One of the guys in this 2020 NBA Draft class I’ve been most afraid to fall for is Tyrese Maxey. He’s everything Detroit Pistons fans profess to like in a player; tough-minded, defense-orientated, coachable, athletic. But his physical profile (6’3 with a 6’6 wingspan, MAYBE 200 pounds) and his perimeter shooting during his year at Kentucky (29.2% from three on a mere 3.6 attempts a game) have people wondering if he’s a fit in today’s bigger, perimeter-orientated game.
I don’t wonder anymore. Maxey is only waiting for a spotlight, and Detroit ought to give it to him.
What’s To Like:
At his core, Maxey is a rim-attacking guard with good shooting indicators (touch around the rim, floaters, FT%) who is an impact defender at the point of attack. Let’s face it - the Detroit Pistons are missing guys who can both attack the rim and defend their position well. Maxey is well positioned to contribute on both ends of the court even as he continues to develop as a player.
First, the rim pressure. This is an ugly conversion, but Maxey is able to get all the way to the paint without the help of a screen:
Tyrese Maxey self-creation and score pic.twitter.com/tTEnA2VLMH— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) February 29, 2020
Maxey is an inventive finisher who can convert with either hand and attack from anywhere on the court:
He likes to bust out this little push-shot floater if there are defenders lying under the rim in wait for him:
As a shooter, Maxey shot a low percentage from three on low volume from three, but he has solid shot mechanics. He sometimes shoots out instead of up, but the stroke is fluid, and he showed flashes of the ability to hit some deep shots:
Defensively, Maxey is ferocious at the point of attack, and his hands and arms are always active. He does a great job contesting shots with a combination of technique and effort you love to see. Maxey didn’t register a ton of blocks and steals, but you didn’t see him gambling on defense much either. He preferred to just body guys up and make them take tough shots:
Sadly, until they add “tough shots forced” to the box score, Maxey’s defense will be more apparent on film than in the numbers. Like, this isn’t a turnover, but it might as well be one:
I know that defense isn’t what wins (regular season) games, but after you watch other guys in this class stumble around picks and lose track of the ball repeatedly, it was downright refreshing to watch Maxey mess Jahmi’us Ramsey’s day up. The Pistons have always succeeded with guys who messed your day up, just sayin’.
Additionally, I think that Maxey has a lot of development ahead of him - that he is far from a finished NBA product. Part of of that thinking is normal development reasoning: He’s only 19 and he’s (by all accounts) eminently coachable and driven to get better. The ... less normative part of my rationale? The Kentucky Bump.
A noticeable amount of NBA players (Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jamal Murray) have left Kentucky and shown out in the NBA after John Calipari’s limiters are removed. Coach Cal is infamous for having his players conform to a role - a role that might not take advantage of the full extent of their skills. Because both Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley returned to school, Cal had Tyrese Maxey running baseline-to-baseline, off pin-down screens set at 18 feet, like Maxey was Rip Hamilton. Tyrese had a mere 22.7% usage rate at Kentucky - not enough for a player with his dynamism.
In the correct NBA situation, Maxey is going to have the ball in his hands, going downhill, out of high pick-and-rolls, a LOT more than he ever did at Kentucky. And, you know, he’s better at that than running baseline-to-baseline. Getting a chance early on to get those playmaking and attacking reps in will do a world of good for Maxey.
Lastly, Maxey seems like a great kid. Watch his film study with Mike Schmitz and tell me you don’t love that kid. Watch Schmitz interview him at the U18 USA basketball training camp. Watch his postgame pressers. Joy absolutely RADIATES off him. I would LOVE to be that guy’s teammate.
It makes me feel good to bet on good kids, and I won’t apologize for it.
What’s Not To Like:
The cold hard numbers, those unfeeling digits, are not kind to Tyrese.
Slashing 42/29/83 is alright, not amazing, and leads to a below-average TS% (53.1%). Averaging more rebounds than assists, for a guard - a guard projected to be a lead guard - is alright, not amazing. Failing to hit double digits in scoring in almost a third (nine out of 31) of your games is head-scratching. I can offer all sorts of explanations, but the numbers say Maxey is both inefficient with middling production - a poor combination.
Maxey’s passing ability is also an open question. He can make good decisions with the ball in his hands - a nice lob here, a good kick to an open shooter because Anthony Edwards fell asleep there - but it’s unclear if he is reading the floor in the same way other guys in this class can. You rarely see him pass guys open, or read the weakside help defender, or throw jaw-dropping hit-ahead passes in transition.
I buy his passing chops, but readily admit they are mostly theoretical, on display more at the high school level than in college. And, if he can only elevate his teammates so much on the court, that places a heavy burden on him offensively to be an ELITE attacker and finisher.
Lastly, Maxey is not especially “freaky” at 6’3 with a 6’6 wingspan. His physical dimensions soft-lock him into guarding point guards, and you are who you can defend in the NBA. You love the fight he shows on defense. However, he would need all the fight he could muster to guard guys two or three inches taller and 25 pounds heavier, which he would be doing most nights if he slid up to the two-guard position.
Maxey has a lot of potential, but it’s going to take development and effort on his part to reach that potential.
Simple: I highly value the combination of finishing ability and on-ball defense that he brings to the table. I like Maxey a lot, but he is not my first choice (I have him fifth on my draft board). However, he is an appealing alternative if the Pistons tumble in the lottery. Again, Pistons have ONE guy (Derrick Rose) who can reliably break down a defense and finish at the rim. I would like more of those guys, and I would VERY much like for those guys not to suck at defense so Dwane Casey will play them. Maxey checks those boxes.
Maxey is less of a freak run-jump athlete than R.J. Hampton, but better defensively, and has a better statistical resume. I’ve knocked Maxey’s efficiency, but his numbers look Lillard-esque next to Cole Anthony’s. He can self-create off the dribble, unlike Tyrese Haliburton, and actually get to the rim and finish, unlike Nico Mannion.
I think Maxey will be a good enough off-the-bounce shooter and - perhaps more importantly - a functional enough passer to mainly play point guard in the NBA. Essentially, if Cole Anthony is a point guard, so is Tyrese Maxey, and if they’re both point guards, Maxey is the guy I would want.
Maxey’s scouting report reminds me of the scout on another high-character undersized combo guard:
He doesn’t get all the way to the rim as frequently as you might hope, as evidenced by his low 2P% (46%) and pedestrian free throw rate (4 attempts per-40), especially when operating against better defenses. Continued skill-development will go a long way in unlocking his potential as a creator in the half-court... He made strides with his ability to find the open man off simple drive and dish and pick and roll plays as a sophomore, but still plays too sped up at times, not always reading the floor and making the simple play, and lacking the height or exemplary court vision to see over the top of the defense with bigger opponents guarding him... His mechanics are sound, with great balance, footwork and rise on both his pull-up and spot-up jumper, and he seems to have the potential to continue to improve in this area, especially when asked to play a more compact offensive role, with better shooters and spacing around him. His intangibles are very attractive as well, and will likely give NBA teams confidence in his ability to continue to improve and reach his full potential... He’s by all accounts a high character and very well spoken individual with a strong background, something that has reportedly shined through in private interviews he’s conducted.
As we all know, the Pistons passed on Donovan Mitchell, and that turned out ... less than optimally for them. If the chips fall in a similar way, they should make the call, and bet on the high-energy, high-character athlete.