Where the Sixers’ duo of Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey rank among the league’s best

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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)

Prior to the start of the 2023-24 NBA season, a few places put out rankings of the NBA’s best duos. The Philadelphia 76ers didn’t have a duo on the list. Not on anyone’s list. The most frequent mention was that James Harden had requested a trade out of Philadelphia and that, with his status uncertain, there was no rationalization for putting the duo of Embiid and Harden on the list. There was no consideration for Tyrese Maxey.

While Maxey has improved in each season in the league, there weren’t really any signs pointing to him having the type of breakout season that he’s having this year. Maxey is currently averaging 26.2 points and 6.6 assists per game for the Sixers, as they’ve cemented themselves into 3rd place in the Eastern Conference behind the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. Embiid has just improved on his MVP season of a year ago and is leading the league in scoring at 35.1 points per game to go along with 11.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists.

What the Sixers have also been doing is winning. While Embiid has missed ten games so far this season, Maxey has only missed one. The Sixers are 3-7 without Embiid, and both players missed the December 1st game against the Celtics, which the team lost 125-119. With Embiid and Maxey on the court, the Sixers are 25-6 on the season, good for over an .800 winning percentage.

Not too shabby for a duo that wasn’t even on the radar for most people at the start of the year.

For the Sixers, unloading James Harden was a huge deal. It removed a problem from the locker room before it really became a problem. The Sixers quickly did what the Nets and Rockets couldn’t do in an efficient manner over the past few years. Moving Harden not only brought the Sixers some much-needed depth with Nico Batum, Kelly Oubre Jr., Robert Covington, and KJ Martin but also allowed the team to operate freely and use Maxey to the best of his ability.

It’s paid off more than anyone would have or could have expected. The Sixers are in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference, winning with their two stars on the court at a better pace than any other team in the league and dominating a lot of games to the point where Embiid has sat in the fourth quarter for more than a quarter of the games he’s played.

After all of this, is the combination of Embiid and Maxey able to stand up with the rest of the dynamic duos of the NBA this season? Let’s take a look.

The best of the rest

Los Angeles Lakers forward Cam Reddish, center top, drives to the basket against Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George (13) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Eric Thayer)

The early lists had combinations of players that we all know and would agree are top teammates, but they don’t really stack up against the Embiid/Maxey combination. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are so far below matching the stat numbers, and the Warriors are just not a very good team this season. Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland have the Cavaliers in 4th place in the Eastern Conference, right behind the Sixers, but again, their stats don’t come close to the Sixers duo.

Other duos that were mentioned, like the combinations of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard or Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, have the name recognition but don’t match up with the Sixers duo statistically, and while the Celtics currently have the best record in the NBA, looking at what the Sixers do with Embiid and Maxey together would lead you to the conclusion that the Sixers could have just as good of a record had Embiid not been hurt. Again, this is just about the top duos in the league, and neither of those seem to match up.

The Heat had the duo of Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo listed, and they’re not even the top duo on their own team. Butler and Adebayo average 42.8 points, 15.5 rebounds, and 8.7 assists, while Adebayo and Tyler Herro average 44 points, 16.2 rebounds, and 8.4 assists per game. If you’re considered one of the best duos in the league, shouldn’t you be the best duo on your own team?

The top duos

LeBron James and Anthony Davis

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) shoots over New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram and forward Zion Williamson (1) in the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

If name recognition was a factor, then this would arguably be the top duo in the league. Since we’re looking at statistics, Lebron and AD come close, but other than their insane rebounding average of 19.4 per game combined, the duo just isn’t coming close.

Kevin Durant and Devin Booker

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, center, knocks the ball away from Dallas Mavericks forward Derrick Jones Jr., left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 25, 2023, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Durant and Booker were supposed to light the league on fire this season. Both would be healthy and they would be showing the league what a real championship team would look like with two amazing talents.

They’ve put the league on notice that if you want the 8th seed in the Western Conference, then you’re going to have to go through them. Durant and Booker do have a good scoring average, and only three other duos in the league are higher than their 55.9 points per game. Their rebounding is toward the bottom of the rest of the duos, and their assists are close to the top; they’re just not there yet.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard

Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard (0) celebrates his three-point basket with Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Detroit, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

After the trade that brought Lillard to Milwaukee, they were pretty much declared the best team in the Eastern Conference. Lillard would be the piece that brought the Bucks back to the NBA championship, and the duo would be one of the top two in the league. That’s not very far off. The Bucks are currently 2nd in the Eastern Conference, a half-game above the Sixers, and the duo of Giannis and Lillard has been nothing short of fantastic.

The duo are averaging 56.7 points, 15.7 rebounds, and 12.9 assists per game, and the Bucks have been sitting at or near the top of the Eastern Conference for the bulk of the season. In comparison to the Sixers duo they trail in scoring 3.3 points but they exceed the Sixers’ stats by 0.6 rebounds and 0.3 assists per game. The Bucks have a strong team, and the duo of Giannis and Lillard is the reason why they’re looking toward a deep playoff run this season.

Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic

Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) gives a hand to guard Luka Doncic (77) during the first half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers in Dallas, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

On the early season lists, the Dallas Mavericks duo was listed out of the top five, yet this season, their stats would show that they’re one of the top duos in the league. Irving and Doncic average 58.9 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 14.6 assists per game, and the duo have the Mavericks in 6th place in the Western Conference. While they don’t seem to stand a chance for a deep playoff run, the two stars in Dallas are performing well above the expectations from the pre-season.

Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray

Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic (15) is defended by Boston Celtics’ Al Horford during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan 19, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The obvious choice for the top duo in the league, Murray and Jokic led the Nuggets to the NBA Championship last season, and Jokic finished 2nd to Joel Embiid in MVP voting after winning the award the prior two seasons. Murray recovered from a knee injury to come back and form one of the nastier duos in the league, and the Nuggets have a deep and talented roster that helps overall.

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray directs teammates in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

For the season, Jokic and Murray are averaging 46.7 points per game to go along with 15.7 rebounds and 15.5 assists. The Nuggets are getting everything that they thought they would from the pair, and the Nuggets are in 3rd place in the Western Conference, just two games behind the conference-leading Timberwolves. While the two don’t score as much as some of the other top duos in the league, Jokic’s stats alone would propel any other teammate into the conversation.

Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey

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)

If someone would have mentioned these two at the start of the year, they would have been laughed at. While Maxey has proven over the early parts of his career that he’s a good player, there weren’t any signs that he would have the type of breakout season he’s having. In addition, the Sixers were losing or going to lose James Harden, and he was supposed to be the other half of the Sixers dynamic duo, along with Embiid.

Here we are three months later, and Maxey has become a star. He’s currently in the top 15 in scoring and assists per game. Combine that with Embiid, who leads the league in scoring and is currently 6th in rebounding, and the Sixers have the duo that they’ve dreamed of over the past few seasons.

The combination of Maxey and Embiid is the highest-scoring duo in the league at 61.3 points per game, and while it’s almost a lock that Embiid will be over 30 points each night, Maxey has been creeping close for the most part of the season.

On Friday night, in Orlando, the two set a franchise record for the most times a duo has scored 30+ points in a game, having eight games this season that they’ve both gone over 30 in the same game. The previous Sixers record was set 58 years ago by a couple of guys named Chamberlain and Greer. It’s also only the 40th game of the season, and they’ve broken the record.

With a .800 winning percentage with them both on the court, depth provided by the trade of Harden, and new head coach Nick Nurse, the Sixers look to be on the verge of a long playoff run as they get better together on the court. With the duo of Embiid and Maxey now being able to be considered one of the top tandems in the league, the future is bright for the team.