I’ve refrained from writing this piece for a few weeks now. It’s been well documented how little the Sixers have gotten out of Tyrese Maxey since Joel Embiid returned from a multi-week absence. His numbers dropped across the board when the Sixers added their MVP-caliber player back into the mix. I wanted to give the duo some time to adjust and grow their respective chemistry before writing something up about this.
Maxey’s dip in production was to be expected, right? Embiid is an elite talent and will get his respective shots up. The Sixers have needed every single bit of production from Embiid, with last night’s game against a shorthanded Toronto team being the most recent example of that. What hasn’t been expected is the Sixers’ lack of progress and answers when it comes to maximizing Maxey, their rising star.
We are now multiple weeks removed from the Sixers re-integrating Embiid back into the mix. There has been very little (if any at all) progress made with maximizing Maxey and his talents while Embiid is on the court. The way the Sixers have utilized Maxey this season has been questionable at best.
A quick look at Maxey’s season averages show a solid and productive second year; 16.5 point and 4.5 assists per game is very respectable. However if you look deeper into his game-by-game play and advanced stats you’ll begin to see some issues.
Maxey put together a tremendous stretch in Embiid’s absence; averaging 23.7 points, 4.6 assists, and four rebounds, and 0.7 turnovers per game in the nine-game sample size. He brought reliable scoring on a nightly basis, and could show that he was more than capable of replacing some of the slack with Embiid out. Maxey’s averages eventually came back to earth and has since averaged 13.1 points per game on 41.4 percent shooting (quite a far cry from the 48.8 percent shooting in the previous sample size) while the rest of his stats remained relatively the same.
It’s obvious that Maxey was/is trying to adjust to playing alongside Embiid, which is completely fine. What isn’t completely fine is how the Sixers coaching staff haven’t made that transition easier on him. Let me explain.
The Sixers have widely used their same game plan from last season in the form of offensive sets. On paper it can make some sense: it’s part of what got them the first seed for the first time in over 20 years. However, it isn’t as copy and paste as it might seem, with their 6-foot-10 point guard out of the fold.
We’ve seen Doc Rivers try to utilize Maxey in a Ben Simmons-type of role, with him being the prime playmaker in charge of getting everyone their shots up. While I think growing Maxey’s playmaking is a good idea, the ask that’s been put on him is quite high. Part of that massive ask can be due to the Ben Simmons situation and not having a “real” point guard on the team. These are circumstances that go beyond the coaching staff or players, so I’ll give them the benefit of that.
It doesn’t help that nearly all of Maxey’s minutes have come alongside Embiid. So while Maxey is on the floor he’s being asked to take on a playmaker-first type of role. Sure, the Sixers should be trying to grow chemistry between those players. I think that’s a big goal for this season. I don’t think you have to match all of their minutes to do so. It just seems way too extreme.
The Sixers would fare much better if they split up the starting five’s minutes. Maxey’s best skill is scoring, and he’s damn good at it. His role would be much more simplified if he was tasked with being the go-to scorer alongside the bench unit while Embiid was off the floor. It would also give the Sixers bench unit a reliable scorer. We simply haven’t seen any of this for this season, which is crazy to say given the Sixers are still hovering around .500 going into January. They aren’t exactly thriving with their current game plan.
Running Maxey primarily with the starters has hurt his stats and overall impact on the team. He’s never been a “natural playmaker” and Rivers trying to grow him through a Simmons- or Rajon Rondo-esque role is not ideal whatsoever. We’ve seen first hand at how having a 6-foot-2 point guard in the dunker spot isn’t exactly ideal for Joel Embiid or the Sixers’ spacing.
Maxey’s usage has plummeted on the season and he’s somehow averaging a lower usage percentage than his rookie year, where he had a much smaller role and came off the bench. He’s averaging nearly 20 minutes-per-game more than last season and has started all but one game this year. It’s pretty astonishing that that’s somehow a thing.
Interesting: Tyrese Maxey’s usage is actually down 1.9% from his rookie season (23.0% to 21.1% this year).— Harrison Grimm (@Harrison_Grimm) December 29, 2021
I get things aren’t very ideal around the team, like with the never-ending Ben Simmons situation. That, along with players being in and out of the lineup with health protocols, isn’t a combination for extended success.
There isn’t much of an excuse for the stubbornness shown by Rivers and the Sixers coaching staff in regards to rolling out the same outdated game plan on a nightly basis. We’ve seen the type of player Maxey can be and the numbers he’s capable of putting up. He’s that guy right now, and they can get him to be the best version of himself with a few simple changes. It’s time to make those changes, and it’s overdue that the Sixers let Tyrese Maxey become Tyrese Maxey with more offensive freedom and less playmaking burdens.