s game.”
Maxey is represented by Klutch Sports, the same agency as Simmons and LeBron James. Maxey already has a good relationship with both of them, and getting to play with Simmons only adds to his excitement to get started in the NBA.
“I went out to LA in May and I’ve been in there working every single day. I think everybody stops by and they see me working and grinding and I think that’s why we have that connection. It’s been great having a guy like LeBron or even Ben Simmons as an older brother and mentors and somebody like me, a rookie coming into the league, it’s great to have those guys on your side.”
“Those guys are very inspirational, they’re like big brothers to me, and now being on the team with Ben is really cool.”
When asked about what other developments he’s made in the months leading up to the draft besides his shooting, Maxey emphasized how much he’s focused on improving his body and diet.
“Another thing I really, really focused on was diet and body. Just because the NBA season, from what I heard, can be really gruelling, you know especially for rookies coming in. And then with the whole COVID-19 situation... we had no idea when the season was starting, we were all clueless. And my thing was, I didn’t want to have to get ready, I wanted to stay ready. So now I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life.”
Maxey even said that he’s added 3-4 inches to his vertical while training since the end of the college season. With all the effort he’s put into his shooting and body, the rookie feels ready to get started with the Sixers. Throughout his call with reporters, he seemed genuinely excited talking about every topic that came up.
Like any first-year player, Maxey has some weaknesses that he’ll need to work on. For instance, his shot selection is off at times and can lead to forced shots in traffic, he needs to continue developing his craft and decision-making as a passer, and raise his three-point percentage as intended. But he has a skillset that can help the Sixers off the bench right away, and handling more secondary responsibilities will suit his current playmaking level as he adjusts to the NBA.
Landing Maxey — a prospect with the kind of creative off-the-dribble talent that they needed — late in the first round was a home run pick for the Sixers. They can also be encouraged by his impressive self awareness and understanding of how he’ll need to continue developing and play off Simmons and Embiid.
Through the draft, trading Al Horford, and adding shooters like Danny Green and Seth Curry, the Sixers have improved their roster and significantly polished their offensive fit. And with Maxey in the mix, they’ve found a high-upside perimeter creator to boost their potential moving forward as well.