There’s an old adage in sports: One player’s absence is another’s opportunity. That has certainly been the case for the Philadelphia 76ers this season, as second-year guard Tyrese Maxey is blossoming as the team’s starting point guard in the vacancy left by Ben Simmons.
Maxey flashed potential in a limited role as a rookie last season. Remember his 39 point game performance against the Nuggets in Denver in January in his first career start? Here’s a quick refresher in case you don’t:
This season, though, Maxey is receiving consistent playing time — and a lot of it — and his production has skyrocketed as a result. Last season, he averaged 8.0 points, 2.0 assists and 1.7 rebounds in 15.3 minutes per performance. This season, he’s playing 35.7 minutes per game, and averaging 17.8 points, 4.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds.
Stats can be expected to swell when a guy gets substantially more playing time, but in addition to the raw numbers, Maxey’s efficiency has improved as well. He’s shooting 52 percent from the field after converting at a 46 percent clip last season, and he’s hitting 43 percent of his 3-pointers this season — up from 30 percent during his rookie campaign. As a result, his effective field goal percentage has jumped from 49 to 57 percent. This improvement in efficiency is impressive considering the massive jump in the role that Maxey has undertaken.
Maxey’s growth is evident everywhere. His finishing, shooting, and playmaking are all improved compared to last season. Considering how much he has it in his hands, he does a commendable job of taking care of the ball — he’s averaging just 1.3 turnovers per game this season. Even his defense has taken a step forward. He doesn’t have Simmons’ size or strength, but he’s quick, he competes hard on that end of the floor and he’s demonstrated a willingness to go toe-to-toe with the league’s elite.
His development as a shooter from long range is especially promising for the Sixers, who always need floor-spacing around Joel Embiid — though they haven’t had much of it from the point guard position in recent years. As a starter this season, Maxey has shown no hesitation in catch-and-shoot situations. Instead of waiting around to receive the ball after Philadelphia secured a defensive rebound in a game against Denver this week, Maxey sprinted to the wing to space the floor for his teammates. When the ball was swung to him he quickly converted:
He’s also growing increasingly confident on pullup shots from long range. On this play from the same game against Denver, Maxey dribbles into some open space following a screen from Tobias Harris and doesn’t hesitate to rise and fire:
There have also been intangible improvements. When Maxey was recently asked where he thinks he’s grown the most this season, his response was as a leader. “I think confidence, leadership, voice, being more vocal,” Maxey said of his own improvement following Philadelphia’s 118-109 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this month.
“I think at the beginning of the year I was, I don’t want to say scared, but I was timid to speak my mind or say my mind. Or try to lead with my voice,” he added. “I think now I’ve become a little more comfortable with it. Just trying to do my part to help us win.”
Maxey’s teammates and coaches have been effusive in their praise of the young guard all season — particularly his poise at such a young age (he just became legally eligible to buy a beer in Philadelphia earlier this month).
“The kid is unreal,” Sixers forward Georges Niang said of Maxey after the Milwaukee game. “When I think about what I was doing at 21 years old, it would not be scoring 31 points in an NBA game and being able to play large amounts of minutes and walk in every day with a smile on his face. The kid has so much energy and so much pizazz. He’s so poised and I am so happy for him because everything that’s going on with our team, it allows him to have growth in his career.
“Whose to say if things were different that he’d have this opportunity and I love that he is maximizing it. For him to come in and do what he does every day and take ownership of it, and guys are on him. Tyrese doesn’t get any grace from anybody, and he takes it on the chin and he continues to grow and get better and it shows.”
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Again, absence begets opportunity in the sports world. With his play, and attitude, Maxey has earned his teammates’ trust, and that trust has, in turn, empowered him to play with even more confidence.
“Just my teammates trusting me, my teammates talking to me,” Maxey added when addressing what has helped his development. “Especially like the older guys as far as Danny [Green], Georges, Joel, Tobias, Seth [Curry]. They help me a lot. They really help me a lot. They stuck with me, they really helped me, and they say they believe in me. When those guys say they believe in you, you just go out there, you play the game, and you try to help them do whatever it takes to win.”
At 21, it’s fair to be excited about Maxey’s potential, as his ceiling is obviously very high. However, he appears to be proving that he can help the Sixers in a major way in the present. A month’s worth of games is a small sample size, and his production will obviously need to be sustained, but Maxey is really starting to look like a long-term solution for Philadelphia at the point guard position, regardless of how the Simmons situation ultimately plays out.