It took just a few weeks into the 2022-23 season for the Philadelphia 76ers to start fighting an uphill battle. James Harden is sidelined for a month and Joel Embiid has missed several games already for numerous reasons. With a 4-5 record to start the season, the Sixers are in need of a hero. The player most likely to be that hero is none other than Tyrese Maxey.
Those who said Maxey could make the leap to All-Star status this season have been proven right so far. The young guard is averaging 24.2 points (up from 17.5 points from last season), 3.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game while shooting 51.6 percent from the field and 46.8 percent from 3. Although his free-throw percentage of 74.4 percent is over 10 percentage points lower than last year, just about everything else is going right for him.
The Sixers have started looking Maxey’s way more often as the season has gone on, and the results have been stellar. His ability to drive into the lane with confidence, even through contact, and let the trey-ball fly when he’s open, even on deep shots, suggest he’s built to take on an increased scoring load. But is just giving him the ball more the best remedy? It’s definitely something the Sixers should try, but it’s also not that simple.
TYRESE MAXEY 🔥
44 Points (Career-High)
27 1st Half PTS (100% FG)
8 Rebounds (Team-High)
Last 2 Games: 37.5 PTS (66% FG, 65% 3PT), 6.5 REB, 5 AST, 1.5 STL
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) October 29, 2022
Even if the Sixers look to make a trade or free agent signing, they won’t be able to find someone who has a blend of playmaking and scoring that comes remotely close to Harden. Through nine games this season, Maxey’s points are way up, but his assists are down. This doesn’t mean he’s regressing as a playmaker, though — his ability to get shots at will and being the beneficiary of Harden’s dime-dropping are the culprits. Still, he hasn’t shown major floor-general tendencies for long stretches yet.
Doc Rivers can try many different ways to get the Sixers’ offense going. He could try simply getting Maxey the ball and see what he can create, or have his teammates look to get him the ball while he works his way off defenders with off-ball movement. The decision between letting Maxey run the entire show or having the show run for him doesn’t have to be final, as he can go back and forth throughout games and even weeks as Harden (and Embiid) heals.
Using Maxey and Embiid together should yield good results, as should using Maxey as a spot-up/backdoor cut artist when Embiid posts up. Those two should be able to work well together, especially with shooters like Tobias Harris, De’Anthony Melton and P.J. Tucker surrounding them. Spreading the ball around quickly when there isn’t an advantage to exploit will be key, too.
Harden can get away with dribbling a bunch and then find the right shot or pass, but no one else on the team really can. The Sixers’ best bet to replace Harden’s playmaking is doing it by committee, as Maxey alluded to ahead of the Sixers’ first game this season without him. Melton will likely be starting in his place, and Philadelphia will need him, Embiid, Harris and Tucker to all be on their best decision-making. The insertion of Shake Milton into a more prominent bench role could also help.
The one upside to Harden missing a month is that the Sixers should be a better defensive team during that time. Harden gives them little value on that end, whle both Melton and Matisse Thybulle should now see a greater uptick in minutes. There’s even more room to be better on that end with the insertion of Paul Reed into the rotation, even in spurts. Philly can try its best to win rock fights while Harden is out, but they will still need to generate offense.
Tyrese Maxey’s importance will be especially crucial for the Sixers with Embiid’s uncertain availability. He has already missed three games, including the last two, and hasn’t played like himself to start the season. The weight on Maxey’s shoulders is getting heavier, but he has the ability to handle it. After already playing half a season as a lead option without Harden in 2021-22, he should prove to be a true star.
The Sixers face the New York Knicks on Friday at home. It’s Maxey’s 22nd birthday, but the budding star is the one who has to deliver a present to the team and continue to do so for as long as he can.