PHILADELPHIA — Tyrese Maxey and Ja Morant have more in common than southern charm and career paths.
Drafted a year apart from one another, the guards share somewhat similar year-to-year leaps in production that changed their respective teams’ long-term trajectories.
Morant’s jump from young pillar to full-fledged face of the Grizzlies came in his third year. He ascended from scoring 19.1 points per game on 53.7 percent true shooting in his second year to scoring 27.4 points per game on 57.5 percent true shooting in his third year. He made the leap from relatively inefficient scorer to relatively efficient offensive force. And with that growth as a fixture of their formula, his Grizzlies went from a 38-win play-in team in the 72-game post-bubble season to a 56-win 2-seed in the first normal post-bubble season.
Something about an undersized guard with crafty touch at the rim draws people. And according to at least one player familiar with being a friendly to Morant’s attack, it’s a style that injects energy into teammates.
“Two young, athletic, electric players that love to get up and down, can score the ball in bunches,” De’Anthony Melton said at Saturday’s shootaround. “So, playing alongside them is what I do. It’s what I like to to do. Continue to just affect the game wherever I can.”
Ready or not, Maxey was forced to make a leap in his second year amid the Ben Simmons trade holdout. And Maxey responded to the heightened responsibility. After averaging 8 points on 53.1 percent true shooting in 15.3 minutes per game as a rookie, Maxey more than doubled his scoring output at 17.5 points per game in his second year. He played 35.3 minutes per game as a starting combo guard. Most impressive of all, the rise in scoring was accompanied by much better efficiency. At 59.4 percent true shooting, Maxey blossomed from a promising young guard to a highly-efficient pillar of the Sixers’ future.
The meteoric rise, one might argue, changed the Sixers’ calculus at last season’s trade deadline. Maybe they don’t feel the urgency to trade for James Harden if Maxey’s growth doesn’t push up their self-perceived championship odds last season. Maybe Harden sees the Nets’ promise once Kyrie Irving returns and extends with Brooklyn for the long haul. Perhaps the future looks as murky as ever, and maybe Joel Embiid’s satisfaction in Philadelphia becomes increasingly short-fused.
Those are all huge hypotheticals that are no longer relevant. They’re no longer relevant to reality because of one under-sized shooting guard’s second-year leap that went beyond everyone’s wildest projections.
As similar as Maxey and Morant are in their respective explosions into the NBA’s wide-cast spotlight, they’re equally different in style of play.
“They both quick as lightning. But comparable, I mean, they got two kind of different games. Tyrese is more of a three-point shooter, hit you with middies and all that stuff. But, Ja gets to the paint at will, finishing, all that stuff,” Melton said.
“They’re two separate players. But, at the same time, they’re really similar, too.”