Going into the 2015 NBA draft, the name Stephen Maxwell was very unknown. The 6’7”, 220 pound senior out of Cal State Northridge ended the draft process without a workout or interview, but he didn't let that stop him from the end goal: playing in the NBA.
It wasn't long before he started getting calls from teams overseas. With offers from Finland, Hungary, and Canada coming in, Maxwell decided that playing in the NBL would be best for him as he prepared for the next step.
“I initially wanted to do a year overseas before looking at the D-League,” Maxwell said. “The NBL gave me an opportunity to further develop my game and gave me the experience needed to play at the D-League level.”
In December, Maxwell signed with the two-time NBL champion London Lightning. Located in Ontario, he played a major role on a team that went all the way to the NBL Finals only to lose to the Halifax Hurricanes.
While with the Lightning, Maxwell turned heads with his high energy levels and impact on the boards. During his rookie year, he averaged 17.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and shot 60 percent from the floor in 55 games played. He led the NBL in every rebounding statistic, finished second in total points scored, ninth in points per game, second overall in field goal percentage, and was named Rookie of the Year. His game is consistent, energetic, and at times, show-stopping.
What he does best is rebound at an extremely high level, defend multiple positions, and finish inside. On offense, he is most dangerous running the floor in transition and in the pick and roll. He excels at setting good screens, rolling hard to the basket, and finishing at the rim.
On defense, his lanky but sturdy frame and high energy allow him to guard multiple positions on the floor with ease. His quickness allows him to stay in front of most guards while his strength and grit allow him to make things tough for forwards. He doesn't protect the rim or cause turnovers, but he will stick to his assignment like white on rice and do everything he can to disrupt their game.
Making the jump from the NBL to the D-League will be an adjustment for Maxwell. With the level of play elevated, he will need to work on some aspects of his game if he wants to succeed.
“I can improve on becoming a more versatile player, meaning handling the ball better and extending my shooting range,” Maxwell said. “But my athleticism combined with my ability to score inside, rebound the ball at a high level, and guard multiple positions is what would be appealing to teams right now.”
Maxwell is far from a shooter, taking only one shot from deep last season. He has good mechanics and shoots just under 80 percent from the free throw line, but just hasn't looked comfortable shooting jumpers in-game.
His lack of ball handling is probably his biggest weakness going forward. In today’s game, wings are expected to be able to handle the ball and create for their teammates. Maxwell was second on the team in turnovers with 93, but turnovers aren't necessarily the issue. The issue is that if he isn't in position to score when the ball gets to him, he gets a little lost and it results in a broken play or having to reset the offense.
Despite not being a shooter or ball handler, Maxwell played a ton of minutes for a rookie. With hard work, he was able to come in and earn the trust of the coaching staff almost immediately. He started in 54 straight games following the season opener and averaged just over 34 minutes per game.
“I honestly couldn't ask for a better rookie experience. I played on a winning team that allowed me to play the way that I wanted to and have fun doing it,” Maxwell said. “I put in a lot of work last season but I enjoyed doing it because my contributions gave my team the opportunity to play for a championship.”
Stephen Maxwell’s story is just beginning. With one superb professional season under his belt, expect to see Maxwell’s name on a D-League roster sooner than later. He worked out for the OKC Blue this week and as teams gear up for the season, more workouts will come. If he can bring all of the intensity, athleticism, and hard work that he did to the London Lightning, then he will become a very successful player in this league.