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ESPN’s NBArank lists James Harden at 43, Tyrese Maxey at 42

These Sixers guards are close in the rankings, far apart in our hearts.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The student has become the teacher. The heir apparent is now just apparent.

ESPN released the latest batch of its NBArank exercise, which counts down the top 100 players currently in the NBA. In this group, covering from 50 to 11, we have a Sixers combo that is too intriguing not to mention.

ESPN’s expert panel lists James Harden at 43rd overall and Tyrese Maxey one spot ahead of his as-of-now-teammate at No. 42.

Here are the write-ups on the two players, each by Tim Bontemps:

“No. 43: James Harden

Philadelphia 76ers | PG

2022 NBArank: 11

Why he fell 32 spots: Harden led the NBA in assists for the second time in his career last season, forming a potent partnership with Joel Embiid. But he lacked the same sort of burst he displayed earlier in his career as a scorer, and Philadelphia once again saw its season end in the Eastern Conference semifinals with a heartbreaking seven-game loss to the Boston Celtics. Harden’s trade request and uncertain future with the 76ers makes predicting the former MVP’s impact this season a tricky task.

One huge question for the season: This one is simple: Where is Harden going to play this season? So far, it appears he will be in Philadelphia, despite asking for a trade away from the 76ers and calling the team’s president of basketball operations, Daryl Morey, a “liar” this summer. But if Harden is on the court and engaged with the 76ers, they have a chance to compete with Milwaukee and Boston atop the East.

No. 42: Tyrese Maxey

Philadelphia 76ers | PG

2022 NBArank: 44

Why he rose two spots: Maxey continued his impressive start to his career by eclipsing 20 PPG for the first time in his career and once again improving both his 3-point percentage (43.4) and his attempt rate (6.2 per game). If he can make a leap yet again this season, he could put himself in contention for an All-Star spot.

One huge question for the season: What will Maxey’s role be this season? Not surprisingly, that answer is tied in part to the fate of Harden in Philadelphia. If Harden is around, Maxey will remain in a role as a secondary playmaker focused more on scoring. If Harden is either traded or not playing, however, Maxey will need to take significant steps forward as a playmaker for Philadelphia to remain a threat in the East. Improvement in that area is something he has stated as a goal for this season, and worked on this summer.”

Clearly, this fall is quite precipitous for Harden, who finds himself in the Four Down section of the column alongside Chris Paul, Cade Cunningham and Rudy Gobert. Presumably, the panel does not believe The Beard is aging like a fine J-Harden Wine.

Meanwhile, Maxey continues his ascent following an outstanding third season with Philadelphia. You wonder how he could only rise two spots after the improvements he made last season, but looking at the list, you realize how each higher tier in the league gets tougher and tougher to crack. However, given Tyrese’s drive and work ethic, I wouldn’t discount him continuing to rise on next year’s list.

I find it funny that these two found their way next to each other when many in Philadelphia view Maxey as untouchable, whereas Harden being moved for expiring contracts and some minor draft assets might be met with jubilation. Anyway, we’ll check back later to argue why ESPN obviously has Joel Embiid too low in the top 10.

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