The offseason before Tyrese Maxey’s rookie year was bumpy, and that's putting it lightly.
The NBA did not hold its usual Las Vegas Summer League due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And, after testing positive for the virus, Maxey sat out the start of Sixers training camp. Instead of playing with his new teammates, he watched film of practice and reviewed it with assistant coaches.
A common cliché about a young player is he “looks like he belongs.” Playing at summer league for the first time earlier this month, Maxey didn’t look like he belonged — in a good way.
Maxey was without question one of the most talented players in Las Vegas. He totaled 52 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists, four steals and two blocks across two games before returning home to Garland, Texas, to host a youth basketball camp.
At 20 years old, many would still classify Maxey as a youngster himself. He was never timid in the spotlight as a rookie, however, and seemed to adjust exceptionally well to life as a professional during one of the most unusual NBA seasons ever.
“I’m not going to lie, the University of Kentucky really prepared us for the next level as far as being on the road, having to be on time, being on your own,” he said at his exit interview in June. “You can do whatever you please, to be honest. You’re on your own. No one’s telling you what to do, where to be and different things like that. You kind of have to be responsible, and the University of Kentucky did a really good job of preparing us for that moment.
“And my parents, they built a baseline when I was younger — treating people the right way and knowing what to do and what not to do — (knowing) right from wrong. And I really appreciate them for that.”
For Maxey’s Year 2, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers gave him one overarching focus.
“Coach Doc told me before I left (for summer league) to watch the film and work on running the team — being able to run a team; being able to get guys in the right spots; finding out where guys like the ball," Maxey said after the Sixers' summer league opener. “I think that’s one thing I really took to heart."
So far, so good on the idea of Maxey as a player who can run the show. One of the only minor blemishes from his summer league showing was a 1-for-8 outing from three-point range during the Sixers' overtime win over the Hawks. In terms of feeding his teammates and both dictating and rolling with the rhythm of the game, he did well during summer league.
Maxey is not known as a traditional point guard, though. He looked at his sharpest last season breaking down defenders off the dribble and attacking downhill. Maxey didn’t turn the ball over much and was a smart decision-maker, but that’s different from being responsible for a team’s offensive harmony.
As anyone familiar with Maxey would expect, he thinks he’s capable of just about any role.
“I pride myself on being able to do what the coach needs me to do,” he said. “I feel comfortable with the ball in my hands. I feel comfortable making certain reads, certain passes ... and just finding the right reads. I told Paul (Reed) in the second half (against the Hawks), ‘When you come screen and roll, I’m going to hit you with the pocket pass dang near every time.’ As soon as he started doing that, the game started opening up for everybody.”
A Ben Simmons trade could once again force Maxey to do quite a bit of adapting.
If the Sixers deal Simmons (and Maxey sticks in Philadelphia), perhaps Maxey would take on a higher proportion of minutes as the team’s lead ball handler. He might end up playing behind an established point guard, too. It’s impossible to know without having the exact details of the hypothetical return for Simmons, who’s been the subject of incessant offseason trade rumors and speculation.
Based on what Maxey’s shown, it’s a good bet that he won’t be unsettled regardless of what’s next.