2020 Orlando Magic NBA Draft Preview: Tyrese Maxey rises to the occasion

The Orlando Magic should be searching for guard help. With how Tyrese Maxey saved his best for the biggest games, it would be hard to pass on him.

The Orlando Magic may very well need some more help at guard. Ideally, a guard who is versatile enough by subbing in for both Evan Fournier and Markelle Fultz. This is the kind of versatility the Magic have valued, sometimes above all.

Michael Carter-Williams and D.J. Augustin are both free agents, leaving a major question for the team’s backup point guard spot. Given their salary cap situation, it’s unlikely both return to the Magic Kingdom so it is imperative for Orlando to replenish their free-agent defections with young, cheap talent.

If they are capable of playing point guard, that is even better. What better way to accomplish that than the draft later this month?

There are a ton of point guard options throughout this draft. If a team is looking for a guard, there are plenty throughout — from the top with guys like Killian Hayes and Tyrese Haliburton to the middle with guys like Kira Lewis Jr. and plenty more.

One player who makes a ton of sense is Tyrese Maxey, who spent one year at point guard for the Kentucky Wildcats.

He might not be the quintessential height for a potential combo guard at 6-foot-2 inches. But he compensates in this regard by being muscular at his height by weighing in at 200 pounds. This enables him to better handle contact on both ends of the court.

Even better, teams cannot overlook his 6-foot-5.5 wingspan. This always is a harbinger if you want to get in the good graces of the Magic front office.  So he is not nearly as undersized as his critics would view at first glance.

What else serves as a major boon for him is his college background.

Kentucky has produced copious amounts of NBA players in the last decade-plus. Much of that can be attributed to their head coach John Calipari. One position of note that he has had consistent success with is at point guard.

John Wall, Brandon Knight, Jamal Murray, De’Aaron Fox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander come to mind as successful Kentucky point guards who made their marks in the NBA. Not to mention, combo guards such as Devin Booker and Tyler Herro.

Even when he was at Memphis, Calipari made the most of adroit point guards, such as Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans. Calipari indoctrinates his players with the requisite skills to succeed at the next level.

Maxey should be next in line to carry the torch.

It also helps he made his team better even as a freshman.

Kentucky finished 25-6 last season and first in the SEC regular-season standings while finishing the year ranked eighth in the nation before the pandemic suspended play and canceled any postseason play.

His individual numbers are also very solid across the board. He averaged 14.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. Maxey struggled to shoot some, making only 29.2-percent of his 3-pointers and 42.7-percent of his shots overall. But his impressive 83.3-percent clip from the free-throw line suggests he has room to grow.

Still, the low shooting numbers are a concern for a Magic team that needs shooting and already has a point guard who is considered a poor shooter.

What impressed most is how Maxey performed in big games. This is important for a Magic team that needs playmakers and players who are unafraid of big moments when they make the playoffs.

Two games, in particular, come to mind — against Louisville and Michigan State. Both were ranked in the top-5 in each matchup and thanks to Maxey’s stellar play, Kentucky came away with a close win each time.

In his first career collegiate game coming off the bench, he dropped 26 points on 58-percent shooting from the field that included three triples, 9-for-10 shooting from the charity stripe. He added five rebounds and a steal. He outplayed preseason Wooden Award candidate Cassius Winston in the process.

Against the Wildcats’ biggest rival in Louisville, he helped them prevail in overtime for a marquee win. He finished with 27 points on 64-percent shooting, including four treys on five attempts, made all but one free throw attempt, and topped it off with seven rebounds and a steal.

With that being said, there are still some things that are disconcerting for Maxey that can raise doubts about how he will do when he enters the league.

His ability to play consistently from game to game was not there. Not to mention, he was not always efficient and effective. He also needs to be a better spot shooter.

Besides that, he does not possess the inherent qualities that make someone a natural point guard. Even worse, his height and outside shooting is concerning in terms of fitting in as a 2-guard. Though some of that may be due to a dearth of opportunities at shooting guard thanks to entrenched starter Ashton Haggans.

Maxey also needs to do a better job playing in control. He is great in transition, but he needs to perform better when it is a more slowed-down pace. Finally, he needs to do a better job of protecting the ball. His assist to turnover ratio is solid, but there is definitely room for improvement to build off of a 3.2 to 2.2 ratio.

Overall, the upside is too high to ignore. For someone who is projected to be a mid-round pick that fills a potential need, Orlando should be happy if he slips to them at number 15. He certainly should be on the team’s radar.

That is a great value pick when some mock drafts rank him as high as number 11 regarding overall prospects, regardless of position.

He may have his flaws, but we cannot ignore he is likely to make his presence known on the defensive end, have the ability to carry some of the scoring load, add nice length to the lineup and possess the faculty to attack the rim with authority.

Beyond that, Orlando needs someone who rises to the occasion. He has repeatedly proven that he can deliver in high stakes games against formidable opponents.

For a team trying to make the playoffs for a third straight year, the Magic would be thrilled to land a guy like that outside the lottery.