LOS ANGELES — When it became apparent that Ben Simmons was never going to suit up for the Philadelphia 76ers again, the pressure of being the lead guard fell on second-year player Tyrese Maxey.
The 21-year-old was coming off a rookie campaign where he averaged eight points and two assists per game and shot 30.1 percent from beyond the arc. He had never played point guard before, but Doc Rivers and the coaching staff trusted that Maxey would step up and help fill the void left by the 2016 No. 1 overall pick.
Maxey has rewarded Doc and the entire organization for their belief. He’s putting up 17.4 points, 4.3 assists and connecting on 41.4 percent of his three-point attempts during his sophomore season.
Although the stats are impressive, Maxey’s ability to step up in big moments and show the confidence not many players selected 21st overall do early in their careers has already made him a fan favorite.
Maxey delivered yet again in the Sixers’ 126-121 win over the LeBron James-less Los Angeles Lakers. With a shorthanded Lakers squad managing to hang around into the fourth quarter, Maxey came through in the clutch and helped Philly pull away late in the game.
After hitting that gorgeous shot, Maxey followed up with a three-pointer that put Philly up by nine with just over four minutes remaining. He had eight points, two assists and a rebound in the final quarter, finishing the game with 21 points and seven assists.
Maxey’s role changed when the Sixers acquired James Harden from the Brooklyn Nets at the NBA trade deadline. As a result, he doesn’t have to facilitate as much on the offensive end and has been dynamite creating and shooting off the wing.
For his part, Harden — a 10-time All-Star and former MVP — saw Maxey’s potential as soon as he joined the Sixers.
“He works, so it doesn’t surprise anyone, he wants it,” Harden said following the win. “He has great leaders around him, so for him to go out there take his shots, be confident and listen all year long, and now I get an opportunity to see it up close and personal, so it’s fun to watch.”
Maxey is in his second-year playing alongside MVP favorite Joel Embiid. The two went through last season’s playoff failure together and came into training camp motivated to get the taste of the bitter second-round defeat out of their mouths.
Embiid has been one of Maxey’s biggest cheerleaders this season. We have seen the big man’s jubilation whenever Maxey has come up big in clutch moments, including during Philly’s recent win over the Miami Heat when both Embiid and Harden were out of the lineup.
Embiid says it’s easy to love Maxey, given how much time the youngster has spent improving his game this season.
“He’s humble, and his joy and [he’s] a hard worker, probably the hardest worker I’ve ever been around,” Embiid said postgame. “Just always happy with a smile on his face. I’m usually not a morning person, but when I come in for shooting around, I really don’t want to be here, and I don’t want to talk to anybody, but you know just being around him and all the other guys kind of feel like I have to kind of wake up.”
Hard work is something Maxey has never shied away from. He credits his parents — who were in attendance at Crypto.Com Arena — for instilling the correct values in him.
“I work hard, not to toot my own horn, but that’s all I really know,” Maxey said. “I tell everybody, the work you put in when no one’s around always comes to light when you play in front of 1,000s.”
His parents sacrificed so much to put Maxey in a position to succeed. He feels like he owes it to them to put in the effort to maximize his potential.
“The good Lord has put me in an unbelievable position,” Maxey said. “I’m thankful for my parents for those long trips to AAU, the money that they didn’t have that they spent on buying shoes or buying jerseys, making sure that I was able to do these things. I just want to get better every single day.”
Harden came into the league as the No. 3 pick and had much more hype than Maxey entering his rookie year. Even though their paths weren’t directly similar, Harden wants to give Maxey the same opportunity to succeed as he had early in his career.
“Like how I got to this point where I am today, just being around some great culture guys from KD [Kevin Durant] and Russ [Westbrook] and the whole Thunder organization, it came from the work ethic,” Harden said. “So I feel like Tyrese is surrounded by that, with Joel, myself and our entire organization providing him with great leadership.”