It’s been about a week and a half since Sixers head coach Doc Rivers announced that the team would be utilizing multiple starting lineups going forward.
The biggest change that has come from this so far has been the shift of Tyrese Maxey from starting five to a sixth man role, with De’Anthony Melton taking his place. There was never the question of whether Maxey would play about the same amount of minutes whether he’s starting or coming in off the bench. Rivers was certain to clear that up early, to both the media and to Maxey.
“Tyrese knows he’s gonna play 30 minutes, 35 minutes,” Rivers said after the Los Angeles Lakers game on Jan. 15. “He knows he’s gonna get his minutes regardless. You know what we tell everybody, I’d rather be at the end of the game than at the beginning of the game. And that’s the lineups that we will have to really have great focus on.”
Still, regardless of time on the court, there still is a mental adjustment that has to be made going from a starter to sixth man. It would be understandable for Maxey to be feeling, well, almost as if he’s being benched, and how the 22-year-old responds to that will decide how this sixth man experiment goes in the long run.
“At the end of the day, we’ve all gotta have the same ultimate goal, and that’s to win,” Maxey said after the Lakers game. “It’s not to start or it’s not to be out there or to hear your name called. But you’ve gotta be mature about it, though. It’s a tough decision. It’s a tough pill to swallow because it’s a pride thing, probably. At the end of the day, the only score that matters, the only time that matters is we’re winning at the end when there’s all zeroes and they’re not.”
Well, so far, I’d say it’s going well then.
Since making the shift, the Sixers are 4-0 with Maxey coming off the bench. Small sample size, sure, but the vision Rivers had for the young guard in his new role is showing already. In those four games off the bench, he is averaging 20 points on 54.9 percent field goal shooting in just under 30 minutes per game. Aside from the stats, he is bringing a speedy offensive energy that the Sixers’ bench unit has been known to lack at times.
“It’s a new responsibility for me, a new role,” Maxey said after the Sixers’ win over the Brooklyn Nets Wednesday night. “I’m just trying to find my niche and the way that I can help this team. I think I’m kind of figuring it out slowly but surely and I’m just trying to go out there and compete extremely hard and help us win.”
He just had one of his most impressive bench performances so far in the Sixers’ heated win over the Nets in Philadelphia this week. The fresh-faced guard put up a team-leading 27 points off the bench after a 16-point first half in which he shot 6-of-8 from the field, including 4-of-5 from three-point range. And these weren’t easy points, either. Maxey has been hitting fadeaways from the elbow like Joel Embiid and step-back threes like James Harden, and it’s providing a huge boost to a Sixers’ bench unit that has been known to cause indigestion for Sixers fans in the past.
But, again, it’s completely a testament to Maxey’s maturity that this is the case. After coming off a month-long foot injury in November and December, being told he’s not starting anymore just as he was regaining his footing on the court would be enough to make anyone regress, at least mentally, but not Maxey.
“I just want to go out there and play, honestly,” Maxey said Wednesday night. “As long as I was out, seven or eight weeks, it doesn’t matter. Sixth man, I don’t care. I just want to go out there and play.”
Sure, it’s just a small sample size so far, but if these handful of games are anything to go by, Maxey will be making his case for Sixth Man of the Year as the season goes on.