The 2021-22 NBA season is here, and the Sixers are still dealing with the Ben Simmons drama that has plagued the team throughout the off-season. But, for now, it’s all off-the-court drama. The team seems to have come upon a little bit of good fortune of late as Tyrese Maxey may be the missing link.
At the start of training camp and the preseason, the team had Shake Milton and Tyrese Maxey rotating and competing for what will likely be the starting point guard position. For these two young men, all they can do is work hard, get better and compete to make sure that the team doesn’t see a big drop off from Simmons production.
Milton, who was slightly ahead of Maxey due to his defensive ability, sprained his ankle and has been out since October 7th. This allowed the Sixers to have a longer look at Maxey running the point, and after the first game of the season, they can’t be upset.
Maxey spent 34 minutes on the floor and started the game for the Sixers. His final line on the night was 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists on 57% shooting from the floor. While he’s not an elite defender, Maxey’s speed allows for him to remain aggressive and push up on opposing guards while on defense.
As Milton nears a return, the Sixers should at least get another two games having Maxey as their starting point guard. This should give Doc Rivers enough to make a confident decision on whether to keep him as the starter or move him to the sixth-man role and allow Milton to run the point.
Looking back on the drafts of “the process,” the Sixers hadn’t had much luck with their picks. For every Simmons, Embiid, and Saric, you can see names like Noel, Okafor, Fultz, Bolden, Smith, and more that haven’t panned out for the team. With the number of picks that team had possessed over the past several years, the hope was that they would draft better players than they have.
That all seems to have changed in the past couple of years. Matisse Thybulle has developed into one of the better defenders in the league last season. But in the 2020 draft, the Sixers picked up a trio of players that can have an impact this season and beyond. Maxey was drafted in the first round, with the Sixers grabbing Isaiah Joe and Paul Reed in the second round. While the latter two have developed nicely over the past year and are expected to play small roles for the team this year, Maxey was the guy.
Considered by some to be a lottery pick after one year at the University of Kentucky, Maxey fell to the Sixers at the 21st pick in the draft.
At the time, many considered him to be the steal of the draft. Even Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari said, “I thought he should have gone earlier,” Calipari stated in a video, which he posted on Twitter. “Let me just tell you; there’s a lot of people who are going to regret that they passed. There are about eight positions that they’re going to look back a few years from now and say, ‘Look where he went and where he could have gone.'”
Maxey had a good rookie season, with the expected ups and downs, but finished his rookie season on a deep and contending team with 8 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 2 assists in only fifteen minutes per game. His 46% from the field and 87% from the free-throw line were both encouraging. His 30% from the beyond the three-point line wasn’t great, but with his work ethic and dedication to improving, that number should at least be able to climb up to a respectable thirty-either or thirty-nice percent.
In regard to his work ethic, Maxey was back at work on his game and his body about a week after the Sixers were eliminated from the playoffs. He’s reported this season at a muscular 198lbs. and hasn’t lost any of his speed. He’s made himself more durable to endure the pounding smaller guards take when driving in the paint.
He’ll remain aggressive, and the biggest bonus for the Sixers is that Maxey is considered to have a high basketball IQ paired with a desire to learn as much as he can, each day and each game. His workouts and videos that the public saw throughout the off-season weren’t for show, like some players, but rather just a glimpse into the daily routine of a young and improving player.
Having a former point guard in Head Coach Doc Rivers doesn’t hurt either. “Just play, that’s what I told him,” said Rivers pregame on Wednesday. “Please don’t have me in your head or Joel in your head, or anyone else in your head. Just have Tyrese in your head.”
As Maxey learns to run the team, he has the support around him to make huge strides this year. The scoring and playmaking are something that the Sixers thought they would miss with Ben Simmons, probably a week away from doing sit-ups in the driveway of the house he just put up for sale, but the signs from the first game with Maxey at the helm seem very encouraging.
The Sixers, who a lot of people were planning on writing off after the Simmons nonsense, seem to be in just as good if not a better position with Maxey at the point guard spot. While he doesn’t have the physical size of Simmons and isn’t near as polished as a defensive player, he is constantly improving and doesn’t let a bad pass, bad game, or boos from the fans get to him.
If Maxey continues to play, as he showed in spots last year and especially in the season opener this year, Maxey will have a whole season of cheers, hopefully ending late in June with a trophy in his hands.