Wayns making waves with Sixers on Hawk Hill
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It’s pretty odd to see a Villanova guy hanging around on Hawk Hill while telling others that he feels pretty good about being there. Given the state of one of the Big 5's most intense rivalries, it would seem as if St. Joe’s and ‘Nova kids would do their best to take the long way around the respective campuses.
But not Maalik Wayns. Not now. Last December when Wayns went to St. Joe’s Hagan Arena to play against the Hawks, it wasn’t the most friendly of environments.
“It was terrible then,” Wayns said. “But it’s great now.”
Actually, Hagan Arena is something of a home away from home for Wayns now as he gets cozy with the 76ers during training camp at St. Joe’s. In fact, with the way it’s been going for the undrafted free agent who left Villanova after just three seasons, he might have to get used to hanging around on City Ave.
If there has been one surprise during the first couple of days of training camp for the Sixers, it’s been the play of Wayns who has (literally) turned some heads.
“Maalik can play,” three-year veteran Evan Turner said. “He’s been using his speed. One thing we don't have is that level of speed on this team. He’s fearless, he’s tough. He just likes to play basketball. He competes. He’s everything a point guard should be.”
At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Wayns isn’t going to steal minutes from Jrue Holiday or any of the other guards established in the Sixers’ backcourt. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to see some action, especially during the exhibition season. Coach Doug Collins says he views Wayns as a bit of a change-of-pace player who can push the tempo of the game when needed.
He’s not the biggest guy on the floor, but Wayns’ speed plays big.
“I can change the pace and I can bring a different element to the team,” Wayns said, echoing Collins’ assessment. “That’s what coach wants me to bring — pushing the ball, tenacious on defense, guarding the ball full court and things like that.”
Though the Sixers are stacked in the paint and likely will gear much of their offensive game plan toward center Andrew Bynum’s prowess in the middle, it doesn’t mean the team doesn’t want to get out and run.
And that’s where Wayns can slip in. Primarily a scorer for Jay Wright at Villanova, mostly out of necessity, Wayns could best be described as a quintessential Philly point guard out of the mold of Jameer Nelson or Howie Evans. At Roman Catholic, Wayns was a do-everything guard who was named a Parade and McDonald’s All-American. But at Villanova, Wayns sometimes was forced to take bad or, in some cases, too many shots because the team needed it. Sure, Wayns had a game against Cincinnati in January where he scored 39 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, but it was in a losing effort.
That’s changed with the Sixers, though. In three summer league games last July, Wayns averaged nearly six assists and 2.3 steals per game. In camp he’s impressed with his toughness as well as his speed and his ability to be an old-school point guard.
“You really see his speed like a Brandon Jennings or John Wall. Just attacking you in the open court, Maalik definitely has that,” Holiday said. “I think it will be best for me to go up against him in practice and vice versa. Going against that speed is definitely going to help me.”
Of course, Wayns still has to carve out a spot for himself on the roster. With Holiday and backup Royal Ivey expected to get all of the minutes, Wayns has to make the most out of the few chances he’ll get. So far he thinks he’s been able to keep pace, particularly when Collins draws up piles of new plays seemingly on the fly.
Plus, with some basketball pundits wondering if Wayns leaving Villanova a year early was a mistake, the player seems at peace with his decision.
“It’s a great opportunity for me and a great situation. I’m just blessed to be here,” Wayns said. “Some guys get drafted and go to a bad situation. Fortunately, I didn’t get drafted and came into a great situation. It’s just all worked out for me.”
It’s worked out on Hawk Hill for a ‘Nova guy, too.