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Who could the Sixers target before the deadline? Tyrese Maxey will impact that

The Sixers have assets and will likely have options as the Feb. 8 trade deadline nears. How much Tyrese Maxey ascends could affect which player(s) they target.

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

On opening night, Tyrese Maxey found himself going toe-to-toe with one of the greatest offensive players in NBA history.

Damian Lillard is a seven-time All-NBA selection. He’s approaching 20,000 career points and should easily move into the top five all-time in made threes by the end of the season. He was also named to the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team last year.

While Lillard’s team got the better of Maxey’s that evening, the recently-turned 23-year-old showed why so many in the Sixers’ organization are so high on him — and why he was considered untouchable in any possible trade talks for Lillard.

And through 18 games, he continues to make the Sixers’ front office look smart for keeping him virtually untouchable.

Now that the James Harden trade is done, the obvious question looms: Who will Daryl Morey and co. look to acquire with all of the trade assets now at their disposal?

There’s another question that could affect the answer to the previous one: How good can Tyrese Maxey be?

“Look, I think we’re just looking for the best we can get as we assess our needs over time,” Daryl Morey said back on Nov. 3. “Obviously, Tyrese his [start to the season], I don’t think it tells you where he’s gonna end up. I don’t wanna limit him or say he’s there because it’s [early]. We for sure don’t like to dispel any notion that he has that chance which is exciting for him. It shows the work he put in and Joel [Embiid] has put in.”

To start the season, Maxey is averaging 27.0 points on strong shooting splits (46.4/39.6/89.9). He’s also averaging 6.7 assists and just 1.6 turnovers. No player in NBA history has averaged that many points and assists while averaging fewer than two turnovers per game for a whole season. It’s no surprise to see Embiid fifth in the NBA in win shares. It’s pretty crazy to see Maxey sitting right behind him at sixth, ahead of guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum.

All of this and he only recently turned 23. Look at players like Lillard and Steph Curry at that age and Maxey’s numbers actually compare favorably. Before there are a bunch of comments of people freaking out, no, Maxey is not Lillard or Curry. They’re legends. First ballot Hall of Famers. The comparisons are made simply so you don’t put a ceiling on Maxey’s potential.

With Maxey’s ascension, it does pleasantly complicate the direction Morey should go with his newfound assets. The Bulls’ Zach LaVine is out there. Both Chicago and the All-Star guard seem keen on a split. Does it make sense to add an immensely talented offensive player that could potentially take touches away from Maxey? Everyone will be monitoring the situation in Toronto all season long. Do Pascal Siakam or OG Anunoby become available? Would Anunoby fit better with Maxey and Embiid as an All-Defensive stalwart that might have some untapped offensive potential?

Morey made it clear that he will make the best trade possible, but did concede that Maxey continuing to look like he could be the No. 2 star on a championship-caliber team could change things.

“If Tyrese gets to that All-Star level which he for sure, looks like he has a solid chance to be,” Morey said. “I wouldn’t say it changes our calculus of what we need. I think it changes our odds of winning the title. If he becomes that good, now these assets are filling in and could be our third-best player or fourth-best player and we love how these vets all mesh and we think Tobias [Harris] and De’Anthony [Melton] are real anchor guys for us as well.”

The Sixers are not the easiest team to evaluate at the moment. It’s still very early. They’re right in the thick of the East. They took Milwaukee to the wire on opening night and split their two home games against the Celtics before narrowly dropping a Hospital Sixers game (can we talk about how criminal it is that the Sixers and Celtics have three-fourths of their matchups over with by early December?). They’re taking care of business against lesser opponents and have had a chance to win almost every game so far.

The Maxey and Embiid combo has flourished. Harris and Melton have done their complementary jobs. Nicolas Batum has been an outstanding fit. Kelly Oubre, Jr. should be able to bring scoring punch off the bench upon his return — and there’s a mutually beneficial partnership with Embiid. They have an interesting group of reserves with Patrick Beverley, Paul Reed, Robert Covington, Danuel House, Jr., Jaden Springer and Marcus Morris, Sr.

The consensus is that this Sixers team still needs to make one more big trade to compete with the likes of the Bucks and Celtics. It’s also not crazy to think that if Embiid can ever be healthy for an entire postseason and Maxey can take his game to yet another level, that the Sixers can compete with anyone.

If we’ve learned one thing about Morey it’s that he can be inhumanely patient. Don’t expect him to throw an all-in offer for LaVine or blow up Masai Ujiri’s phone about Anunoby. He’s essentially going to let his team tell him what it needs.

“I will say part of becoming a great team and a championship team, is to be realistic,” Morey said. “Look, there are some tough competitors in the East. Boston and Milwaukee, who we just played, in particular. I said earlier in my opening press conference, let’s let it play out. Right here as I sit now, I’m not willing to concede anything to them, but you ask 100 people, they’d say they’re better than us right now.

“So let’s see how this plays out, see where our weaknesses are, now we have assets and the ability to address any issues and we will address those if we see them, but look, let’s see how it plays out. We will show our fans and the marketplace if we’re a championship contender based on our play. If we keep winning two out of three games against good opponents, we will be. If we don’t, we’ll have to address that.”

Tyrese Maxey is an enormous part of why the Sixers are winning. If he can continue on this Lillard-like trajectory, it leaves Morey with his most wonderful difficult decision yet.

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