This season could be a bit of a changing of the guard for the National Basketball Association. Aging stars like the Philadelphia 76ers‘ James Harden, Los Angeles Lakers‘ Russell Westbrook, and Phoenix’s Chris Paul all make up an “old guard” of players whose time at the apex of American basketball is over.
But rising quickly are a cadre of young stars primed to lead the next generation. Think Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Zion Williamson, Jayson Tatum — all under 25 with their prime either just beginning or on the horizon. That’s not to mention the absolute stars from recent drafts, including Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes, Franz Wagner, Evan Mobley, Paolo Banchero, and Josh Giddey.
And yes, before anyone gets their New York Knickerbockers in a twist, here is the obligatory shoutout for the “tweeners” — guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic — who are somewhere in the middle age-wise and in the 99th percentile talent-wise.
The Sixers could offer a microcosm of this expected changing of the guard. On October 19, HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto released the results of a league-wide poll to determine who would be the NBA’s next “breakout” star. The winner? None other than Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey. But one GM went a bit further, arguing the youngster could finish the season usurping his teammate and former MVP.
“Maxey’s going to be better than James Harden,” the GM said. “He just keeps getting better and better and will be a huge reason why they have success this season.”
It would be an incredible move if Maxey leapfrogs Harden in Philadelphia’s pecking order. But given the fact he’s been predicted to earn an All-Star nod this season, perhaps it’s not out of the question.
Maxey Predicted to Make All-Star Game This Season
Back in September, Michael Kaskey-Blomain of NBC Sports put together a list of five players he expected would earn their first All-Star nod next season. Among the list was Maxey, with Kaskey-Blomain touting the youngsters motor and strong development to date.
“Maxey has an unrelenting work ethic, and if he continues to develop there will likely be several All-Star selections in his future,” Kaskey-Blomain wrote.
“Tyrese Maxey was a bit of a revelation for the Sixers last season. After receiving inconsistent playing time during his rookie year, Maxey took over the starting point guard spot in Ben Simmons’ absence last season, and he never looked back — even after James Harden was added to the roster. His numbers swelled with his increased role, and he quickly established himself as an integral part of Philadelphia’s offensive attack. His importance to the Sixers was exemplified during postseason play.”
Maxey and Harden are clearly on different career trajectories presently. Harden’s on the tail-end of a legendary career that’s also included numerous playoff flubs. Maxey, on the other hand, is a rising star who could do well to soak up as much as possible from his elder teammate.
Fortunately, Harden’s had no problem dishing out requests to his young sidekick.
Harden: ‘I Don’t Wanna See No More Smiling’
Ahead of Tuesday night’s game against the Boston Celtics, James Harden issued a clear demand of Maxey. It cut right to the core of what fans love about the former Kentucky Wildcat’s style: his unrelenting positivity.
“I’m probably like the mean guy when it comes to, like being on the court for our team,” said Harden, per Justin Grasso of si.com. “He’s just so nice, and he’s just smiling, and it’s like, ‘Tyrese, get mad one time.’ I think he got mad in our last preseason game. He got pushed or something, and they didn’t call a foul. He was pissed. I need more of that, you know what I mean? You’re a nice guy, but you’re not under the radar anymore. People know how good you are right now and the potential that you have. I don’t wanna see no more smiling.”
There are no shortage of “angry” players in Philadelphia. In addition to Harden, the Sixers added dawgs in PJ Tucker and Montrezl Harrell. That’s to say if Maxey wishes to keep his effervescent charm, the team has plenty of snarl left on the roster.