Few players have started the 2023-24 campaign as hot as Tyrese Maxey of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Through 10 regular-season games, the fourth-year guard is putting up 28.4 points per game and 7.0 assists with a 62.0 true shooting percentage (4.8% better than the league average).
His strong start reached new heights on Sunday when he recorded his first career 50-point game against the Indiana Pacers (a game he dedicated to his injured teammate Kelly Oubre Jr.). Now, alongside the reigning MVP Joel Embiid, Maxey has helped the 76ers run out to an 8-2 start atop of the Eastern Conference standings.
Simply put, the former All-SEC standout from Kentucky has gotten better and helped the franchise ease past the James Harden trade. No doubt about it.
But how much better? Where does he still need to improve? And is this current version of Maxey now an All-Star caliber player?
What Makes Maxey Awesome
If you showed someone taking the Rorschach Test an image of Maxey, the first phrase they would utter in response is ‘speed.’ Everything that’s awesome about Maxey begins there.
Back to that performance against Indiana when had seven 3s, seven rebounds, five assists and three blocks to go along with his 50 points. To start the game, Philly spammed an angle pick-and-roll action with Embiid as the screener and Maxey as the ball handler.
And the reason they had so much success was because Bruce Brown (the point-of-attack defender on duty during those plays) was unable to keep The City of Brotherly Love’s favorite speedster in front of him.
- First Clip: Maxey uses the screen as a launch pad for an easy floater. The shot was a low degree of difficulty because Brown was too far behind Maxey to contest him from behind.
- Second Clip: Again, Brown is trailing behind Maxey, which forces Myles Turner to shade toward him and opens up the roll pass to Embiid.
- Third Clip: Brown tries to go under the screen this time. So, Maxey counters by pulling a quick trigger on a pull-up triple.
The clips above also highlight some of the other elements of Maxey’s prolific scoring game. In that first clip, we see Maxey doing his best impression of Tony Parker with that floater. Maxey has great touch, and it has only improved this season.
All of Maxey’s touch indicators are up this year. So far, his free-throw percentage has improved by 9.5% (84.5% to 94.0%), his rim finishing is up 6.5% (55.3% to 61.8%), and his field-goal percentage from 3-10 feet is up 6.2% (44.7% to 50.9%). His 3-point percentage is also just as strong as it was last year (42.9% this year, compared to 43.4% last year).
Meanwhile, the third clip illustrates Maxey’s ability to change directions and stop/start on a dime. Maxey is akin to a NASCAR driver in that he’s able to maintain control while operating at top velocity.
This makes him very dangerous when it comes to step-back jumpers because he’s able to go downhill at top speed, stop in an instant, and step backwards far enough to create real separation.
On the season, Maxey is shooting 50.0% on step-back 2s and 55.6% on step-back 3s (per NBA.com). So not only do defenders have to worry about trying to keep the blazing Maxey in front of them, they also need to account for the possibility that he might use his drive to set up his jumper.
One other thing those clips highlight is Maxey’s ability to play with pace. We discussed this last year with Malik Monk and the Sacramento Kings, but being able to attack quickly in possessions is a huge boost to your team’s offense, as the best shots are often available early on in the shot clock (a la The Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns). Maxey is in the 94th percentile in transition volume and the 87th percentile in transition efficiency so far this season.
In the past, Maxey has often been grouped with guys like Jordan Poole, Tyler Herro and Anfernee Simons as a guard who is very good on offense but detrimentally bad on defense.
Maxey is still a negative in this category (he has a minus-0.8 defensive DRIP), but he’s proven to be the best defender of this bunch. He’s not a one-sided jitterbug. His high motor extends to the defensive end of the floor.
Maxey is a willing defender, and when you pair that with his plus wingspan (6-foot-3 with a 6-8 wingspan), you get one of the better shot-blocking guards in the association (particularly in transition).
Where Maxey Needs To Improve
Despite all the brilliance he’s displayed on the offensive end of the floor, Maxey is still leaving some food on the table. For starters, the playmaker from Dallas, Texas, spends a great deal of time at the rim (22.2% of his shots are from 0-3 feet), but for someone who puts so much pressure on the interior, his free-throw rates are a bit underwhelming.
Maxey is averaging 6.3 free throw attempts per 100 possessions on the season. This mark is up from last year (5.2 FTA per 100), but it is still below players of a similar archetype. For instance, shooting guard Zach LaVine of the Chicago Bulls – a fellow speedy slasher – is averaging 8.5 FTA per 100.
The reason for these lower numbers is that Maxey still relies on a contact aversive finishing package. Floaters and nifty scoop shots (staple features in Maxey’s game) are aesthetically pleasing, but they won’t net you too many trips to the charity stripe.
Learning how to more consistently initiate and absorb contact on his drives will go a long way toward boosting his free throw numbers and, by extension, his overall scoring efficiency (which is already really impressive as is).
The major offensive ingredient still lacking in Maxey’s tool kit is his ability to identify and hit the bullseye on high-level passes. Yes, Maxey is averaging a career-high in assists (7.0), but most of those come from transition flurries (where it is easier to scan the floor), roll passes to Embiid (most guards could make that pass to one of the greatest scorers ever), and simple kick outs to a teammate standing one pass away.
A deeper dive into the film will show that Maxey misses a good deal of skip passes and layup feeds. Check out the montage below to see some examples:
The Bottom Line
Maxey is one of the most efficient volume scorers in basketball. He’s also one of the most versatile ones, thanks to his ability to score at all three levels and get buckets while operating on and off the ball.
However, until Maxey becomes a positive defender or a better passer/decision-maker, he’ll continue to remain in the sub-All-Star category (for NBA players ranked in the 50-26 tier league-wide).
Our metrics paint a similar picture, as Maxey’s overall DRIP of 1.9 puts him at 39th in the NBA among players with at least 100 minutes played.
Still, Maxey is looking like a steal as a late first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. He’s just 23 years old and far from a finished product. And despite his shortcomings, the Sixers point guard has proven that he’s already good enough to be the second-best player on a dark horse title contender right now.