Tyrese Maxey doesn’t seem like the kind of 21-year-old to get carried away.
But, in the improbable event he ever grows self-satisfied and thinks his early second-year success guarantees All-Star Games and championships down the line, there’s no reason for concern. His coaches and teammates will bring him back to earth.
“There’s been plenty of times where someone is yelling: ‘Tyrese!’ And he looks, his hair swinging, and he listens,” Georges Niang said Tuesday night after the shorthanded Sixers’ loss to the Bucks. “He doesn’t ever complain, and he goes out there and goes even harder. As a (21-year-old) kid, to be mature like that and to take that on the chin — and to perform and not let that get in your head — I think that speaks volumes of the person that he is and the basketball player that he’s definitely going to become.”
Maxey scored 31 points against Milwaukee in his 12th start of the season, raising his season average to 15.8. He’s gotten those points efficiently, scoring 120.7 per 100 shot attempts according to Cleaning the Glass. As a rookie, that figure for Maxey was 106.1.
How’s he done it? In addition to being excellent at reaching the rim, Maxey’s finished well and drawn free throws at a higher rate. And, after a 4-for-9 night, Maxey is shooting 38.5 percent from three-point range. The sample sizes are still quite small— Maxey and Seth Curry are an identical 7 for 18 on pull-up threes, for instance — but the progress does not appear fluky.
Maxey said Monday that Danny Green recently cut short one of his late-night shooting sessions, instructing him to go home, rest and be smart during an especially exhausting stretch for the undermanned Sixers. In the games, Green’s message is different.
“He’s on me every single game about shooting the ball,” Maxey said. “He says, ‘Dude, you shoot the most out of everybody in the gym working out. Dude, shoot the ball. You’re open, shoot the ball. Stop turning down shots.’ I’m trying to listen and become comfortable, and do whatever it takes to help the team. Sometimes what it takes is me shooting open shots, and it’s going to open it up for other guys.”
With Maxey beginning the season as Ben Simmons’ replacement in the starting lineup, it was reasonable to expect a steep defensive decline at point guard. Simmons, who told teammates last month he’s not mentally ready to play after an offseason trade request, was the Defensive Player of the Year runner-up last season. Maxey is 6-foot-2 and was forced to play catch-up with the nuances of NBA defense as a rookie after testing positive for COVID-19 and missing the start of training camp.
The Sixers miss Simmons’ world-class versatility, steals and deflections, but Maxey has rarely looked out of place or overmatched. These numbers only reflect a small sliver of how he’s done defensively, but Kemba Walker has shot 2 for 10 when guarded by Maxey, Trae Young 3 for 9, Damian Lillard 3 for 8 and Cade Cunningham 2 for 7, per the NBA's tracking data.
The persistent, genuine positivity stands out to Maxey’s teammates more than any of the stats.
“The kid’s unreal,” Niang said. “When I think about what I was doing at 21 years old, I would not be scoring 31 points in an NBA game and being able to play large amounts of minutes, and walk in every day with a smile on his face. The kid has so much energy and so much pizzaz, and he’s so poised.
“I’m so happy for him because with everything that’s going on with our team, this allows him to have growth in his career. … For him to come in and do what he does every day, and take ownership of it — and guys are on him. Tyrese doesn’t get any grace from anybody, and he takes it on the chin and continues to grow and be better. It shows. The kid was phenomenal; he’s been phenomenal.”
While there are obviously a lot of factors that have molded Maxey into the person he is, on Tuesday he credited his father Tyrone for his productive approach to criticism.
Tyrone Maxey played college basketball at Washington State and coached his son throughout his childhood.
“My pops, he was the best thing that ever happened to me in that scenario,” Maxey said. “He was on me every single day — every single day — when I was younger. He’s backed off now. We still watch film and he still calls me and critiques games, or sends me film. But when I was younger, he was extremely hard on me and I didn’t understand why at the time.
“But now, looking back on it, they coach me extremely hard — the vets and the coaching staff — and I really appreciate them for that. I feel like they want the best for me, and that makes me want to go out there and play extremely hard, and do whatever it takes to help the team win.”