The injury bug has not been kind to the Philadelphia 76ers to start the season. Joel Embiid, James Harden, and Tyrese Maxey have each missed 11 or more games with a number of other notable players also finding their way on the injury report.
This has made it difficult to truly measure how the team stacks up among the NBA’s best teams and limited the ability of the team to grow its chemistry. With the team beginning to return to full strength, it came as a surprise when Doc Rivers announced a lineup change ahead of the Sixers’ matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers. It was Maxey who saw himself moved to the bench in favor of De’Anthony Melton, giving the team a more defensive-minded unit.
“We told our team that’s three lineups that we’ll be using for this point on,” Doc Rivers told reporters following the victory. “Some nights, it’d be to match up to them. Some nights, it’ll be to make them match up to us,” per Ky Carlin of SixersWire.
Maxey’s Thoughts on the Change
There is no doubt that Maxey has established himself as an important part of this Sixers team. His rapid rise from an unproven rookie to an impact player on a nightly basis has changed the trajectory of the franchise in a positive way. Maxey, who has started 95 of the 99 games he has been active for over the past two seasons, did not seem to be taking the change to heart.
“Sometimes, you’ve just got to be the bigger person,” Maxey told reporters following the game. “I felt like it was kind of trending towards [me coming off the bench], but I’m a professional at the end of the day. I feel like I am a starter in this league, but I feel like our team is so good that I think we can have multiple people starting,” per Gina Mizell of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
In his 33 minutes off the bench, Maxey produced 16 points, five rebounds, and an assist. He also remained in the closing lineup and gave the Sixers a 108-107 lead with 1:56 remaining by scoring a layup.
Lineup Expectations Moving Forward
For a fanbase that has pounded their fists in frustration over the lack of creativity from Doc Rivers, this should be looked at as a sign of progress. There have been 16 different starting lineups rolled out by the Sixers so far this year as a result of the injuries the team has sustained. The expected starting lineup of Embiid, Harden, P.J. Tucker, Tobias Harris, and Maxey has played the most games together, but only 11 on the year. The Sixers are 8-3 in these matchups.
While Maxey provides a burst, ball-handling ability, and perimeter shooting which are necessary for the Sixers, he is not without his flaws. The 6’2″ guard struggles on the defensive side of the ball and is limited in who he can match up with because of his size. The Sixers have continually emphasized their desire to be a defensive-minded team, and having a backcourt in which both Harden and Maxey have their defensive limitations is not ideal.
It also should be noted just how overblown the conversation for who starts often is. It is not who starts the game but rather who finishes it that matters most. There will surely be matchups in which Maxey makes the difference, but ones in which a greater defensive impact is necessary for a win. The emergence of Melton has made this possible and this type of flexibility should be looked at as a positive surrounding the Sixers.
The bottom line is it will now be on Rivers to properly pull these strings and put the Sixers in the right position to win. It will be interesting to see how he navigates these lineups moving forward and it will take the team being fully bought in for them to succeed as expected. This newfound flexibility is a step in the right direction as there is not one singular blueprint to win in the NBA. While it may be at Maxey’s expense in the short term, the Sixers will be leaning on him heavily for stretches when it matters most.