Sixers head coach Doc Rivers doesn’t typically hand regular playing time to rookies, but Tyrese Maxey will have a chance to earn it.
“He’s good,” Rivers said after Maxey’s preseason NBA debut Tuesday night. “And I’ve said that. He’s a good player. He’s going to push for minutes. He’s a good basketball player — knows how to play, can’t speed him up, has got a plethora of shots, makes simple plays. I’m throwing this out to Cal, as I said before: Kentucky guys come in the NBA prepared. This kid knows how to defend, he talks on defense. He’s been coached, for sure.”
Maxey played the entire fourth quarter of the Sixers’ win over the Celtics and posted eight points, three assists and one turnover. Like Maxey, Ben Simmons is a Klutch Sports client who worked with trainer Chris Johnson this offseason in Los Angeles. Simmons is familiar with Maxey’s skills, and he was impressed with what he saw Tuesday.
“He dominated,” Simmons said. “Once he got the jitters and excitement out of the way, he slowed down the game and got to what he’s been working on. I’ve seen him put in numerous hours doing those floaters and working on his game. To me it’s not a surprise, but it’s great to see all of that work pay off. He’s going to be great, offensively and defensively, once he learns the concepts and things like that. But offensively, he’s got it.”
Before one gets swept up in Tuesday night's showing and thinks about buying stock in Maxey as a Rookie of the Year candidate, it’s worth noting he was primarily guarded by 5-foot-10 Tremont Waters, who spent most of his rookie season last year in the G League. Maxey’s array of floaters should be useful against many defenders, but there are more difficult matchups in his future and the offensive flow won’t always come as easily as it seemed to Tuesday.
We’ll also have to wait to assess Maxey’s three-point shooting in the NBA. President of basketball operations Daryl Morey said on draft night the Sixers “strongly believe” Maxey will shoot better than his 29.2 percent mark from long distance at Kentucky.
In his first professional experience, though, Maxey looked comfortable.
“I think it went well,” he said. “I think the main takeaway I took from this game is I can play at my own pace. I dictate the pace offensively, I feel like, when I’m on the ball. Ben told me I don’t have to play too fast, I don’t have to play too slow, I can play at my own pace.”
The 20-year-old joined his teammates at training camp late after testing positive for COVID-19 and adhering to the NBA’s protocols. He said last week he lost his sense of taste and smell but had no other symptoms.
That wasn’t how he planned on starting his NBA career. Tuesday night was likely closer to what he had in mind.
“Of course it was tough, just because I worked extremely hard to stay in shape from March all the way to November to get ready for training camp,” he said. “And then to have that setback, it kind of hurt. It’s a minor setback for a major comeback. What I did was I kept staying positive, prayed up. I trusted in the Lord, and he has a process. … It was all right, and I’m glad I’m here.”