Detroit Pistons draft preview: Is Maxey the next Kentucky guard to outperform draft status?

Tyrese Maxey
Tyrese Maxey had a solid freshman season at Kentucky and looks to become the latest Wildcats guard to outperform his draft status.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

History says it’s a virtual certainty a future All-Star, perhaps even a future MVP, will be available when the Pistons go on the clock to make the seventh pick in the 2020 NBA draft.

It’s too early to judge the 2018 and ’19 drafts – though early returns suggest form will hold as young players like Tyler Herro (13th pick in 2019) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (11th pick in ’18) already appear on an All-Star track – but go back a decade and every draft has produced players who either already are or will be multi-time All-Stars or even MVP winners who were taken with the seventh pick or beyond.

The 2017 draft has already produced All-Stars in Donovan Mitchell (13th) and Bam Adebayo (14th). Jamal Murray, a breakout star of the NBA’s Orlando bubble, was the seventh pick in 2016. Devin Booker was the 13th pick in 2015 and Nikola Jokic went 41st in 2014.

Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo was the 15th pick in 2013 and three-time All-Star – and three-time NBA champion – Draymond Green was the 35th pick in 2012. His Golden State teammate, Klay Thompson, was the 11th pick in 2011 when two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard went 15th. Paul George was the 10th pick in 2010 and two-time MVP Steph Curry was the seventh pick in 2009.

So when Dwane Casey said in early October, after months of digesting video of top prospects, he was confident the Pistons would get a foundational piece at the seventh pick, he had history – and faith in the eye of new general manager Troy Weaver – in his corner.

Leading to the Nov. 18 draft, Pistons.com will profile 12 candidates to hear their name called when the Pistons announce the pick. Next up: guard Tyrese Maxey.

FIRST-ROUND CANDIDATE: TYRESE MAXEY

ID CARD: 6-foot-3 guard, Kentucky, 19 years old

DRAFT RANGE: Ranked 15th by ESPN.com, 16th by The Athletic, 15th by SI.com

SCOUTS LOVE: If you love Maxey, you probably see a lot of Donovan Mitchell in his game. He’s not necessarily a point guard, but you can put the ball in his hands and expect him to make something happen. Athletic and with the frame to grow into plus strength, Maxey looks to be the type of player, like Mitchell, who can become a dynamic rim-attacking guard and play through contact as he hones his ballhandling skills. He’s got an ebullient, confident air about him. He should come across well in interviews as teams, more and more, come to prioritize character. His immediate contribution can and should come in transition where his athleticism and confidence come into play. Maxey didn’t shoot well from the 3-point arc in his only college season, but he flashed a knack for scoring on a variety of floaters, pull-ups and mid-range shots and is good around the rim in sensing angles. The inclination with Maxey is to think that in the NBA, he’ll benefit from the greater space to work with in the middle of the floor as defenses stretch to the 3-point line and beyond. Maxey also sticks his nose in the fray, rebounds well and is a willing passer.

SCOUTS WONDER: Maxey arrived at Kentucky considered one of the top shooters in the class of 2019, but only managed to sink 29.2 percent of his 3-point attempts, which constituted 32 percent of his shots. Is that a big concern? Probably not for most teams, who see no red flags in his mechanics. Kentucky also didn’t have much in the way of 3-point shooting around him so floor spacing was unfavorable. Maxey also didn’t have much experience playing off of the ball before getting to Kentucky, where he was often in lineups with two other ballhandling guards, Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans. Size is another possible concern. The assortment of restricted-area shots, floaters and rim attempts that Maxey proved efficient at in college will be a degree of magnitude more difficult against NBA shot-blockers. While Maxey’s scoring mentality is to be admired, he’ll need to tighten his shot selection, usually a function of experience. He’s right-hand dominant, so he’s going to need to develop a left hand to have a chance to give the Mitchell comparison meaning.

NUMBER TO NOTE: 14.0 – That’s how many points per game Maxey scored as a Kentucky freshman – the exact scoring average posted by another Kentucky freshman guard a season ago: Tyler Herro. Given the impact Kentucky guards Herro, Devin Booker, Jamal Murray and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have had in the NBA after one season on campus – all of them significantly outplaying their draft status – it’s worth wondering if Maxey, surrounded by a similar bevy of perimeter talent as the others and thus required to share opportunity, might have more to offer than generally perceived.

MONEY QUOTE: “The ceiling of him as a shooter and the size are the drawbacks. I would also add from an intel standpoint, I just thought his interactions with people were first class. He seems like the right stuff. The type of guy that didn’t have any (B.S.) to him. He just seemed like a good, solid, high-character guy. That stuff matters when it can tip one way or another. Or if the first situation doesn’t work out for a variety of reasons, good guys – they’re going to persevere.” – An anonymous coach of a Kentucky opponent as told to Sam Vecenie of The Athletic.

BOTTOM LINE: Maxey flashed early in his Kentucky run, showing his star mentality by scoring 26 points and dominating in closing time to lead his team past Michigan State at Madison Square Garden in his college debut. There’s insight into Maxey’s makeup in that performance. Casey and newly installed Pistons general manager Troy Weaver share the belief that 3-point shooting is a skill that can be developed in most cases. If Maxey becomes the 3-point shooter that scouts saw from him before his freshman season, no one should be surprised if Maxey becomes – like Murray, Herro, Gilgeous-Alexander and Booker before him – the latest Kentucky guard to outperform his draft status. There’s little indication that Maxey will be picked ahead of the Pistons and it would be an upset if he was taken in the top 10. But ignore the history of Kentucky guards outperforming their draft rank at your own peril. Once or twice might be seen as coincidence, but Maxey was a top-10 recruit a year ago, has shone brightly on big stages and shared the backcourt with two other highly recruited, talented guards at Kentucky. He bears close inspection.

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