Sixers Basking in Maxey’s Bright Future


I have several Allen Iverson rookie cards. They are the pride and joy of my childhood, along with my wrestling action figures and original Sega Genesis.

Given the sports-card boom, I should probably get them graded to see how much they’re worth.

I’ve long stopped buying and collecting cards, but Tyrese Maxey‘s card is one I would have my eye on if I still did. Given what we saw of Maxey last season, it seemed inevitable that the last few regular-season games would be the last time we’d see him play.

Yet somehow in the Sixers’ first-round matchup against the Washington Wizards, Maxey showed he wasn’t done adding to the back of his rookie card.

So how did we get there?

Starting Out

It was difficult to see it early. Six points on six shots in 10 minutes of action in the first game of the season against the play-in bound Wizards doesn’t exactly scream superstardom. Still, superstardom doesn’t always begin with a shout.

Sometimes it creeps up like a whisper.

Maxey’s chance came after a preseason injury to Matisse Thybulle created an opportunity. This says a lot considering Doc Rivers likes to rely more heavily on his veterans. Maxey was thrust into the rotation instead of languishing at the end of the bench as an unproven rookie. An early-season injury to Furkan Korkmaz, and not looking completely lost while out there, kept Maxey in the rotation.

A strong drive finishing with a floater. A blow-by ending in a runner. Short bursts knifing through the opposition with confidence. We didn’t get a lot, but we got something, which was enough.

Standing Out

Then came the Denver game. 10 games into the season. First start of his young career. An infamous consequence of playing a season in the midst of a global pandemic. The Sixers were missing Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Seth Curry, Shake Milton, Korkmaz and Thybulle.

Zero expectations for a game against all of Denver’s regulars. It was less a competition and more an obligation the shorthand Sixers had to fulfill.

Instead, we got something. 

He never reached those heights again, as it was the only time he’s played 40+ minutes in a game last season. That is until his most-recent game against Detroit. To see that level of production, that late in the season, mirroring an early-season start, is a very encouraging sign for the former first-round pick.

In the Denver performance, Maxey had our curiosity. With his Detroit performance, he may finally have our attention.

There are countless examples of high-level, late-season performances in meaningless games. Maxey was still a rookie, and he’d soon be forgotten by the playoffs. That is until Game 6 happened.

Why Is This Important?

For years, the Sixers have struggled to find offensive creators. In years past, possessions would often devolve into chucking the ball to Embiid, with a few seconds left on the shot clock, hoping he could make something — anything — happen.

Despite Embiid’s career year, the Sixers got more from the rest of the roster this past season. Harris took a leap in terms of his ballhandling capabilities. Curry is showing that he’s more than just a deadly outside shooter by creating his own offense when necessary. Milton continues to fill a much-needed combo-guard role.

Maxey is different from all of the aforementioned options– in a good way. He is shiftier than Harris and more dynamic than Curry.

From an organizational growth standpoint, crucially, Maxey is also on a similar timeline as Milton and Thybulle. All three players are still on their rookie contracts. This adds to the promise of the team’s future. Part of the appeal of the team’s acquisition of Jimmy Butler is that he gave the team an elite ballhandler who could generate his own offense. He was someone who the team could look to so the offense didn’t crater whenever Embiid sat.

While Maxey is nowhere near Butler at this point in his career, flashes like what we saw in the recent Detroit game show his potential and the potential of the offense.

That is if the Sixers see this through.

Implications for the Future

To more casual NBA fans, Maxey is the guy who the Sixers were hesitant to include in James Harden trade discussions earlier this season. In the tri-state area, he’s the other, lesser-than rookie guard from Kentucky. To close observers, he’s shown enough flashes that the Sixers have something. There are roadblocks to Maxey becoming something more in Philadelphia.

The Sixers didn’t make any additions to their point-guard stable thus far this offseason, a sign of confidence in Maxey both in the present and future. But his presence won’t preclude any significant moves if the Simmons situation gets some further clarity. This isn’t to say Maxey should be untradeable, but if Morey makes a significant move, Maxey is likely to be involved.

As a former first-round pick on a rookie deal who shows promise, he is extremely valuable in potential trades.  Think R.J. Hampton as the price Denver paid for Aaron Gordon. In lieu of attractive future first-round picks, attractive former first-round picks are the next-best option. This only increases the need for us to appreciate what we’re seeing, and what we have, for now.

The Future is Starting

It’s going to be very difficult to keep expectations in check if Maxey keeps up what he’s doing in Summer League. His 21-point showing in the opening game vs. Dallas is promising for how he got them. He was aggressive with his jumper and was the lead guard for the majority of his minutes.

Considering the Sixers haven’t come away from free agency with a veteran point guard, they will need him to continue that trajectory into the regular season. Early signs are that he is more than up to the task. Skeptics could have overlooked Game 1 as an aberration, but the evidence is mounting.

We already saw his jumper and ballhandling progress. Game 2 showed how strong his ability to finish is. He even came away with two crucial Thybulle-esque blocks to make us believe his defense is coming along as well.

We’re seeing a young player who is finding a variety of ways to affect the game. He’s slicing through the air on drives, taking care of the ball with greater usage, and continuing to shoot even when he’s struggling early.

He played a surprisingly pivotal role in spurts in last year’s playoffs. This time around, he’s not catching anyone by surprise.

Sixers Sit at Fork in the Road

In the NBA contender Venn diagram, there is a small intersection between developing young talent and winning now.

That’s where Philadelphia is. They survived the Harden trade rumors. They survived the trade deadline. Now they’re set to head into next season with their role players actually having roles.

They have young guys in their plans who are getting increasingly valuable playoff experience. He adds to the triumvirate of promising, young, affordable role players in Philadelphia who we get to see grow over time. With new leadership in the front office and on the coaching staff, we have the time to see this through. 

Maxey’s development could go a number of ways. We already know his affinity for runners and floaters. Imagine the addition of a reliable jump shot. Picture better on-ball defense to stay in front of the smaller, shiftier guards of the East. Fantasize about a few more traditional point-guard tendencies like better court vision.

Even one of the three could turn Maxey into a playoff-rotation player next year. It’s something you don’t even have to squint to see. Maxey’s future is just bright enough that you can still see it, and bask in its glow.

So while we’re thinking about playoff matchups and a deep playoff run, let’s not leave behind a small, but still valuable piece that got us there, and may be able to take us further.

Follow us on Twitter @SixersLead for the latest 76ers news and insight. 

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About Matthieu Hertilus

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