The Whiteboard: Tyrese Maxey is already borderline elite in this one area

Philadelphia 76ers, The Whiteboard

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Tyrese Maxey burst out of the gate as a rookie, soaking up minutes as the Philadelphia 76ers tried to assemble a full roster around quarantines and COVID protocols early in the season. He dropped 39 points in just his 10th NBA game and the hype machine took off. But as the 76ers got healthy he eventually faded back towards the end of the rotation, playing under 10 minutes in nearly a third of his games.

At this point, Maxey is best known as a client of Rich Paul and a possible package deal with Ben Simmons. But his numbers hint at a player who might be ready for a much bigger role next season.

Maxey is still a shaky 3-point shooter — 30.1 percent of 103 attempts last season — which is one of the reasons trading him may be palatable to Philadelphia, despite his upside. Shooting is so important to their overall offensive health that it was hard for him to move past Danny Green, Seth Curry, Shake Milton or Kurkan Korkmaz in the rotation. But Maxey was an aggressive, disruptive defender who averaged 18.8 points, 4.6 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.0 steals per 36 minutes. And his most obvious skill — attacking the basket — is already making an impact.

What made Tyrese Maxey so effective attacking the basket?

Maxey averaged 13.5 drives per 36 minutes, fourth-most among last year’s rookie class. He drove less often than players like Killian Hayes, LaMelo Ball or Cole Anthony but what set him apart was his aggressiveness and effectiveness as a scorer when attacking the basket. You can see here for all rookies who played at least 500 minutes, the percent of their drives that ended in either a shot attempt or a foul drawn (the other outcomes would be a pass or a turnover) and their average points per drive.

Devin Vassell of the Spurs is the only other player in Maxey’s vicinity but it’s worth noting that he averaged just 3.2 drives per 36 minutes and totaled 94 drives on the entire season, so we’re talking about productivity on a much smaller scale. Anthony Edwards has somewhat similar numbers in terms of drive volume and pass/shoot tendencies but the gap in scoring efficiency is significant.

Looking at the three numbers — drives per 36, points per drive and drive shot percentage — along with a quick similarity score calculation by standard deviations, we find a much more impressive list of comparables last season for Maxey’s numbers.

Maxey’s floater was often highlighted in pre-draft scouting reports as an ideal tool that would help him transition into being an efficient creator at the next level. That pattern did manifest last season — he took more than a quarter of his shots in the short mid-range area, between three and 10 feet from the basket, and he made better than 50 percent of them, an extremely strong number for a perimeter player.

But he also took 33.6 percent of his shots all the way at the rim, and made 56.3 percent of them, marks that compare strongly to players like Trae Young (18.6 percent of his shots at the rim, made 56.0 percent) and Donovan Mitchell (20.6 percent of his shots at the rim, made 58.2 percent). Ideally, that at the rim field goal percentage will come up into the 60s but Maxey also compensates by shooting 87.1 percent at the free-throw line.

Obviously, there is still a lot to work in Maxey’s game and whether he stays in Philadelphia or ends up as part of the Ben Simmons package, he’s not necessarily a future star. But the fact that already translated this one skill area to borderline elite production (albeit in a small sample) sets his floor extremely high. Even if he’s not a future All-Star he seems like a very safe bet to have a solid niche as a dynamite third guard bringing energy and scoring off the bench.

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The Seattle Storm looked like the presumptive favorite for much of this season. In this week’s WNBA Power Rankings, they’ve slid down another two slots.

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