Stronger Maxey soaks up Harden's ‘secrets,' starts preseason very fast


No, Tyrese Maxey hasn’t been faultless this preseason.

Maxey got a playful reminder of his imperfection Wednesday from Sixers assistant coach Dave Joerger, who assumed the head job for the night with Doc Rivers feeling under the weather. 

“If he’d finished his fast breaks, he’d have been 11 for 11, is what I told him,” Joerger said following the Sixers’ 113-112 win at Wells Fargo Center over the Cavs. “We all know what a joy he is to be around so when he has success, it’s just such a good feeling because he’s so humble and so giving. 

“But efficient is the word. His ability to make shots is so improved, and he’s put in so much work. … So that ability is going to allow him to be in the league, and the next level is people are going to run at him. He was very impressive.”

Maxey’s efficiency through two preseason first halves has looked like 41 points on 15-for-19 shooting. He’s gone 5 for 7 from three-point range, although he’s also demonstrated Joerger’s point about that “next level.” 

Instead of attempting a contested three, Maxey accepted De’Anthony Melton’s skip pass, pump faked, and took one strong, controlled dribble into a pure mid-range jumper. Preseason play is ultimately insignificant, but it’s still noticeable that Maxey has continued to string together his scoring strengths so fluently.

He’s pleased with his physical progress, too. The 21-year-old gained significant muscle this offseason and believes that should aid his improvement. 

“It is (different), offensively and defensively,” Maxey said. “Mainly defensively. I feel stronger; I can fight through screens. Sometimes when you switch, I can box out. That was really one of my main things. I didn’t want to be a defensive liability because of size. I’m only 6-3 — give myself an inch — I’m only 6-3 and I don’t want there to be any type of slack defensively. I don’t want them to have to make up special schemes just for me. I want to be able to be solid and do whatever Coach needs me to do defensively to help us win. 

“And then offensively, just playing through contact, getting to the free-throw line. I feel like last year I got bumped off my spot a little bit sometimes and right now, it feels good. I just got done lifting (after the game). I’m trying to maintain it, keep eating right and help my team win as much as possible.”

The Sixers expect to be a better defensive team and hope to have no perceived weak spots in their closing lineup. Generous self-listing aside, Maxey can’t control his height, but the Sixers will likely ask him to be an on-ball irritant at times, stand firm when targeted, and avoid youthful mistakes like belated switches and fouls on jump shooters. Powering through screens would boost the Sixers’ pick-and-roll defense and place less pressure on Joel Embiid in drop coverage, too. 

While it would be astounding if Maxey succeeded at all of the above, it’s easy to envision him making more regular trips to the foul line. Offseason workouts with James Harden seem to be a very solid foul-drawing education. Harden’s 8,195 career attempts are already 18th in NBA history. He’s 607 away from passing Jerry West and moving into 10th place. 

What specific tricks has Maxey learned from his 33-year-old backcourt mate? 

“A lot. I can’t tell you those secrets,” he said with a smile. “He barely told them to me. It took him months to tell me the secrets. But nah, he’s been great. He’s (a former) MVP, future Hall of Famer, so everything that he tells me, I soak it up like a sponge.” 

Should Maxey’s three-point shooting decline slightly at some stage after he soared to 42.7 percent last season, free throws could provide a useful buffer. Given the pressure Maxey puts on defenses, his adjusted free throw rate should rise from last season’s 100 (precisely league average). 

However, Maxey will still be dependent on officials recognizing when he’s bumped and perhaps handing him a borderline "star's call" here and there. 

If Wednesday’s postgame words were any indication, he’ll hope respect begets respect and not demand anything from the referees. 

“I appreciate the refs,” Maxey said. “They’re great. They’ve been doing a great job. They’ve been tasked with a very hard job. A lot of our guys probably are tough on them. So they’re doing a great job and I have nothing but respect for every single ref in our league.

“I just go out there and try to play hard, go to the rim, and sometimes draw contact, get to the line and help us move the scoreboard.”

Yes, it’s merely the preseason, but both Maxey and the scoreboard have been moving awfully fast to begin his third year. 

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