In retrospect, it is difficult to fathom how NBA executives could have overlooked Tyrese Maxey and believed there were 20 players better than him in the 2020 draft. Maxey, currently in his breakout fourth season, has been averaging an impressive 28.6 points, 7.2 assists, and 5.4 rebounds per game. If he maintains this level of play, he appears to be a strong contender for his first All-Star game.
When reflecting on the 2020 NBA Draft, it becomes evident that general managers made a grave mistake in disregarding Maxey's abilities. While there were some talented players in the draft such as Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton, and Desmond Bane, Maxey should have undeniably been a top-five pick at the very least.
To gain a better understanding of how Maxey was undervalued, let's examine his scouting reports and explore a few possible reasons for his lower draft placement.
Maxey was highly regarded during his high school years and was ranked as the 10th best player in the country according to the RSCI rankings. He had always yearned to play under John Calipari at the University of Kentucky, which he did for one year of college basketball. However, his freshman year did not unfold exactly as Maxey had envisioned. Although he showcased his scoring potential by averaging 14.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.2 assists, his efficiency was not outstanding. He shot 42.7 percent from the field and a mere 29.2 percent from beyond the arc.
Despite these good-but-not-great statistics, Maxey remained a highly regarded prospect. Most draft experts predicted he would be selected somewhere in the middle of the first round. Jeremy Woo of SI ranked him 12th on his big board, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic ranked him 16th, Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer ranked him 15th, and Eric Fawcett of The Sporting News placed him 18th.
Reviewing Maxey's scouting reports, some concerns were raised regarding his shooting stroke. Although it was challenging to predict that he would become a career 41.5 percent shooter from deep in the NBA, it was not an impossible feat. As Kevin O'Connor noted, Maxey's compact form, soft touch, and high free-throw percentage indicated potential for success as a shooter. Additionally, Maxey's shooting percentages in college may have been impacted by the fact that he was often forced to take difficult shots at the end of the shot clock when offensive possessions stalled.
Scouts also expressed worries about Maxey's ability to create separation and his heavy reliance on floaters. The Sporting News' Chris Stone pointed out that Maxey often settled for midrange floaters instead of driving all the way to the rim on his attacks. This critique has proven somewhat accurate as Maxey continues to heavily rely on floaters. However, it is worth noting that his floater has become one of the best in the league. He is shooting a remarkable 54.9 percent on shots in the floater range, compared to the league-average mark of 43.4 percent, as reported by Cleaning the Glass.
Another factor that may have contributed to Maxey falling in the draft was the perception that he did not fully showcase his abilities at Kentucky. While Coach John Calipari is known for his exceptional recruiting success, his guards have often underperformed in college, especially in recent years. Some draft experts, like ESPN's Jonathan Givony and The Athletic's Sam Vecenie, have criticized Calipari's offensive system, suggesting that it lacks the modern principles found in the NBA and other elite college programs.
Looking at the recent drafts, it is apparent that many of Calipari's guards have been undervalued and would likely be selected higher if redrafted today. With the exception of De'Aaron Fox, all of the guards mentioned have demonstrated greater potential in the NBA than where they were initially drafted from Kentucky.
In conclusion, it is clear that Tyrese Maxey's talent was vastly underestimated in the 2020 NBA Draft. Scouting reports recognized his scoring ability but raised concerns about his shooting stroke and heavy reliance on floaters. Additionally, Calipari's offensive system at Kentucky may have hindered Maxey's full display of skills. Nonetheless, Maxey's outstanding performance this season highlights the oversight of NBA general managers and solidifies his position as one of the many underappreciated talents to come out of Kentucky's program.