NBA Film Room: Tyrese Maxey In Midst Of Breakout For Sixers

Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers, NBA News
NBA Analysis Network

Daryl Morey came out on top in the Ben Simmons saga with the blockbuster NBA trade deadline move to add James Harden. Morey called Simmons’s bluff, waited it out, and eventually landed one of his dream targets via trade. There’s no debate about it now.

While some Philadelphia 76ers fans are questioning whether the team would have been better off trading for CJ McCollum — as the New Orleans Pelicans lead guard has outplayed the Beard with their new respective teams thus far, and the Sixers likely would have kept Seth Curry and Andre Drummond as well as tacked on additional assets from the Portland Trail Blazers in a trade — Morey should still be commended for maintaining one of his most valuable pieces in the trade: Tyrese Maxey.

Morey and the Sixers traded for Harden because they believed they would need a dominant scoring presence in the backcourt to balance the floor and prevent opponents from loading up on Joel Embiid on defense. They achieved that equilibrium with the Harden trade, but not how they initially thought they would.

While Harden has undoubtedly impacted Philly’s offense, it’s been more as a table-setter than a go-to scorer. Instead, his arrival has opened up the floor for Maxey to take on a more considerable bulk of the scoring responsibility.

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Instead of having to act as the Sixers’ de facto point guard sans Ben Simmons, Maxey can now focus on what he does best: putting the ball in the hoop. Maxey averaged a respectable 17.3 points on 47.5 percent shooting without James Harden this season, including 38.7 marks from deep.

Since the Beard came to Philly to set up Maxey’s looks, the second-year guard has increased hit output and efficiency with 18 points per game on 51.5 shooting from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc.

Those numbers may not be sustainable, but he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down yet, putting up a bonkers 38 points on 14-21 shooting in the Sixers playoff opener against the Toronto Raptors. He followed that performance up with a more mundane 23 points but another nearly flawless shooting performance with 8-11 from the field.

Starting off a series with 22-31 shooting would be an impressive mark for most paint-bound centers, but for a second-year shooting, it’s unbelievable. Tyrese Maxey’s been exploiting the fact that the Raptors have to focus their defensive attention on Philly’s two leading men through two games. He’s been playing within the offense, picking his spots, and taking full advantage of every opening he has, including in transition like in the play above. Having a supernaturally talented quarterback like Harden doesn’t hurt either.

Maxey has put it all together and erased every question mark he had entering the draft. Despite being undersized, he can snake his way to the rim with ease and finish with finesse around the best of rim protectors.

He’s developed into an elite sniper after a poor 3-point showing in his freshman season with the Kentucky Wildcats. He’s proven to be much more than the sparkplug, ball-dominant scorer off of the bench that draft experts pegged him as, showing the ability to be a complementary yet incendiary scoring threat as a third option.

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With Embiid screening for Harden, defenses will often have to make Maxey the odd man out — the obvious lesser of three evils. Maxey can nail open 3-pointers if his man rotates off of him, cut to the rim for an easy finish, or even create for himself off of the bounce with the defense loaded onto the other side with Harden and Embiid.

In this play, Harden and Embiid run a lackadaisical screen action near the top of the key to switch Fred VanVleet onto Embiid. Worried about the size mismatch, Scottie Barnes and FVV try to switch, but by that time, it’s too late. Maxey was already halfway to the cup when Barnes realizes what had happened.

Harden leaves the ball near half-court for a trailing Tyrese Maxey as this play progresses. Then, he and Embiid load up on the right side. With their offensive gravities and the threat of a ball screen coming, Maxey is left with a wide-open lane to attack. Harden directs Embiid to the block, drawing Precious Achiuwa away from the ball-handler while his defender, Gary Trent Jr., is glued to him in fear of allowing an open triple. Maxey takes full advantage, driving Fred VanVleet to the cup for an easy two.

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If the Beard’s shooting woes continue, opposing defenses may shift focus onto Maxey. As the Sixers advance deeper into the playoffs, he’ll face tougher and stouter defensive resistance regardless of what his teammates are doing. Maxey will have to prove that he can be just as dangerous and efficient when opponents are treating him like a second or even first option on offense.

Having this kind of self-creation will help. Maxey is running the offense in this play while both Embiid and Harden are on the bench for a blow. With their primary and secondary actions leading to nothing, the ball finds Maxey with less than five seconds left on the shot clock. He makes quick work creating a good look for himself with the step-back and nailing the triple.

Can Maxey prove that he can beat teams that are game-planning against him on defense? Will his playmaking develop if opponents force the ball out of his hands, as he’s struggled as a natural playmaker in his young career? How will he fare if Harden or Embiid or both have to miss a game? Can he put the team on his back if either or both miss an extended period?

This trial-by-fire playoffs will make for a perfect litmus test for Tyrese Maxey and the NBA’s greatest training regimen. He soldiered his way through last year’s playoffs, in which he was subjected to inconsistent playing time and put up similarly erratic performances. Now, he’s earned the trust of Head Coach Doc Rivers.

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With trust comes responsibility. He’ll need to continue his strong play throughout the postseason or perhaps even improve upon it if the Sixers are to make the Finals. Undoubtedly, he looks equal to the challenge, and he’ll have plenty more opportunities to mold his playoff mythos.

Harden’s offensive struggles have put question marks around whether or not the Sixers have enough to carry them into the Finals. But so long as Embiid continues to dominate at an MVP level and Maxey keeps progressing and proving his doubters wrong, Philadelphia will be in great shape.

Although CJ McCollum looks like the better offensive engine than Harden right now, CJ’s arrival could have inhibited Maxey’s growth. Instead, the Beard has only accelerated Maxey’s impact as a scorer, both on and off the ball. For that reason alone, Morey won the trade and perhaps even the year.

Morey has finally constructed the two-man game he always dreamed of with a Harden-Embiid pick-and-roll. But it might be the asset he retained, the third wheel in Tyrese Maxey, that’ll determine how far they go in these playoffs.