Philadelphia 76ers: Focus on Tyrese Maxey’s defense, Sam Cassell

(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

A year ago, Tyrese Maxey was playing in the Summer League.

He was a second-year former first-round pick who averaged just 8.0 points and 15.3 minutes per game during his rookie season, and with Ben Simmons in the early stages of a season-long holdout, the organization was on the lookout to see how the 20th overall pick would fare with the ball in his hands far more often.

The result? They were pretty good. Maxey rolled into the league, balled out, and flew back home to Garland, Texas, to host a Youth Basketball Camp.

Fast-forward a year or so into the future, and Maxey is back in the Summer League, only this time, he’s sitting in the stands, not the bench, learning the ins and outs of playing guard in the NBA alongside his assistant coach Sam Cassell.

At this point, seeing Cassell and Maxey together has become a regular thing. The duo were locked at the hip last season, with the former guard imparting his wisdom on the next generation, and so far this offseason, they’ve remained just as close, from their Summer League hangs to a particularly viral workout session that featured James Harden that you can watch here.

Why, you may ask, is this particularly relevant? Well, Philadelphia 76ers fans, despite taking a massive step forward as a playmaker, a scorer, and a shooter in his sophomore season, it looks like the 21-year-old still has plenty of room left to grow.

Tyrese Maxey should focus on defense for the Philadelphia 76ers.

What is the next aspect of Tyrese Maxey’s game that could use some work? Like he went from a below-average 3-point shooter to a top-5 shooting percentage, from a sparkplug sixth man to a full-time starter, and fully established himself as the sort of offensive dynamo capable of being a closer on the same team as Joel Embiid and James Harden.

But what could Maxey do better? Should he become a better dimer? A better floor spacer? Taken even more shots from the mid-range a la his mentor, Sam Cassell?

None of the above – while all of those additions would be great, the one aspect of Maxey’s game that could use the most work is defense.

Over Maxey’s first two seasons in the NBA, his defense was below average to downright bad. His best Defensive Raptor rating, which came in 2021-22, ranked 203rd association-wide out of the 250 players who recorded at least 1,000 minutes, and in the season before, Maxey was even worse, ranking 239th out of 259 players according to FiveThirtyEight.

Why, you may ask, is this relevant? Well, because if Maxey could just become a net neutral force on defense, he’d go from being tied with Lu Dort for the 149th best Total Raptor rating and a WAR rating of 4.0 to the 45th best TR and a WAR in the 6.4 range, or a top- 40 mark association-wide.

Remember how the Sixers would explicitly target Tyler Herro on defense last season? What if I were to tell you Maxey actually graded out as a worse defender last fall?

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If Tyrese Maxey remains a below-average defender as a third-year pro, the Philadelphia 76ers can work around that. They traded for De’Anthony Melton for a reason, and he’s one of the best defensive guards in the NBA with an ability to become a fixture of end-of-game rosters for years to come. And yet, if Maxey can just become average on defense, a whole world of possibilities open up from a lineup standpoint, and all three of Philly’s Big 3 will be able to close out games regardless of the situation. Going from a position-less tweener to a two-way two-position guard over the course of two NBA offseasons would be an incredible feat and well worthy of Sam Cassell earning a head coaching gig.