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With defenses focused on stopping him, Tyrese Maxey learning to handle the blitz

No bailing out of the pocket immediately while teammates run four verts for the young Sixers star guard.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

How to handle a blitz is going to be an important topic of conversation in the Philadelphia sports world this holiday weekend.

While the Philadelphia Eagles offense has looked inept at handling blitzes during their current six-week plummet into the abyss, Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey is showing a lot of improvement in that area. With Joel Embiid missing time lately, opposing defenses have opted to blitz Tyrese more often in attempt to get the ball out of his hands and force other Sixers to beat them. Sound strategy by the opposition based upon what we’ve seen most of this season.

On Friday night, though, the Sacramento Kings tried blitzing Maxey a number of times. They came hard at him on the game’s very first possession, but he managed to jump over the double team and find Nic Batum, who nailed a three-pointer to open the scoring. Throughout the evening, Tyrese did an excellent job identifying blitzes early and getting the ball quickly to his teammates so they could take advantage of open space and recovering defenders. After the 112-93 win over the Kings, Sixers head coach Nick Nurse was asked how Maxey has handled teams blitzing him:

“I think he handled it awesome. I think we got it to where it needed to go. We had a variety of things. We got it to the guy that was coming right off the blitz, we advanced past it and moved it around. I think we got a bunch of open threes out of it and a few other backup layups out of it too and that’s what we’re trying to do. You’re either trying to catch and shoot wide-open threes or a rim attempt, and I thought our guys, again, were very well organized and they stayed in the play to make people available. You have two on you, you have to find the next pass and then you should be playing four on three from the back of that.”

Here’s one of those open threes Nurse mentioned. The Sixers use Mo Bamba to set a high screen up top for Maxey. Kings big man Domantas Sabonis immediately leaves his man to cut off Maxey’s dribble. Tyrese recognizes it right away and makes the jump pass back to Bamba, who knocks down the open look.

You can see why teams wouldn’t opt for this scheme very much when Joel is in the game. Imagine him with that much vacant hardwood in front of him in the middle of the court. It’s not only up to Maxey to diagnose the defense, but his teammates need to capitalize. Tyrese was quick to credit others for doing a terrific job when asked postgame how to defeat a blitz defense:

“I think we’re kind of getting used to it. A lot of times when Big Fella [Joel Embiid] doesn’t play, or during the rotations where he’s out the game, that’s what defenses have kind of gone to. The blitz, and the faceguard, different things like that. It’s just me kind of getting used to it. It’s like my first time really seeing this, especially at NBA level. I think guys like Paul Reed, guys like Mo Bamba did a really good job of catching it off the blitz and getting downhill, and making plays for others out there.”

Undoubtedly, teams will do a better job blitzing and recovering than the Kings, who rank 17th in the league in defensive rating. Still, we saw great signs from Maxey on Friday night, as this will be part of the next stage of his offensive evolution. He has proven he can score at all three levels. Now he has to show he can slice apart a defense with his playmaking decisions when they force the ball out of his hands. If all goes well, defenses will tire of getting beaten in that way, and Maxey can shift back to roasting single coverages. That’s life in the NBA when you’re the focal point of the opposition. Gaining these skills during in-game reps at just 23 years old, Tyrese Maxey is remarkably ahead of schedule.

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