Tyrese Maxey’s stellar start to the season for the Philadelphia 76ers came to a screeching halt Monday night against the Phoenix Suns. It wasn’t that the Suns did anything particularly effective; Chris Paul, who would normally be tasked with guarding Maxey, only played 13 minutes after suffering a heel injury.
No, the problem wasn’t external: Maxey simply wasn’t hitting his shots. He made just four of his 18 attempts against the Suns, including an ugly 0-4 from deep. Those are Matisse Thybulle numbers, not Maxey numbers. After the game, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers discussed a modified game plan for Maxey.
“This is where you got to be so careful with young players. He watches the film, and he sees all these guys open. I thought he played an entire game predetermining trying to come off to be a passer, and I thought he got stuck in that and so it’s not a big change. We got to get him back to being a scorer. Be a scorer, and let us complain about you missing guys, but you got to be an attacker. I thought he tried to turn it on, but we’ll get him back in the right place.”
Maxey’s Struggles Began Last Week
While the Suns game was certainly an eyesore, Maxey’s downward slide began a game earlier. Against the New York Knicks last Friday, Maxey went 10-29 from the floor, including 4-13 from beyond the arc. Even still, Maxey managed to score 31 points. Between the Knicks and Suns games, Maxey’s shooting totals are almost unrecognizable: he shot 23.5 percent from three and a marginally better 29.5 percent from the field.
It doesn’t take much to remember Maxey’s fantastic opening to the season. Over the first nine games, Maxey was connecting on over 46 percent of threes while elevating his volume from last year.
There’s likely one glaring, cake-dumping reason Maxey’s numbers took a dip over the last two games: James Harden. Since the Sixers’ star guard went down with a foot injury, Maxey’s been tasked as the team’s primary playmaker. And in that vein, he’s stepped up: prior to Harden’s injury, Maxey was averaging 3.4 assists per night. Since then, that figure has nearly doubled, ballooning to 6.5 helps per game.
But playmaking isn’t what Maxey excels at. And with Harden in the lineup, he was able to take advantage of his downhill quickness and sharpshooting off a Harden drive and kick. Now, Maxey’s been thrust into a new, perhaps uncomfortable role.
Maxey is Not the Only Playmaker Left on Sixers’ Roster
Looking up and down the roster, it’s fair to wonder where Philadelphia will make up for James Harden’s 10 assists per night. Philadelphia’s next three players in assists per game (Maxey, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris) all barely combine for the same number of assists as Harden (10.6).
Do the Sixers need another playmaker? Maybe. Or perhaps they just need their other stars to step up and fill the void left by Harden. It’s something Embiid discussed after the Suns game Monday night.
“I just adapt and do whatever it takes to win, whatever I’m needed. He’s not playing so I’m asked to do way more as far as play-calling, playmaking and then also scoring the ball and defending. I like to take on the challenge.”
The Sixers need help from somewhere. If it means the current cadre of stars steps up, so be it. But the team does have an open roster spot if things get uber-desperate over the next few weeks in Harden’s absence.