The Philadelphia 76ers are preparing for their opening-round matchup in the NBA playoffs with the Toronto Raptors. The team struggled against the Raptors this season as they lost three of their four meetings.
On top of the Sixers’ struggles with the Raptors this season, they’ll also be shorthanded for the games in Toronto. Matisse Thybulle won’t be able to play in the road games because he is only partially vaccinated.
In Thybulle’s absence, the Sixers will need other players to step up. One player the Sixers might ask more of is second-year guard Tyrese Maxey.
The Sixers’ 21-year-old guard has enjoyed a breakout season so far, averaging 17.5 points, 4.3 assists, and 3.2 rebounds per game. Maxey was also efficient, shooting 48.5% from the field and 42.7% from three.
Maxey’s play this season has impressed and even surprised some of his teammates. According to Sports Illustrated, Sixers forward Georges Niang admitted he’s been a little surprised by his performance after the team’s practice on Wednesday.
“I always thought Tyrese was good,” Niang said. “I thought he was good. I thought he was like a young guard that didn’t really understand and would just get in the game and just shoot. There was like a point after our West Coast trip where we didn’t have Joel, and there was a bunch of COVID cases, and he came back, and he had like 30 [points] in multiple games. I was like, ‘Man, this kid like really got it.’”
Before coming to Philadelphia, Niang played four seasons with the Utah Jazz. During that time he saw the rapid improvement of three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell.
Maxey and Mitchell had similar draft experiences in that they both fell past the lottery. Mitchell was taken 17th by the Jazz in 2017, while Maxey fell to the Sixers at 21st in 2020.
While those situations are similar, Niang thinks it’s possible that Maxey has been put in a tougher situation with the Sixers.
“Donovan was kind of given the keys, you know? It’s his team,” said Niang. “Tyrese has to make it work with James, Tobias, Joel, and what people don’t understand is that’s a lot harder when you don’t give him the keys.
“Like, if Tyrese makes a mistake, not only is a coach going to hold him accountable, but the three other guys that he’s out there with are going to hold him accountable. Donovan, you know, it was his show, and he’s done a great job that’s not throwing any shade at him, but when you have to share the reins, it’s definitely a lot harder. So, credit to [Tyrese], he’s 21-years-old, and he’s done a phenomenal job for us.”
Maxey got his first playoff experience last season when he played in 12 games and averaged 6.33 points per game. That experience and Maxey’s play this season should put him in line for a big postseason this year.
With the Sixers being shorthanded in the first round, they’ll need several players to step up. Maxey will be one of the team’s most important players if they are going to make a deep postseason run.