You’ll have to forgive Philadelphians. We have this tendency to always wait for the other shoe to drop. When things are going well — like the current state of Philly sports — it feels like there’s a generational wound about to be cut open.
So, when watching Tyrese Maxey through two preseason games, the first thought is it’s just preseason or any other notion needed to temper the excitement. That mindset is understandable.
This is the same organization that drafted Larry Hughes over Paul Pierce AND Dirk Nowitzki, so the trepidation is warranted. Imagining Pierce or Nowitzki spending their Hall of Fame careers playing alongside prime Allen Iverson is tear-inducing.
But screw it. Go crazy thinking about Maxey’s ceiling and just how good he can be.
For once, the Sixers are the ones that benefitted from scouting departments overthinking. When the team selected Maxey 21st overall, many thought he’d be a steal. Did they think he’d score 39 points in a game as a rookie? Maybe not. Did they think he would be a starter the following season, shoot over 40 percent from three and star in the postseason? Probably not.
So, with Maxey looking like the best player on the floor during two preseason games, let your imaginations run wild. The 21-year-old has scored 41 points on 15 of 19 (5 of 7 from three) in two halves of basketball. Not only is he seemingly picking up where he left from the playoffs, but he appears to be reaching another level of aggressiveness with finding his own shot.
“This training camp was huge for me because this was my first year coming into camp knowing what my role was,” Maxey said after Wednesday night’s preseason win. “My first year, I was a rookie and I didn’t know what to expect. My second year, we had a lot going on and I moved into a starting role. I always said I’ll be ready for whatever Coach Doc [Rivers] throws at me, but third year, I know exactly what my role is and I know exactly how to help my team win. I feel confident because of the work that I’ve put in, so I’m confident in myself. And then I’m confident in my teammates, who are confident in me.”
Rivers has said previously that the next step in Maxey’s evolution is forcing the action. While he often defers to Joel Embiid and James Harden — for obvious reasons — there are moments when Maxey needs to get his. Rivers said the great players don’t need a play called for them or a coach to direct them, they just go get it.
Again, the caveat that it’s two preseason games, but Maxey has looked supremely aggressive and not deferential in the least.
“He’s such a kind and cool guy, and he’s also a team guy,” assistant Dave Joerger, who was filling in for an under-the-weather Rivers, said postgame. “Sometimes you’ve got to demand the outlet and demand somebody else run so that you can have it, because you’re a prolific scorer and your speed is going to open up things for other players. We have a lot of guys bring it up, but when we’re talking about after made shots, a little slower advance — have him bring it up and have him playing north and south, downhill. That’s good for us when he does that, and we have to continue to encourage that.”
Joerger, a long-time coach that’s had two head jobs in Memphis and Sacramento, likened Maxey’s speed to that of prime Russell Westbrook and De’Aaron Fox — the latter Joerger coached with the Kings. What separates Maxey from those two is ironically the thing that caused him to slip in the draft: shooting.
Those aforementioned players have never shot above 38 percent from three for a season. Maxey hit 42.7 from deep in just his second year. You’ve all heard a million times over by now that Maxey’s poor shooting at Kentucky caused his draft night slide. Maxey heard it, too. Which is why he’s spent so much time improving in that regard. Maxey’s work ethic is always one of the first things talked about when discussing the third-year guard, so this level of improvement should come as no surprise.
The combination of lethal speed and an ascending jumper makes Maxey a difficult guard for any opponent the Sixers come across — including a burgeoning Cleveland team.
“He’s done a lot of damage against us,” Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said pregame. “You hate to see it, but as a fan of the game, you love to see guys continue to get better, guys that put the work in. He’s hard to handle. It’s what this league is about.”
While Maxey’s selflessness can sometimes lead to him being deferential on the court, it endears him to this teammates and really the entire city. Even after two successful NBA seasons and a blistering start to year three, Maxey is still the same humble kid from Garland, Texas, with the Southern charm.
While he’s likely to garner attention for his first All-Star appearance, that’s something he has very little interest in.
“None whatsoever,” he said. “Me being an All-Star would not help us win a championship. Honestly, I just want to go out there and try to help us win. … Personal accolades, I have no interest in them. It’s all about the team. Doc said something I said at media day: It’s a ‘we’ season, not a ‘me’ season. So it is what it is.”
He is a coach’s — and fan’s — dream come true.
“We all know what a joy he is to be around,” Joerger said, “so when he has success, it’s just such a good feeling because he’s so humble and so giving.”
“Joy” is probably the perfect word to use here. The joy Maxey exudes while playing. The joy he brings to his teammates with his perpetual smile. The infectious joy he spreads to the Wells Fargo Center crowd.
“Joy” is not a word we often use around these parts, but this feels different. This isn’t Shawn Bradley over Penny Hardaway or Markelle Fultz over Jayson Tatum. This time, the Sixers are the ones laughing at a whole lot of other times for passing on a player with tantalizing potential.
When that negative voice creeps up and tries to temper your excitement level, tell it to quiet down.
Tyrese Maxey is different. Enjoy it.