Tyrese Maxey and the non-lottery pick rookies making a difference

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /

In every NBA Draft, there is plenty of value to be found outside the lottery. Tyrese Maxey and the rest of the 2020 class are perfect examples.

When you select a player at or near the top of the NBA Draft lottery, you expect him to be a contributor. Maybe not right away, but within a fairly short amount of time. Once you get outside that range, things get a little murkier. The hit rate on non-lottery first-round picks is pretty shaky, and it’s scary for second-rounders.

So, when a player selected in the latter half of the first round — or the second — looks like a contributor right away, it’s notable. We’re here to talk about some of those players.

Isaiah Stewart, Pistons

Stewart is not asked to do too much, but what he is asked to do, he does well. Working as Detroit’s backup center, Stewart comes in, sets screens, rolls hard to the rim, and absolutely ATTACKS the glass. He’s got a 16.3 percent offensive rebound rate, a pretty good indicator of his activity level. He’s a total non-threat outside the immediate area of the basket at the moment and he can’t do much more than catch and dunk or catch and immediately give the ball to a teammate, but he also knows that and doesn’t try to stretch beyond his limits. There is something to be said for knowing your role, playing it well, and worrying about everything else later. Much of what Stewart turns into will hinge on his proving he can defend outside the paint, for example, but for now, he’s doing a strong job protecting the rim.

Precious Achiuwa, Heat

Achiuwa is likely Stewart, but with even more activity and a bit more offensive verve. He’s among the fastest-moving forwards in the league, according to Second Spectrum data, and that tracks with what you see from him on the floor. The Heat seem intent on turning him into Bam Adebayo-lite, and that seems like a good development path. Achiuwa also got a chance to stretch himself for a couple of games when the Heat had half their roster out due to COVID protocols, and he passed the test with 27 points, 24 rebounds, and 5 assists in 63 minutes.

Tyrese Maxey, 76ers

Maxey’s outside shot has yet to come around, but that actually makes me even more optimistic about his future. It would be nice to see him get even more aggressive on the drive; he’s averaging only 5.6 per game, per Second Spectrum data on NBA.com, while shooting 52.6 percent on those drives. When he does attack, good things tend to happen. He’s also making his free-throws and short mid-rangers, which augurs well for the development of his jumper down the line. The combination of him and Shake Milton coming off the bench together is an interesting one for the Sixers, though it would be nice if they got to play with better shooters surrounding them. (They tend to not play with Seth Curry and/or Danny Green all that often.)

Immanuel Quickley, Knicks

For Quickley to hit his ceiling, he has to get better at finishing around the rim. (He’s shooting only 55.6 percent inside of three feet, per Basketball-Reference, not that it’s surprising given his size.) Other than that, though, he’s been about as good as the Knicks could have possibly hoped. He’s getting nearly 20 minutes a game for a Tom Thibodeau-coached team, as a rookie! He’s shooting in the high-30s from deep. His floater is a legitimate weapon to the point that opponents are bringing it up, unprompted, in postgame press conferences. He has shown he can do more with the ball in his hands than he ever did at Kentucky, raising the possibility of him playing the point instead of just being a shooting specialist off the bench. He’s already the second-highest-scoring rookie in the NBA, and I don’t even want to link to the list of players who have matched his per-36 averages during their rookie season. It’s too ridiculous.

Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman Sr., Grizzlies

Bane is leading the NBA in 3-point shooting. Without looking it up, what do you think his percentage is? I’m telling you, your guess is too low. He’s shooting 52 PERCENT from deep. He can handle the ball a little bit. You don’t have to run anything for him, but you can, because he’s got some gravity. He’s got great size and the ability to defend multiple positions on the wing. It’s almost hard to believe he lasted until the 30th pick in the draft, given how he so perfectly fits an archetype that so many teams seek every season. I guess that’s what happens when you actually spend four years in college.

The same is true of Tillman, who actually lasted into the second round, seemingly because he was a 22-year-old tweener with a weird body type. Out of Michigan State. Who could defend at the rim and on the perimeter and make plays as a short-roller and just generally wreak havoc with his activity level. Where have we heard about someone like that before? Did it work out for the team that drafted him at No. 35 overall? Yeah, well, it’s working out for the Grizzlies, too. He should be a rotation mainstay, along with Bane and Brandon Clarke. That’s three mid-first-and-later rotation players in two years. Not bad for a draft’s work.

Jae’Sean Tate, Rockets

Tate was not actually in this draft class, but he is a rookie. He went undrafted in 2018, and I’m honestly not sure how it took two years for him to find his way into the NBA. This dude just makes things happen. He can do so many different things, and we’ve seen him fill a bunch of different roles for the Rockets so far, based on who they’ve had out of the lineup due to either COVID protocols or injuries or trades. He’s played some point guard and some power forward. He’s been a distributor and an energy guy. The one thing he always does is he just plays SUPER hard. Sometimes, that’s enough to carve out a role.

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