As many expected, the Ben Simmons cloud continues to hover over the head of the Philadelphia 76ers this season. While the former number one pick is not currently traveling with the team and a return date nowhere in sight, the situation continues to be a hot topic of discussion.
There’s no denying that the Simmons saga has gotten more and more ugly day by day, but good has come as a result. In recent weeks, we’ve seen a major silver lining for the Sixers in light of Simmons’ absence: the emergence of Tyrese Maxey.
With a gap in the starting lineup to fill, coach Doc Rivers called on Maxey to play a much bigger role in his second season. Maxey, being the competitive guy he is, has accepted the challenge and is developing at a rapid pace.
The 21-year-old still has a ways to go as a host, but looks more like a true playmaker in every passing game. His 4.6 assists per game are more than double his rookie campaign average. Maxey hasn’t seamlessly replaced what Simmons brings to the floor, but he’s certainly sweetened the blow of being without the triple All-Star. All the while giving the Sixers offense an element it hasn’t had in years.
Entering the NBA, Maxey was known for his ability to score in clusters. Even as a rookie, he showed a lot of promise of becoming a dynamic keeper in the league. While taking on the role of playmaker has changed his approach at times, the Sixers still want him to look to score when the opportunity presents itself. Rivers has constantly talked about the former Kentucky star finding a “happy fit” between scorer and host, and it seems he’s found it.
In 17 games, Maxey is averaging an impressive 18.4 points per game. His recent stretch is even more impressive as he has scored at least 22 points in five of the last six games, including over 30 points in consecutive games against the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors.
Maxey was widely regarded as the draft thief two years ago, and we see why in full screen. Seeing how much he’s grown in just his second season, some front offices need to kick themselves. It’s now quite clear that he has lottery-level potential and shouldn’t have been part of the table when the Sixers selected him at number. 21.
The Sixers may not have top talent, but it allowed them to tap into another. Maxey’s warm start to the season saw him climb the favorites list for the Most Improved Player award.
From a team perspective, the Sixers should be more than happy with how Tyrese Maxey has stepped up to start the year. Replacement of a franchise cornerstone like Simmons is no small task, but he is thriving so far. After seeing how well Maxey has blossomed after a month of full-time play, it’s unclear what he will look like at the end of the regular season.