Over the next few weeks, we’ll be profiling every player currently on the Sixers’ roster ahead of training camp, which begins on September 28.
Contract status: Under contract for three more years for a total of $9.67 million (2022-23 and 2023-24 are both team options)
What a start Tyrese Maxey had to his NBA career. With no Summer League and a shortened training camp to prepare due to a positive COVID-19 test, Maxey had to learn and adjust to the league fast. All while doing so for a Sixers team that wanted to contend. But just as quickly as Maxey was thrust into large minutes due to various teammates’ injuries, absences from health and safety protocols, and a lack of perimeter creation on the roster, he began to impress.
Maxey was a steal with the 21st pick in last year’s draft. He showed immediate flashes of his shifty burst off the dribble, quality finishing around the rim, silky floater game, and quickness and energy at both ends of the floor. All skills that the Sixers were short on. In just his 10th career game, Maxey had his first start for the Sixers when they were down to only seven players against Denver on January 9. He erupted for 39 points, scoring in a variety of ways in a thrilling effort to lead the team. From there, Maxey turned in several more solid scoring nights, and even when his playing time dipped as the Sixers got healthier, he flashed his talent.
Maxey’s minutes started becoming more inconsistent around late January and he experienced a few struggles. For instance, he wasn’t taking many threes, he hardly got to the free throw line, he relied a bit too much on his floater to score, and he needed to tighten up his defense (it wasn’t easy to learn new defensive coverages on the fly after a rushed offseason last year). As is the case for basically all rookies, there was a learning curve for Maxey.
Things changed over the last couple of months of the regular season. Even though he still wasn’t in the rotation every night, Maxey started finding a groove shortly after the All-Star break and developed pretty much every area of his game. He stopped relying on his floater as much, drove all the way to the rim more, became more confident with his jumper and off-ball relocation, refined his playmaking somewhat, and sharpened his defense. He even became more of a defensive playmaker. Maxey spent a lot of time talking about defense with Matisse Thybulle last season to learn from an expert, and started deterring more shots with a few rearview blocks of his own.
Maxey’s new approach as a driver in particular stood out. He better utilized his change of pace to catch defenders off guard, and prioritized more high-efficiency shots at the rim over too many floaters.
An improved shot profile helped give Maxey’s efficiency a notable boost. After the All-Star break he increased his shots at the rim and doubled his free throw attempts (from 0.8 in 16.2 minutes per game before the break to 1.6 in 14.4 minutes after). Thanks to his strong play and altered approach, he earned a 56.3 true shooting percentage after the break — a significant jump from the 50.4 true shooting percentage he had before.
With a couple of decent scoring outings in the first round of the playoffs against Washington and 16 important points in a Game 6 win against Atlanta, Maxey even had some nice moments in limited postseason minutes, too.
Season outlook: As Ben Simmons trade rumors have pursued throughout the offseason, Maxey’s name has often cropped up as a potential player who could be leaving Philly. As the Sixers pursue a new star guard, Maxey is surely the most valuable piece they can include in a package after Simmons.
However, the Sixers should be doing all they can to try to keep the young guard. Unless they’re getting a star creator like Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal which makes it easier to part ways with Maxey, the Sixers still need ball handling, perimeter creation, driving ability, and affordable talent around their max-contract players. Maxey ticks those boxes, and he still has so much room to grow.
It’s clear to see the path for Maxey to take a real step up next season. At least for the time being with the Sixers’ current roster, there’s more opportunity for him to land extra minutes as a backup guard after the departure of George Hill. Again, the team’s guard rotation could change drastically when a Simmons trade happens, but who knows what that’s going to look like right now.
Apart from the potential for more minutes, though, Maxey simply needs to keep building on the improvements he was already making last season. From honing his pick-and-roll passing to his defense. The most valuable development Maxey could make would be adding a more confident, reliable three-point stroke to his arsenal — especially off the dribble. With the speed and craft he already has to get to the rim or use his floater, a better pull-up jumper is the main weapon he needs to have counters against defenses at every level and beat opponents going under screens.
The one small piece of evidence we have to see how this is going is his Summer League performance. Maxey appeared for two dominant games before a pre-approved early exit to host a youth basketball camp in his hometown of Garland, Texas. He attempted 14 total triples, including plenty off the bounce by pulling up off screens or stepping back into space.
The big positive for Tyrese Maxey in game 1 of Summer League was how confident he was as a pull-up shooter from 3.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) August 11, 2021
If he can keep developing this (and I'm sure he will, because he's already improved a lot and works like crazy), it'll be huge for him. pic.twitter.com/cVheaG1jXi
Sure, it’s just two Summer League games against competition that he outclassed. But it’s at least a promising sign for him to show this kind of growing comfort beyond the arc. Given the progress he made as a rookie and how much work he’s put into his jumper, Maxey looking more confident so soon shouldn’t be a surprise.
If you ask anyone on the Sixers about Maxey, they’ll generally mention how tirelessly he trains and how eager he is to learn. According to Doc Rivers, Maxey easily puts in more work than anyone else.
Everything is there for Maxey to step up next season. He already developed in so many areas as a rookie and clearly has the work ethic to maximize his talent moving forward. If he can continue the momentum he began late last season, earn any extra minutes, and continue polishing his game, there’s no reason Maxey shouldn’t be even more impressive in year two.