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Tyrese Maxey’s wild year and what’s next

Tyrese Maxey didn’t have a normal rookie season. It looks like he won’t have a normal second season. It’s all the same to him.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Philadelphia 76ers v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The last year of Tyrese Maxey’s life has been pretty wild.

It started with being drafted by the Sixers as a 19-year-old after a totally non-traditional pre-draft process. Then after missing the bulk of training camp because of a positive COVID-19 test, he embarked on a crazy rookie season which culminated in him helping temporarily save the Sixers’ season in Game 6 in Atlanta.

While there was somewhat of a return to normalcy for Maxey this offseason, it has still been an interesting ride. Still just 20, Maxey may be the starting point guard in place of one of his good friends that’s holding out — after an erroneous report surfaced about Maxey himself possibly being shipped out of Philadelphia.

Oh yeah, he also starred in an Adam Sandler movie.

Through it all, Maxey has stayed the course.

“Last year was a dream come true being drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers, being able to play in the NBA, but of course it was different,” Maxey said at media day Monday. “It was a different time for all of us in this country. It was hard being late to training camp. I think I only played in training camp maybe two days before the first game.

“Just having to pick up all that stuff on the fly is difficult and then throughout the entire year it’s hard to get as many practices in because there’s so many games. But this year, I’m extremely happy to be here, ready to hit the ground running, no injuries, blessed, thankful for all that, and I just can’t wait to get out there tomorrow. I’ve never been this excited to practice.”

Unlike a certain Hall of Fame guard, Maxey’s enthusiasm for practice has been known since he arrived. Doc Rivers brought it up every time he was asked about his young guard. The team tracks how often players are in the gym. Rivers repeatedly said Maxey spent the most time there … by far.

The topic du jour was the absence of Ben Simmons. Rivers was peppered with questions about the All-Star’s trade demands and reiterated his desire to keep Simmons on the roster. While that may be the case, Rivers will need a contingency plan.

Rivers was reticent when asked directly about who would take Simmons’ starting spot, but he spoke openly about expanding Maxey’s role.

“I don’t want to bestow all this on him but I am because I believe in him,” Rivers said. “He’s going to be key with or without [Simmons]. … We’re going to try to put him in positions to be. The point guard spot is hard in the league. … I thought Game 7 [vs. the Hawks] was a great example — we’ve talked a lot about that, him and I.

“He wasn’t prepared in some ways for the other guys [shouting] ‘Give me the ball!’ I laugh about this with [Rajon] Rondo all the time because Rondo had Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen [in Boston] who were hot every play in their minds. And I said to him, ‘‘No’ is going to be a really important word for you.’ And the same thing will happen for Tyrese as well.”

The good news is that Maxey already has the respect of his experienced teammates.

Danny Green, who is begrudgingly the elder statesman of the Sixers at 34, has played with multiple Hall of Famers, most notably Tim Duncan and LeBron James. After spending a full season with Maxey, Green believes there is something “special” to the second-year guard.

But is it unrealistic to ask a 20-year-old to make such leap and replace a three-time All-Star in just his second season?

“Not at all,” Green said. “It’s not unrealistic, especially when it comes to a kid like him. … He’s special. I’m sure everyone can see that. If he continues to do what he does, he could be a really special player in this league. He carries himself like a star and I think one day he will be a star. …

“He’s very mature for his age, smart, understands the game. And he has a good group around him that can help him. … Obviously he can’t do it alone. We have to help him. But Doc was a pretty good point guard and he can teach him how to run the ship.”

While Rivers didn’t use the word “star,” it’s clear he’s bullish on Maxey.

“... I’m telling you, that kid works, and it’s rare with the talent that he just has — raw talent — and the work that he puts in, it’s rare that that doesn’t turn into success. … He just has all the ingredients, in my opinion, to turn out to be a heck of a basketball player for a long time.”

Maxey repeats the same mantra as Eagles starting quarterback Jalen Hurts: Get one percent better every day.

It’s cliche — and yeah, it’s a little corny — but with someone like Maxey, you can buy it. He understands that it will take time for him to get the level he wants to get to. He knows he still has a lot to learn from his veteran coaches and teammates. He gets that focusing on team success will allow him to improve. Success doesn’t make Maxey content, it pushes him to find ways to get even better.

So while we all analyze his growth, contemplate his potential and opine on whether he can adequately fill in for Simmons, Maxey is just working.

“I don’t see a lot of that stuff,” Maxey said. “I just put my head down and work, especially this summer. It’s an amazing feeling to get up early, go to the gym, go lift, maybe play a couple pickup [games], as safely as possible.”

It’s been such a wild year for Maxey, it just dawned on him Monday that he hasn’t even met the reporters (like me) that spent the last year covering him.

It was nice to see him, too.

Sixers fans will be happy when they see him on the court again, with or without Ben Simmons.