Tyrese Maxey is back, just in time to save the Sixers season

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Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) drives to the basket during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

The Philadelphia 76ers are ready for the return of All-Star guard Tyrese Maxey, and it couldn’t come at a better time for the team. With Maxey missing the last four games after suffering a concussion in a win over the Mavericks back on March 3rd, the team has gone 1-3 in his absence.

Their lone win came against a New York Knicks team that has been dealing with its own injuries to top players. The Knicks rematch on the card for Tuesday night, that Maxey returned for, and while that game ended in a loss, there is still hope that Maxey can save the Sixers’ season.

A huge leap

Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey (0) goes up for a shot against New York Knicks’ Jericho Sims (45) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

When the Sixers started the 2023-24 season, Tyrese Maxey was still just the young and talented guard that was sharing a court with Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and in theory, James Harden. With all of the drama surrounding Harden, the Sixers started the season with Maxey in a key role, taking over control of the offense and the Sixers hoped that he would have enough to help them see their way through some time to get Harden traded.

In three games to open the season, Maxey averaged 30.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 6.3 assists while the Sixers went 2-1, with their only loss being a controversial opening night loss to the Bucks, where Giannis Antetokounmpo was allowed to pass the ball, in the air, to himself. Maxey had shown the Sixers enough as two days after their 126-98 demolition of the Portland Trail Blazers; the Sixers shipped Harden off to the Clippers for a solid group of role players.

The Sixers not only now had depth and talent on the bench, but they also had the second star that the team was looking for all along as they brought in players like Harden and Jimmy Butler. The Sixers drafted Maxey and grew from a seldom-used reserve averaging 15 minutes and 8 points per game to being fourth in minutes played per game this season with 37.4 as well as 14th in the league in scoring at 26.0 points per game. Maxey has improved each season he’s been in the league, yet no one could have seen him exploding as he has this season.

An All-Star is born

Tyrese Maxey
Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey (0) celebrates after making a 3-point shot against the Brooklyn Nets during the second half of Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Thursday, April 20, 2023, in New York. The 76ers won 102-97. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

With Maxey playing so well, so early in the season, other teams had to immediately change how they faced the Sixers as they couldn’t just focus on trying to stop Joel Embiid. (Throughout the first half of the year the whole league realized that was a futile effort.) While the Sixers may have had some apprehension with Maxey taking such a lead role at such a young age, Maxey knew exactly what he could do and what the results from all of his tireless, hard work since coming into the league would be.

The perfect sidekick to the dominant Embiid, Maxey has been on a tear since the opening game. At one point in the early part of the year, both Embiid and Maxey were in the top ten in scoring average. As important as Embiid is to the Sixers, Maxey has become just as vital to their success. He must be accounted for at all times on the court. On both sides of the ball, he’s shown tireless energy to go along with a fearlessness that the city hasn’t seen in a smaller player since Allen Iverson was shipped off to Denver.

With Embiid playing even better this season than during his MVP season just one year prior, Maxey had started making a name for himself as one of the top young players in the league. As the All-Star game usually starts getting mentioned right after Christmas, the Sixers had to be excited as both of their stars found themselves mentioned frequently. Maxey, for all that he had done to improve his game, was finally about to be recognized.

A first-time All-Star, Maxey had 10 points in 17 minutes as the Eastern Conference coach was former Sixers coach Glenn Rivers. (Maxey obviously went to Rivers prior to the game and asked not to be played much.)

Maxey is the hero the city needs

Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey (0) reacts past Sacramento Kings’ Sasha Vezenkov (7) after making a shot during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 12, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Maxey has missed the past four games while recovering from a concussion suffered against the Dallas Mavericks. While head injuries are not to be ignored as they had been in the past, the Sixers had to sit their All-Star guard until he was cleared from the leagues protocol. The Sixers haven’t fared well without him. Despite winning on Sunday against the Knicks, the Sixers combined with their opposition to score 152 points. The lowest total in the league this season. It was a win but, was it really?

Now, the final game of the four-game in-season series with the Knicks is on Tuesday night, and Tyrese Maxey is cleared to play. After over a week out of the lineup, Maxey could not be returning at a better time for his team. The Sixers are in a fight with the Knicks, Magic, Pacers, and Heat, as only two games separate those five teams in the standings. Each team is going to have to have a successful end of the season to be in a good position to start the playoffs.

The Sixers are not in a good position. For a team that was set up to be successful around Embiid, they’re going to have to finish the season waiting for Embiid to recover from his knee surgery. They have 18 games remaining and only six of those games will be against teams that aren’t going to be in the playoffs. Mixed in with a couple of games against teams like the Grizzlies, Pistons, and Nets are games with the Bucks, Heat, Cavaliers, Thunder, Clippers, Suns, and Lakers. All teams that are trying to make runs to the championship, like the Sixers, except all of their stars are healthy.

The Sixers could tolerate losing a few games last week as they missed their young star but, as the toughest portion of their schedule is starting tonight, they desperately need something good to happen for them. Joel Embiid has began on court work and weight training but that’s not helping the Sixers on the court. Then, hear comes Tyrese Maxey, rested and healthy, ready to lead the team to the playoffs.

For all of the importance that’s been put on the health and availability of Joel Embiid, the Sixers’ true key is having Maxey healthy and on the court. Embiid can’t be stopped but the Sixers have had to make due since his injury, it’s been Maxey who’s held the Sixers hopes up high.

Before going out with his injury, Maxey had led the Sixers to a 6-8 record since Embiid went down. No one is going to mistake a team that’s winning at .388% as a championship contender, but the Sixers will be getting back the player who was going to win his second straight MVP.

The only reason that the Sixers find themselves in even the position to be the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference is because of how good Tyrese Maxey is, night in and night out. As soon as he got hurt, the team truly fell apart. They haven’t been able to shoot the ball with any sort of success; they’re not playing winning basketball despite whatever you want to call Sunday was. They just aren’t good. They’re starting players that would normally be reserves and playing some that wouldn’t be seeing the court at this time of year.

While the excitement for the playoffs and a possible Sixers run toward an NBA Championship has waned quite a bit since the Embiid injury, the team and its fans recognize that they were able to sustain with Maxey on the court. A true star in the league, recognized by the fans and his peers as well as coaches around the league, Maxey is going to give all that he can to lead the team to their best position as they head toward the playoffs. With all he’s done on the court and what’s happened when he’s not on the court, it’s easy to see why the team would be excited about his return.

With Maxey on the court, players like Tobias Harris, Buddy Hield, and Kelly Oubre Jr. should be able to see better looks, have better positioning on the floor, and have an easier time operating through head coach Nick Nurse‘s system. With the emergence of reserve center Paul Reed suddenly becoming a double-double machine as the main center while they await Embiid, the Sixers are in good hands as they head into the toughest portion of their schedule.

The hands they’re in are of a young man who’s truly become a star in the league, a leader in the locker room as well as on the floor, and whose college coach stated, “There’s a lot of people that are going to regret that they passed” regarding Maxey slipping in the draft. John Calipari knew that Tyrese Maxey would be a star in the league, Tyrese Maxey knew he could be a star in the league, and now the Sixers fans are realizing that he’s a star in the league and his return is just what this Sixers team needs.