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Draft Radar Part 12: Tyrese Maxey

Picking Kentucky players is looking foolproof in the NBA playoffs. Will Tyrese Maxey continue the trend?

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Slowly but surely, the NBA Draft is creeping closer. Finally, the November 18 date has been officially locked in by the league, but it still feels a world away. And since the Timberwolves struck gold in the draft lottery and walked away with the first overall pick, the days seem to drag out a little bit longer, as we wait to see what President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas will decide to do with the fat stack of draft capital he is sitting on.

Along with the first selection, that fat stack includes the pick conveyed from the Brooklyn Nets, slotted at 17, and the Timberwolves’ own second-rounder, the 33rd pick. With the extended period of time between the draft and the wide variety in pick selections, not even eleven draft radar editions have been enough.

With that said, in Part 12, Kentucky Guard Tyrese Maxey is under the Canis microscope.

Profile

Team: Kentucky Wildcats
Draft Age: 20.1
Games: 31
Position: Point Guard/Combo Guard
Height: 6’3”
Wingspan: 6’7.75”
Weight: 198 pounds

Statistics

Per Game: 34.5 Minutes, 14.0 Points, 4.3 Rebounds, 3.2 Assists, 0.9 Steals, 0.4 Blocks, 42.7% FG (11.3 FGA), 29.2% 3PT (3.6 3PA), 83.3% FT (3.9 FTA)

Advanced: 53.1 TS%, 47.4 EFG%, 22.7% Usage Rate, +1.90 O-PIPM, +0.86 D-PIPM, +2.76 PIPM, 3.97 Wins Added

Overview

Tyrese Maxey entered his freshman season at Kentucky 10th in the Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI) national rankings, well above now surefire top-10 picks like LaMelo Ball, Isaac Okoro and Onyeka Okongwu. However, after exploding on to the scene with 26 points against Michigan State in his first collegiate game, Maxey plateaued throughout the season. Still full of potential and NBA-ready talent, Maxey should be available for Minnesota in a trade down scenario or, if they’re lucky, at the 17th pick.

Strengths

  • Downhill Finishing

With the recent breakouts of fellow Kentucky combo guards Jamal Murray and Tyler Herro, it’s easier than ever to fall head over heels for guards who have experienced the tutelage of Kentucky head coach John Calipari. Tyrese Maxey won’t enter the NBA with the same pedigree of some of his Big Blue counterparts, but he has plenty of promising areas to his game — none more so than his ability to put pressure on the rim, finish efficiently and get freebies at the line.

Maxey is proficient at getting to the rack in a number of ways, but it’s his capacity to blow by defenders off the catch and bend an off-kilter defensive shell to his will is where the shaggy-haired guard truly excels. Calipari loved to run Maxey across the baseline to collect the ball in the opposite slot to his starting position, forcing the defense to shift toward the strong side of the court. With his acceleration and assertiveness, Maxey was able to burst to the rim before the defense was able to mend itself back into shape. Even when it isn’t a set ran specifically to get Maxey heading downhill, he has no problem finding ways to get there by himself, with sheer will and speed taking precedence over nifty ball-handling or footwork.

With the defender on his heels trying to close out, Maxey uses his first step like jet fuel, leaving defenders frozen while he blasts off toward the goal. When they do manage to stay within arm’s length, the 20-year-old uses his core strength to bounce off guys and keep going. To finish, he is adept at using both hands and contorting his body through and around rim-protectors to tickle the twine. Among his most preferred finishes is the runner, where he registered 0.81 points per possession (63rd percentile) on a sizeable 64 attempts. The numbers aren’t elite, but his touch and ability to stay balanced, draw contact and finish through the pressure off either side of the body is thoroughly impressive.

The floater is a vital component of any guard’s game, allowing them to finish close to the rim without having to fully challenge the rim-protecting trees that stand guard at the front of the goal. Take someone like Trae Young for an example, whose slender frame and miniature height (in NBA terms) make it hard for him to get to the rim consistently, even with his silky touch. Instead, Young uses the floater often and efficiently, allowing him to still do work within the 3-point arc.

In transition, Maxey is just as deadly, finishing on 59.7 percent of his open floor opportunities and ranking in the 84th percentile nationwide (1.23 points per possession), per Synergy. Again, it’s the physical tools that set him apart from your average 6-foot-3 guard. Of course, the lethal acceleration is a key component to beating the opposition down the floor and creating an advantageous situation, but it’s the strength to hold off opponents, not get bumped off his spot on the drive and that buttery touch and pretzel-like body contorting that make him a terror on fast breaks or semi-fast breaks.

Finally, Maxey is just as efficient getting downhill off a screen in pick-and-roll situations. Over the course of the shortened season, he ranked in the 86th percentile (0.92 points per possession) as a pick-and-roll finisher. Maxey isn’t the kind of break-a-guy-down ball-handler or defense-twisting passer that some of the best pick-and-roll players in the NBA are, but his knack for hitting shots from floater range and getting all the way to the rim to finish or draw fouls is extremely valuable and equates to efficient offense for the most part.

Likely a combo guard or secondary initiator, Maxey will still receive a steady diet of pick-and-rolls, and an effective way to maximize his physical abilities and his play-finishing aptitude is to involve him in high screen actions with the floor spaced around him, a very common play at the NBA level. Below is a prime example of what Maxey can do in those scenarios, splitting the Auburn pick-and-roll coverage on two separate occasions, flying downhill and bamboozling star wing defender Isaac Okoro at the rim in both instances.

If Maxey can package up this kind of in-between and at-rim finishing and bring it along with him to the big leagues, he is immediately going to have a translatable and valuable skill. With guard-play and offensive efficiency at the rim continuing to be an uber-important element of an NBA offense, Maxey should slot right in from day one.

  • Defense

Maxey doesn’t get the plaudits that defensive geniuses like Devin Vassell and Isaac Okoro receive, and that might be rightfully so, but there is a legitimate guard-stopper bubbling within the 6-foot-3 guard. Like Okoro, he isn’t dominating box scores with his stocks numbers, but he is incredibly solid both on and off the ball, with a ferocious fighting mentality and technique that stretches far past the height and weight.

One check he does have in the arthrometric box is his 6-foot-7.5 wingspan, which allows him to pterodactyl many guards his size. He doesn’t let that stand as his one defining defensive feature, though. To begin with, he is constantly in a squatted, technically sound defensive stance when guarding on the ball, which balances his center of gravity and allows him to execute impressive lateral movements.

Watch how he sits down in his stance here, but can quickly pivot from that position to upright and skinny to slip seamlessly through the hand-off action and stay attached to his man. Throughout all of that, he manages to communicate with his teammate to forego a switch and keep his hands out and active at every opportunity. The end result is a late shot clock bomb that clanks off the cylinder — all thanks to Maxey’s tireless chasing and pestering.

What really stands out with Maxey, and what is usually a rarity to find among small guards, is his ability to stay vertical, finishing off defensive sets by walling himself up at the rim or outwitting opponents who try and lean into a foul with a shot fake. With the amount of ticky-tack fouls called at both the NCAA and NBA level, it’s paramount to get your hands up and your body perpendicular to the would-be scorer. Maxey is a master of that craft.

In this clip, he starts off by cutting off his man with those quick side-to-side movements we discussed, then finishes the play by rising straight as a board and blocking a much bigger player in full cry. This isn’t an aberration for Maxey, and it’s another one of those skills that should translate immediately to on-court production and playing time at the next level.

The downside with Maxey’s defensive chops is and will likely continue to be his size. Even with a more than passable wingspan, his height will plague him slightly against taller guards — especially in two-guard lineups (where he is most comfortable) that force him onto the athletic and tall shooting guards of the NBA. Maxey will never be a turnstile, his defensive nous, footwork and instincts forbid that, but there is a chance he will be overpowered at times.

Projected top two pick and potential future Timberwolf Anthony Edwards is 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, which does mean he is immediately in the upper echelon of shooting guards in terms of physical stature, but Maxey will face players with similar strength levels when he arrives in the big leagues, and he will need to handle them better than he does here against Antman.

All in all, Maxey is a very interesting and exciting defensive prospect, ranking in the 83rd percentile in Synergy’s overall defensive metric. Even without the size to guard up multiple positions he should still find himself very comfortable as a pick-and-roll defender and as someone who can chase around guards in a free-flowing offense. As he adds strength and becomes adjusted to a new level of competition, he could become one of the most merciless guard defenders around.

Swing Skill

  • Shooting

Without a doubt, you can not peruse Tyrese Maxey’s game and overlook the polarizing shooting numbers and form. The form itself is far from broken, but the release point is uncomfortably low and in front of the face, which has scared off more than a few when projecting how often he will be able to get it off and what kind of accuracy it will provide at the next level.

The second side of the problem is the numbers that followed the jumper. Maxey converted on just 29.2 percent of his 3-point tries during his lone Kentucky season, ranking in the 20th percentile nationwide on all catch-and-shoot jumpers and in the 4th percentile on catch-and-shoot jumpers that Synergy classified as “guarded.” That doesn’t exactly inspire any confidence that the 20-year-old will be even a league-average shooter as his career progresses, but there are certainly some silver linings that suggest that could be the case.

It’s important to always evaluate prospects in different contexts and track as much of their hooping career as you can. Often this helps confirm or question whether or not the relatively small sample size that college basketball produces is on course with their previous output, or if it’s a deviation from the previous norm. With fewer games than a usual NCAA season and obviously just his freshman year to assess, Maxey was afforded an especially minuscule sample size.

During his four years (113 games) at South Garland High School in Garland, Texas, Maxey nailed 35 percent of the 613 3-pointers he attempted, including 38 percent (126 3PA) in his sophomore year, per Max Preps. Obviously, the level of competition when stepping up to a powerhouse school like Kentucky needs to be taken into consideration, but there is a better shooter inside Maxey than what he exhibited as a Wildcat.

Another encouraging indicator is the touch we have previously mentioned and his solid free throw numbers (82% in HS, 83.3% at Kentucky). Being able to successfully convert freebies at the line and being able to drop in shots in the in-between range with feathery touch often gear themselves toward shooting success as a player’s potential starts to unfurl.

The final gust of wind in the sail of one who believes Maxey will be able to shoot at a reasonable clip is the success he had shooting off the dribble. As shots off the bounce come in a variety of different ways and are less predictably set up, they are a lot harder to perfect, and usually (not always) can form a yardstick to whether the player is comfortable as a jump shooter. Maxey hit 36.7 percent of his shots off the dribble this past season, ranking in the 53rd percentile.

Shots like this one are laced in difficulty. The quick pull-back and technique to get his feet set and body squared is not something you usually associate with a below-average long-range shooter.

Maxey is never going to be a high-volume bomber who can devastate a team from behind the arc, but being able to hit open shots and create the occasional one for himself would push his ceiling up a rung or two. If he can’t punish teams for going under screens and trying to scheme him out of getting to the rim and to his patented floater, it is going to make life his life a lot harder.

Weaknesses

  • Playmaking

No matter where you look or what you read, you will find the knocks on Maxey are his shooting and his ability to create for others at a high volume. Now, while the shooting faults certainly have a foundation to be debunked, it’s been hard to find true resolution or bright side to his lack of primary playmaking chops.

By no means is Maxey a complete unwilling passer or someone who can’t find teammates whatsoever, but at his size, he doesn’t possess enough table-setting ability to run an NBA offense. Where we saw a wild divergence in his pre-college shooting to his year at Lexington, the numbers at South Garland High School line up fairly directly with what he produced as a Wildcat. Maxey averaged 3.4 assists and 1.5 turnovers per game in high school, following that up with 3.3 assists and 2.3 turnovers at Kentucky.

Of course, there is variance in context in those numbers, too. Maxey basically gave out the same amount of helpers at both levels, but he wasn’t playing with Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley in high school, two fellow guards who both registered usage rates over 20 percent. However, the film on Maxey is inconsistent, with some heartening reads mixed in with some slow ones that would get slammed shut against NBA defenses.

Here is an example of the former, where he uses his penetration strengths and sucks in the defense before dropping off a crisp bounce pass to big man Nick Richards. This is the kind of pass you should expect to see Maxey making at the next level, where high-level reads are discarded for reactive passes that come naturally to someone who has put pressure on the rim at will throughout his entire career.

On the surface, the pass below seems fine. He hits the open shooter who knocks down a comfortable jumper, so what’s wrong with that? The problem here is that extra second he takes to see the man and kick the ball, which would likely be shut down a lot quicker with an NBA defense swarming to keep shooters off the line.

This happens far too regularly with Maxey, and will likely limit his propensity to be the lone ball-handler and creator on the floor. Again, this is an issue because of the size. Maxey, with strength exceeding his size and a long wingspan, can play as an off-guard better than most. And, perhaps, he will find a situation that can optimize those strengths and allow him to be a secondary playmaker, but he could be in some trouble if he doesn’t land in that snug fit.

Being a reactive passer who finds guys based on instincts as a scorer and the ability to read a defense that is closing in on him is completely fine, and it might be a bit harsh to call his passing a true weakness. However, if Maxey could develop into a proactive passer who sees passing lanes and makes reads at an NBA-caliber level, it would open up a lot more for his strengths to blossom.

  • Shot Creation

There is a key difference between being able to squirm or bully your way to the rim and being able to create a shot off the bounce for yourself. Unfortunately, Maxey has struggled with the latter. As we’ve seen throughout the playoffs, teams with shot-creators like Jayson Tatum, Jamal Murray and Goran Dragic have had huge success.

Maxey is obviously quick, which allows him to get downhill and mitigate some of those flaws, but he has very rarely displayed the ability to create jumpers for himself off the dribble and find pockets of shooting space off his own accord.

You can see here how his mediocre handle compounds his struggles and creates multiple occasions to where he unsuccessfully battles to create separation for himself. This puts a cap on how much he can do offensively when the offense breaks down and the isolation defense is really keyed in on him. This is the chief reason Maxey ranked in the 24th percentile (0.6 points per possession) in isolation possessions this year.

Whatever coaching staff gets their paws on Maxey should be able to make him an effective enough player to provide above-average value offensively by running him off catches and getting him going downhill in pick-and-roll situations. But, not being able to create for himself reliably is another reason it seems unlikely he will be able to handle the duties of a full-time ball-handler.

Fit With Minnesota

There is genuinely a ton to like about Tyrese Maxey, and if he falls to the 17th pick there really shouldn’t be enough concerns to stop the Minnesota front office from gobbling him up. With D’Angelo Russell in tow, the Twin Cities could be one of the places that allow Maxey to operate in a lesser on-ball role and really maximize his talents as an off-catch slasher who can put enormous pressure on the rim and take a similarly large load off Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns’ back.

Even if the shooting doesn’t translate, his excellent movement as a cutter and space-finder along the perimeter would give Towns a pressure valve option out of double-teamed post-ups and when making plays from the top of the key. The same goes for Russell, as Maxey can find pockets of space for D’Lo to feed into and create rim looks. This should also help mitigate Maxey’s inability to create open jump shot looks for himself, as he wouldn’t have to enough for it to cause a fault line in the team offense.

In this sans shooting scenario, Minnesota has plenty of shooting with Towns, Russell, Malik Beasley and some of the other lesser pieces on the roster, and another two picks and mid-level exception to find more. The hope would be that with those two centerpieces able to create for themselves and others at a high usage rate, Maxey wouldn’t have to play facilitator as often and can focus on his strengths offensively.

Defensively, Maxey is the near ideal candidate to put next to Russell if Minnesota is going to go with a two-guard lineup, or someone who can comfortably slip into the primary role against reserves who, usually, provide a lesser challenge to Maxey’s iffy playmaking abilities. With the starters, the 20-year-old can slither through screens defensively and, hopefully, afford Towns less decision making in the drop pick-and-roll coverage. Ultimately, this is where the Wolves need him the most.

He wouldn’t completely solve Minnesota’s problems on the defensive side of the floor, but he would be the first in a few steps needed to start containing players better, forcing more difficult looks, and helping Towns plug up some of the defensive holes that have plagued him throughout his career. If Maxey is available at 17, or the Timberwolves are in the trade-down market, Maxey should be very close to the top of their whiteboard.