Last season, Tyrese Maxey played with the promise of a growing young star for the Philadelphia 76ers. He started 74 of the 75 games he appeared in, averaged 17.5 points per game, and would often burst for games of 20+ and even 30+ points.
This season has been a bit more up and down, and not always through the fault of Maxey himself. Maxey was building up another consistent, prosperous season as a Sixers starter when a foot injury sidelined the young guard for over a month across November and December. Just about two weeks after Maxey’s return, just as he was trying to regain his footing, his season was hit with another unexpected hitch: De’Anthony Melton would take his spot in the starting five, and Maxey would shift to more of a sixth man role.
It has been a little over six weeks since that shift was made by Sixers head coach Doc Rivers, and to say it’s been inconsistent would be an understatement. We’ve seen glimpses of the Maxey from yesteryear in his new role, but we’ve also seen lackluster performances where he becomes a non-factor for the Sixers in his struggles to produce and make an impact.
Monday night was the former, one of those glimpses that reminds everyone why Maxey is such an integral part of this team at just 22 years old, even if his efforts are often overshadowed by those of team stars Joel Embiid and James Harden. Maxey posted 23 points in the Sixers late defeat at the hands of the Miami Heat on Monday night. Despite the loss, it was an aggressive, energetic performance from Maxey that nearly single-handedly kept them in the game at some points.
“I was just trying to be ultra-aggressive,” Maxey explained postgame. “Joel [Embiid] has been on me big time about passing the ball and being passive, he says. He says ‘dude, when you come in you gotta flip the switch. I know it’s difficult and I know it’s different but we need you to be you to win,’ so I’m just trying to help as much as I can.”
Having a superstar, MVP-contender like Embiid as a teammate for advice and support is a privilege not lost on Maxey.
“I’ve been saying this since day one. [Embiid] instilled faith and belief in me and confidence in me to the point where I can go out there and play freely so I appreciate him for that,” Maxey said.
That advice from the big man to be more aggressive must have sunk in for the Heat game. Maxey exploded for 14 points in the third quarter alone, a stark contrast to the inefficient, sluggish eight-point performance he put up against the Boston Celtics last Saturday. He was taking advantage of transition plays, sinking threes, driving in for dunks, and hitting reverses. His mentor was happy to note the lively performance postgame Monday.
“It’s good to see,” Embiid said. “I told him when I mean ‘aggressive’ I don’t just mean chucking up shots. I mean make plays for yourself, for your teammates, get them easy shots, and I thought tonight he was doing the right things.”
That aggression on the court requires space to make plays, a luxury that hasn’t always been available for Maxey in his new role where he is anchoring lineups of players that aren’t necessarily major threats to opponents. Rivers claims that lack of space, not necessarily a personal lack of aggression, is what has caused Maxey’s recent struggles.
“Listen, I don’t think Maxey hasn’t been [aggressive], I just don’t think there’s been a lot of room for him to,” Rivers elaborated. “Tonight, he had more space because he had Tobias [Harris] on the floor with him and James [Harden] on the floor with him.”
That spacing that playing with the starters provides Maxey alongside the restrictions he faces currently trying to anchor all-bench lineups has some Sixers fans calling for Maxey to be put back into the starting five. Last night, Maxey was given some opportunities to work alongside the starters like Embiid, Harden, or Tobias Harris, and the court opened up for him to make plays with more aggression again. Rivers admitted it himself.
So it begs the question, why isn’t he starting? Or at least getting more opportunities off the bench alongside starters instead of all-bench lineups? Our own Paul Hudrick wrote a piece on the issue and the arguments behind it. Those questions and arguments will only grow louder if Maxey’s play in the off-the-bench role continues to be inconsistent.
Maxey and the Sixers will be back on the court to face the Heat again for the second leg of a home-and-home on Wednesday night.