Tyrese Maxey Won’t Win Most Improved Player, but We’ll Make the Case Anyway

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA’s Most Improved Player Award is never handed out to second-year guys.


Well, the obvious statement is that it’s very easy for sophomores to make a huge leap from their rookie years. You’re finding your feet, getting a feel for the NBA, and just trying to keep your head above water while being immersed in a new environment. Then you come in during year number two with increased minutes and things begin to “click.”

That’s what’s happening with Tyrese Maxey this year, so he’s a long shot to win the award. At most books, Ja Morant is the runaway winner, with odds upwards of -750. Miles Bridges and Darius Garland are a distant second, both hovering in the +1000 region right now. Maxey is 7th or 8th on most lists, down below Dejounte Murray, Jarrett Allen, Anfernee Simons, and sometimes Desmond Bane.

Admittedly, seeing Morant at -750 is pretty funny, because dude was already nasty. Morant is the 2nd overall draft pick, playing his third year of NBA basketball, and was awesome last season. In handing him the most improved award, we’re placing a lot of value in going from “awesome” to “really awesome,” which is essentially what you’re seeing here. He was a 20 PPG guy with Memphis last year, but his PPG ballooned to 27 this year despite only playing about one more minute per game, and he’s shooting four percentage points higher from three, among other improvements:

He’s a first-time All Star with career highs in most scoring categories, logging a career-high true shooting percentage. He’s been so good that he’s pushed himself into the top five of MVP voting as well.

No issue with Morant winning MIP, but Maxey’s year-to-year improvements are also insane.

From year one to year two for Tyrese:

  • starts: 8 –> 55
  • minutes per game: 15.3 –> 35.6
  • FGA: 7.0 –> 13.5
  • eFG%: 49.8 –> 54.1
  • 3PA: 1.7 –> 3.7
  • 3P%: 30.1% –> 42.3%
  • FTA: 1.1 –> 3.5
  • rebounds per game: 1.7 –> 3.6
  • assists per game: 2.0 –> 4.5
  • points per game: 8.0 –> 17.6

We’re talking about a guy who went from trade sweetener to untouchable. The third option on a team with Joel Embiid, James Harden, and Tobias Harris. A player picked 21st overall.

To really understand Maxey’s growth, however, you have to look at the type of player he was last year, and the player he is now. Rookie Maxey showed flashes as a smart ball handler who could attack the paint and hit some floaters, toss some assists, and run the floor. Now he’s a guy who is getting to the rim and firing catch-and-shoot threes at a high level. He’s doing Tony Parker things with the ball and gliding around without it.

Compare the shot charts from season-to-season, starting with his rookie year:

You see he was average in a number of quadrants. Floater quadrant was good, and he hit enough threes from the right-side break line to finish at 43.2% from that quadrant. Slightly below league average finisher at the rim.

Now look at what he’s doing this year:

First of all, just look at the volume there. He is shooting way more three pointers and getting to the rim much more frequently. Doc Rivers and the Sixers’ development guys have done a really nice job molding Tyrese to modern day analytics. Three pointers, stuff at the rim, etc. They’ve been trying to work that floater out of his game and they’re doing well with that approach.

I shared this clip the other day as an example of how much Maxey has improved in this regard:

Just looking at those first two sequences there, what do you see? I see a guy who would not have taken that catch-and-shoot three. He also would not have taken that second possession and gone all the way to the rim with it. You see a couple of floaters in there but he really is not trying it with the frequency of last season.

Keep in mind, Maxey was somewhat of a tweener coming into the NBA. He was a combo guard. He wasn’t really a 1 but he wasn’t really a 2 either. But you’re seeing the best of both worlds with James Harden in the fold, because I think there’s less pressure on Tyrese as a floor general and ball handler. He can work off-ball, slash, cut, or fire off catch-and-shoot threes. He can catch and drive, attacking closeouts against bigger guys. His skill set really is versatile already.

So look, I’ve got nothing against Ja Morant winning the award. He’s incredible. But you can honestly make a huge case for Maxey to be more prominent in the discussion. The gains he’s made across the board are almost incomprehensible. The MIP award is generally reserved for guys in year three or beyond, because once you get further in your career is becomes harder to make big leaps forward, if that makes any sense. It’s easy to go from okay to good, and then good to great, but it’s hard to go from awesome to really awesome, which is why Morant is getting so much love. He’s pushing the ceiling even higher than we thought it could go. Same for Bridges, who is up 7 PPG in his fourth year and taking more FGA than ever. Garland is running the show for a good Cavs team in year three and Murray is a first-time All Star at age 25. These guys are typically the offensive focal points for their teams, and they are improving their output while minutes remain mostly the same (especially Morant and Murray). Tyrese obviously saw everything grow with the huge jump in minutes, spurred by Ben Simmons’s absence.

Maxey isn’t going to win the award, but probably deserves more national love. Probably deserves to be elevated in the discussion.