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Suns 2020 Draft Spotlight: Tyrese Maxey, the next Kentucky-to-NBA star?

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It’s been a while, but will the Suns draft yet another Kentucky guard? Here’s the case for Tyrese Maxey.

Tennessee v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

After breakout performances in the bubble from former Kentucky guards Jamal Murray and Tyler Herro along with recent late-lottery overachievers Devin Booker and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, many wonder if Tyrese Maxey is the next sneaky good guard prospect to come out of John Calipari’s Kentucky.

While his numbers don’t jump off the page, there are flashes where you can see the potential with his ability to score from three levels and defend at a high level. Kentucky deployed a three-man guard rotation where he was used quite a bit off-ball with fellow draft hopeful guards Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans. In a role where he’s used operating next to a primary creator as a “co-pilot” in creation responsibilities I could see him thriving.

10th pick previews: Killian Hayes, Devin Vassell, Kira Lewis Jr., Isaac Okoro, Patrick Williams, Tyrese Haliburton, Obi Toppin

Trade back candidate previews: Tyrell Terry, Desmond Bane, Ty-Shon Alexander


General Background

  • Position: Guard
  • Measurables: 6’3” - 6’6” Wingspan
  • Age: 19 years old on draft day
  • Team: Kentucky
  • Role: Scorer, Secondary Playmaker

Draft Range

Here is where Tyrese Maxey has been mocked around the basketball world.

  • ESPN: 16th
  • The Ringer: 23rd
  • Bleacher Report: 24th
  • Tankathon: 22nd
  • NBA Draft Net: 20th
  • Sports Illustrated: 16th
  • CBS: 24th

There are many scouts torn on Maxey, as some have him comfortably in the top half of the lottery, and others have him as low as the late 1st round. I’m somewhere in-between those two groups as I have him in the late lottery on my board. If he winds up in an ideal situation it’s easy to see him put it together and return top 10 value in this class, but for me personally his optimization will all be about fit and what role he is given by the team that takes him.


Offense

Strengths: Finishing, Scoring Versatility, Can score off the bounce

Weaknesses: Playmaking, Undersized combo guard, Handle must improve

Maxey is one of the best finishers in this class. His unique blend of body control, mid-air adjustments, ambidexterity, soft touch and strength gives him the ability to finish in a myriad of ways.

If you just look at the 29% shooting from three point range you’d think he is a negative or below average shooter on the surface, which is not the case. I think the shooting potential is much greater than he was able to display at Kentucky, and he showed flashes of his shooting acumen in his high school and “club ball” days that had many scouts drooling over his shooting projection. The form is exquisite as well so there is plenty to like there despite the poor shooting season from the Kentucky freshman.

The two areas he needs to improve most are intertwined in his handle and passing, as that will be the next step towards unlocking his highest potential as a secondary playmaker. He’s already a threat to score off the bounce, so if he can keep the defense honest on multiple levels that would bode well towards hitting a high-end outcome. His tireless work ethic combined with his infectiously positive and professional attitude should make him an excellent locker room guy and someone front offices fall in love with during the interview process.

This is one of those flashes of shooting upside that I alluded to above. You cannot ignore this, because “poor” shooters simply can not do this. He has numerous occasions where he hits tough shots off the dribble.


Defense

Strengths: Point of attack defense, Effort/Tenacity,

Weaknesses: Limited positional defender, Lack of impact Plays (stocks)

When it comes to strictly defending guards, there may not be a better option in this draft than Tyrese Maxey. He will be a somewhat limited defender due to his size, but I expect him to be able to cover guards at an extremely high level.

He’s physical, he competes, he has the instincts and anticipation to disrupt and fights around screens. He is the real deal when it comes to this side of the floor, which is one reason he could make some sense next to Booker if you buy in to his offensive upside. He has the frame to add on more muscle, so when you combine that with his intangibles and commitment on this end, it’s easy to see him as a positive defender long-term.

As Spencer hits on in this video above, Maxey’s ability to fight over screens and mirror his opponent is impressive. That type of defensive coverage is a combination of skill and effort, which is why I’m entirely sold on his defensive prowess and his ability to stick with 1’s and 2’s at the next level.


Fit in Phoenix

Offensively he would benefit playing alongside Booker, but at this point every guard in this class would so I’m not going to factor that in as too much of a positive. On the flip side, his defensive ability is intriguing since he’ll be able to take on the tougher guard assignment night in, night out and could further enhance their mission to insulate Booker defensively.

Based off his projected range, I don’t see Phoenix taking Maxey with the 10th pick, but he’s someone I could see them targeting if they decide to trade down. Maxey is the ultimate case study of trusting the eye test over statistics, so it will be interesting to monitor his development at the next level for future evaluations. If he hits, I think we can all finally admit the Kentucky guard “thing” is real.