For most, Tyrese Maxey’s second-year breakout in which he averaged 17.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists on 59.4 percent true shooting — and leveled up during the playoffs — was a surprise. Noah Levick of NBCSports Philadelphia penned a wonderful feature (go read it, if you haven’t!) discussing Maxey’s standout season, the next steps forward and his fit alongside All-Star point guard James Harden.
Yet “for most” does not include everyone, notably Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach Sam Cassell, who works closely with Maxey and plays a key role in the 21-year-old’s constant development.
“Every guy I work with takes huge leaps every year they play,” Cassell told Levick. “I understand the concept of the game of basketball. I understand how to be successful in a basketball game. ... I’m like his big uncle. I call him my son. I call every guy I work with my son.
During his time as an assistant with the Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Clippers, Cassell, who said he expected Maxey’s rise as a three-point shooter, has experience helping train other talented young guards like John Wall — whose speed he compared to Maxey’s — Bradley Beal and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Moving forward, Cassell identified a midrange game as the next step in Maxey’s development to become a three-level scorer. Cassell considers him a two-level scorer at the moment, adept beyond the arc and at the rim, with room to grow in the intermediate range.
“If he gets that third part, the mid-range game … which I mastered as a player, and I just tell him certain things he has to do to become a good mid-range shooter,” Cassell said, noting the midrange is often especially important in the playoffs because it’s a soft spot in most defenses. “Once he gets that, he’ll be real special.
“It’s all about just him being comfortable with it.”
James Harden’s arrival in mid-February enabled Maxey to slide into a heavier off-ball role and his scoring efficiency absolutely exploded. In 24 post-All-Star Break games, he averaged 18.7 points on 65.5 percent true shooting, thriving in situations that allowed him to attack tilted defenses. His success carried over to the playoffs, averaging 20.8 points on 61 percent true shooting across 12 contests.
Cassell said he called Maxey after the trade went down and told him “you’re going to have a ball playing with James Harden.” Initially, Maxey didn’t entirely recognize how the trade would behoove him so dramatically, despite Cassell’s enthusiasm. But following his first five or six games playing alongside Harden, “he looked at (Cassell) and said, ‘OG, how’d you know that?’ ”
That backcourt duo proved rather dynamic and, according to Sixers assistant Spencer Rivers, they’ve been training together at times this offseason. Rivers said the two have engaged in games of 1 on 1, where Maxey is absorbing all of the subtle ways Harden draws fouls. Harden’s voluminous free-throw rate is well-chronicled, while Maxey could stand to generate more trips to the charity stripe.
Last season, his .247 free-throw rate was a smidge below the NBA average of .248. As a rookie, that number was .163, so he’s already showcasing improvement and Rivers believes it will continue as he further cements himself as a big-time player in the league.
“James is just so smart at using his body, and Tyrese is kind of picking up on it too now where if the defender’s in a certain position and you know you can get a foul … draw it,” Rivers told Levick.
Rivers said he thinks Harden respects Maxey because of his work ethic. Harden will call Maxey to ask him about his training regimen on a given day. After the rising star lists his busy day of activities, Harden, “you can tell, he just loves it.”
“I think it’s given him new energy as well, just being around it. They’ve really built a pretty good relationship this summer, just from being around each other a little bit,” Rivers said. “I know Tyrese went to Houston for a couple of days to work out with James, and James is now out here to work out with us. So, it’s been great.”
Defensively, Rivers said Maxey wants to improve his screen navigation and has added “like five pounds of muscle” to better hold his own against bigger matchups on switches.
“He keeps saying, ‘I’m blowing up picks next year. I’m getting through screens next year,’ “ Rivers said.
“And then I think film — him just picking up more stuff as time goes on. He’ll get smarter as a weak-side defender, pulling in from the nail. I think he’ll get better at that ... but I think the No. 1 thing for him this summer was just to get stronger, and he’s definitely already done that.”
All these insights are only a fraction of the details Rivers and Cassell shared with Levick about Maxey. I highly recommend reading the feature in its entirety. It was highly informative and engaging.