The Sixers pounced Wednesday night on the opportunity to draft a talented, one-and-done player from Kentucky.
With his first first-round selection in five years, new president of basketball operations Daryl Morey took combo guard Tyrese Maxey with the 21st pick in the 2020 NBA draft. It was a bit surprising that Maxey lasted until No. 21. RJ Hampton, Tyrell Terry and Desmond Bane were other potential options on the board at that stage.
“I was thrilled, because I think teams tend to fixate on weaknesses instead of celebrating strengths with guys who fall,” Morey said early Thursday morning. “This was a top USA Basketball guy. … Historically, guys with his pedigree coming in who play at an effective level on a top team, you’re just putting yourself in a really good spot to get a player who can help over time.
“I think another thing that really helped is obviously our staff does a great job on background. This is a guy who constantly works on his game. He’s improved his game every year and also is a big team guy. Those things are important. If you have a top-level talent like him plus you love basketball and you’re willing to work and continue to work, that’s when you end up having a top player.”
Maxey is appealing to the Sixers because of his ability to play both on and off the ball and his strong defense. He allowed just 0.26 points per 1-on-1 possession (97th percentile), per NBA.com. The 20-year-old is a high-energy, charismatic kid who plays with joy and appears to enjoy big stages. He’s worked out with Ben Simmons, another Klutch Sports client. It’s not too difficult to envision Simmons and Maxey sharing a backcourt in certain lineups, with Maxey guarding point guards and Simmons matching up against wings.
“I’ve been in the gym since May, I went out to L.A. in May,” Maxey said. “And I’ve been in there working every single day. I think everybody stops by and they always see me in there working and grinding. … It’s been great having guys like LeBron (James) and even Ben Simmons as older brothers and mentors. For someone like me, a rookie coming into the league, it’s great to have those guys on your side.”
His jump shot will be one question mark just as a byproduct of him making only 29.2 percent of his three-point attempts in college. Still, there doesn’t appear to be anything terribly wrong with his mechanics, although he did have a bit of a low release at Kentucky, and it’s encouraging that he converted 83.3 percent of his free throws.
He’s not the elite shooter the Sixers could have had in Terry or Bane, but Maxey doesn’t appear to have a broken shot and looks poised to contribute in other ways, as well.
“In my opinion, I bring a competitive nature,” he said, “a winning spirit, as far as playing competitively on the defensive end. And even on the offensive end, I feel like I can help run a team, I feel like I can score on and off the ball and be a great asset to the team.”