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NBA insiders detail how vital Tyrese Maxey’s development is amid Harden stalemate

Zach Lowe of ESPN and Pure Sweat’s Drew Hanlen separately discuss just how critical Tyrese Maxey’s development is with so much unknown surrounding James Harden’s Sixers’ future.

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Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics - Game Seven Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

James Harden is apparently hellbent on forcing a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers, but don’t tell L.A. that. Apparently, the Clips haven’t made any offers even remotely worthy of a 10-time All-Star (and perhaps would-have-been-an-11-time All-Star had he just given a callback to Adam Silver last Winter?), a former MVP and reigning NBA assist king. I guess they don’t really want him at this stage of the game. But they probably should. I think Paul George and Kawhi Leonard would really benefit from his playmaking.

Anyway, continuing a series where I’ve been hopping around the podosphere looking for Sixers nuggets, here’s the fourth installation.

In case you missed the first few, we did:

And now we’re hunting for intel about more and more young fans' favorite Sixers player, the electric, the always upbeat, Tyrese “how can you not love this guy” Maxey.

Maxey loves the big stage, even in hostile environments:

We start with The Lowe Post, where ESPN’s Senior Writer Zach Lowe hosted Kevin Pelton to discuss the “most intriguing players for the upcoming NBA season.”

And Maxey makes their list. Here’s what Lowe had to say about the 22-year old phenom:

“In a world where Harden is either traded and they don’t immediately receive another big time ball handler either directly or indirectly from that trade, in a world where Harden is just benched, in those worlds, where they’re not reunited and everything is fine — which I think is also possible, who knows. I’m just super interested to see how Maxey looks as the undisputed No. 2 guy, because the way he played when Harden was on the floor vs. off the floor … I don’t know how many perimeter players had such diametrically opposed roles and styles based on who is on your team, who is on the floor. I would love to see him with more of a ball handling load. I think he can do it and thrive in it. His shooting is proven to me — off the dribble, off the catch. He does not fear big games at all. Now, he wilted against the Celtics and their size here and there, but he seemed to even get by that in parts of that series. … And boy, if the Harden thing goes sideways, they’re going to need a massive Tyrese Maxey season to stay where they are — or even near where they are — in the pecking order.”

So basically, it’s a with great power comes great responsibility Spider-Man jawn. Maxey has so impressed with all of his development that some top minds are wondering if he can take over for basically a shoe-in-Hall-of-Famer in James bleepin’ Harden already.

Maxey probably is not ready to handle the creation load Harden last had. Night in, night out during the regular season grind, Harden can still play at his own pace, and turn the corner on a screen, setting Joel Embiid up beautifully with those patented pocket passes landing him near the nail where he’s an unstoppable force. Maxey showed some of of those creation chops here and there, but most of his damage is still done on assisted triples, closeouts created by others and transition run outs.

And as Lowe alludes to, Maxey has thrived in a more off-the-ball role with Harden steering the ship. But how far can he climb if a promotion landed on his plate by way of trade or hold out?

Ironically, it was when Harden reverted into the all-to-familiar dispassionate shell he reverts into during the occasional massive playoff game when Maxey was suddenly forced to play more of a point guard’s role and initiate two-man action with Joel Embiid vs. Miami in 2022, and then Boston in 2023, late in Game 6, and the second half of Game 7.

Like Lowe notes, Maxey is going to have to make strides in the half-court. And that’s where Drew Hanlen might come in. I’ll cheat here and pull from my own podcast where Hanlen was generous enough to talk about his newest full-time client, one Tyrese Maxey.

Here was one of my favorite snippets from what Hanlen had to say about ‘Rese Lighting:

“First and foremost, I love [Tyrese] as a person. He’s like literally the best guy. Such great energy, he’s my first workout of every morning. We go at 6:30 a.m. At 6:30 a.m. he’s ready to get after it and go.... craves being coached....We just had to go back down to the fundamentals and break down the areas of the game that we thought were necessary for him to take another leap.... This summer the big things we looked at were how can guys contain you? And we noticed, y’know, he likes to put his head down and go hard right every time. So we said you gotta improve your ability to go left and we said alright, we also have to improve your ability to change speeds because that will allow you to not only be more unpredictable, but also be a better playmaker....

Around the same time mark (~25 minutes into that full interview) Hanlen expounded on a possible derivative-but-with-a-twist version of the old JJ Redick-Joel Embiid two-man dribble-handoff game that used to give defenses fits:

You remember how it looked with JJ sprinting over for a handoff then firing up a three drifting way to his right, or stopping on a dime to sprint back left, the way he had just come seeing if that opened anything up instead. Rich Hofmann, now the Newsletter editor and podcaster with PHLY_Sports, once called it “The Dance.”

Hanlen thinks they may be able to modify the attack with Maxey’s attack-mode mentality:

“When you look back, one of the best kind of actions that has been run by Sixers while Joel was a Sixer was the JJ Redick-Joel Embiid two-man game, dribble-hand off on the wing... and we said ‘hey, you might not be like JJ was where you’re shooting these off-balanced, wild threes but you’re a better ballhandler and finisher than he was. If we can bring back a dynamic of like a two-man game with you two, that’s gonna be really good. So driving left, changing speeds more, creating your shot more, adding a couple midrange kind of moves, being able to be a better decision maker, that’s a lot to work on in a summer but what we really did was we kind of chipped at each one of those things while really focusing on pace, that was a big one, being able to drive left, that was a big one....the slower your body is going, the quicker your mind can think.”

When you look at what Lowe said about Maxey potentially inheriting a much bigger role as a clear No. 2, and how intriguing that possibility is, and then you hear how Tyrese and Hanlen have been “chipping” away at these halfcourt creation hurdles (the kind that Boston’s bigger guards have limited him with in the past) you can start to get really excited for what’s next.

If Hanlen is saying that Maxey is his first workout of the day, every day at 6:30 am, which he added, then I’m banking on Mr. 1% better every day to make more strides under Nick Nurse this year; regardless of where Harden winds up.

It’s a conversation for another day but part of the reason the Sixers don’t seem keen to ship out Maxey (as well as perhaps Tobias Harris to make the money work) for Damian Lillard is because of his tremendous potential. It’s a rather big bet with Embiid’s patience potentially at stake because Dame is... well, Dame. Who knows, there’s even some “smoke out there today regarding Dame to the Sixers” and that “their involvement has been downplayed.”

But if they could land Dame, but opt to keep Tyrese as the right wingman to a generational talent such a Embiid instead, they’ll be banking on Maxey continuing to improve that one percent every day.

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