The Sixers finally have a superstar duo in Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embid

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey, left, and Joel Embiid react after a basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Since the Process began, the endgame has always been to acquire multiple top-tier talents in pursuit of an NBA championship. After drafting Joel Embiid with the third overall selection in the 2013 NBA draft, it didn’t take long for it to become clear the Sixers were well on their way to that goal.

What would come next for the Philadelphia 76ers, however, was not as encouraging.

Failed duos of the Process

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, left, and James Harden watch a free-throw attempt during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

After failing to land the top overall pick despite boasting the league’s worst record in multiple years, the Sixers acquired the player many believed would become the face of basketball in Philadelphia, Ben Simmons. Enough has been said on that matter to fill an entire encyclopedia, so it’s sufficient to say that the perceived superstar pairing of Embiid and Simmons failed to realize the potential many saw in it.

That was also the case for former No. 1 selection Markelle Fultz, who was expected to be the final piece of the puzzle to unlock Simmons and Embiid as the third superstar for the Sixers. Fultz’s journey, however, would not follow as expected, and he would only last with the organization for two seasons and 33 total games played. Only in recent years has Fultz been able to establish himself as a quality starter in the league.

Then there is the one who got away, Jimmy Butler. Though he only played one season alongside Embiid, the two formed what was perhaps the top duo of the Process era. While Embiid firmly established himself as a superstar in the league, Butler was proving doubters wrong, as he contributed both on and off the court to a winning team.

While they ultimately fell short of expectations, had the organization retained Butler, perhaps they would have reached similar or higher heights to that which Butler has enjoyed in Miami. But alas, we’ll never know.

What, did you think we weren’t going to talk about James Harden? Yes, the tandem did lead their team to a top 2 seed twice during their short run, but the story, unfortunately, does not simply end there. Back-to-back postseason failures left many wondering about the drive of both Harden and Joel Embiid, though the latter dealt with injuries in both cases.

While Joel Embiid has seen arguably his most productive years in the regular season alongside Harden, that failed to correlate into any postseason production for either Embiid or the team. Once Harden realized that the Sixers-and shortly after, the entire league-did not value his presence as much as he himself did, the James Harden era in Philadelphia ended like most in Harden’s career, in a trade demand.

A refreshing change

Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey, left, and Joel Embiid react after a basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

This brings us to today, as Embiid’s newest co-star continues to flourish, having made large strides in his game just as he has every year since he was drafted by the Sixers in 2020. Every season, no matter what dramatic events surrounded the team, Tyrese Maxey has simply improved his game more.

Now acting as the team’s lead guard, Maxey has managed not only to meet the expectations placed before him but also to thrive under the circumstances. Through the Sixers’ nine games, Maxey has increased his scoring by over eight points per game while doubling his assists average.

That’s not all of what he’s improved on, either. His assist-to-turnover ratio improved. His rebounding numbers, from per-game averages to rebounding percentage, are up. His assist percentage is nearly double what it was last season while his PER is up nearly 10 points.

Some of these numbers won’t hold up over a full NBA season, but Maxey has undoubtedly established himself as a legitimate star in this league.

The dawn of a new era for the Sixers

Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey reacts after blocking a dunk by Indiana Pacers’ Buddy Hield during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

With Tyrese Maxey looking the part of not only an All-Star but an All-NBA player and Joel Embiid somehow improving off an MVP campaign, it looks to be the dawn of a new era for the Philadelphia 76ers.

No two teammates average more than Embiid and Maxey’s combined 61 points per game. Not only that, but no team other than the Sixers has two or more scorers in the top 10 of the league (minimum five games played), or even the top 15 for that matter.

This dual dominance by the Sixers’ stars has been among the primary causes for the team’s surprising start to the season, as they currently hold the top record in the NBA at 8-1.

The success of this pair is particularly special due to their ability to perform both in tandem and as individuals when Nick Nurse opts to stagger his two stars. Of the near-38 minutes per game that Tyrese Maxey is on the court, he only spends roughly two-thirds of his time (26.2 minutes) with his fellow star, Joel Embiid.

The Sixers as a team have historically fallen off a cliff in the minutes that Joel Embiid sat on the bench. Last season, Joel Embiid ranked 5th in on/off differential, which effectively broke down to a difference of 9.3 points per game.

This season, in large part due to the contributions by Tyrese Maxey, that W/L differential has dropped to an average of 4.3 points, while his ranking has dropped to 88th. Is it that Embiid has suddenly become less important to the team’s success? Not at all; it is merely that the rest of this Sixers team, spearheaded by Maxey’s efforts, have stepped up to carry the team in the minutes that their MVP rests up.

How much of that can be awarded to Maxey as opposed to the head coach or even Daryl Morey, for that matter-considering how some of the additions have fit, could be up for debate, but there’s no denying that the rising star’s contributions have heavily contributed to the team’s success.

No one expected the chips to fall as they did. However, after years of searching, the Sixers finally have their superstar duo for the foreseeable future.