Inside Tyrese Maxey’s superstar leap: How 76ers guard is benefitting from new role, chemistry with Joel Embiid

The winds of change have blown through Philadelphia with star guard James Harden leaving town in a trade to the LA Clippers. 

While on the surface it would appear that losing a player of Harden’s caliber in exchange for role players and draft capital would set the 76ers back, the emergence of 23-year-old guard Tyrese Maxey has given Philly fans hope that they will not only remain among the best teams in the East, but still be able to contend for a title. 

Maxey, who fell to the 76ers’ lap in the 2020 NBA Draft as the No. 21 pick, was labeled as the steal of the draft. Now, in his fourth season, he is easily a top-five player in his draft class.  

MORE: How high does Tyrese Maxey land in a 2020 NBA redraft?

With Harden’s exit officially handing the keys to the 76ers offense to Maxey, the now-Clippers guard is expecting big things from his protege. 

“I can only expect great things from Tyrese, just because of the amount of work I know he puts in,” Harden told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He’s in the gym. He loves it, so the results are going to happen for him in a great way. I’m excited for him.

“Hopefully, he can have an opportunity to make an All-Star team and really show his game. I’m definitely excited for his growth and his maturity.”

A leading candidate for the Most Improved Player Award, Maxey’s numbers this season paint a pretty picture of his improvement year over year.

Tyrese Maxey career stats
2020-21 8.0 2.0 1.7 0.4 46.2 30.1 87.1
2021-22 17.5 4.3 3.2 0.7 48.5 42.7 86.6
2022-23 20.3 3.5 2.9 0.8 48.1 43.4 84.5
2023-24 26.8 7.1 4.8 0.8 47.5 44.6 95.3

While Maxey’s scoring ability and speed in transition have been in full effect in recent seasons, Harden’s departure means he has been tasked with acting as the 76ers’ lead playmaker. His response? Dishing out a career-high 7.1 assists per game, more than doubling his output from last season. 

“He’s just controlling his pace and controlling our offense, making the correct decisions out there, being efficient with it,” Tobias Harris said of Maxey.

Not only are his assist numbers up, but with Maxey at the helm, Philly boasts the No. 2 ranked offense in the league.

“His assists are one thing, but to be able to go out there and limit turnovers as well, it just goes to show how he’s really handling the team and running the show. That’s what we expect of him. Obviously, it is early as everybody says, but at the same time, there’s a lot of positives and pros to take from that and to expand on.”

After spending the past few seasons under Harden’s tutelage, Maxey is putting together his game, with the combination of lightning speed, scoring and much-improved playmaking putting him among the league’s brightest young stars.

In ESPN’s recent top 25 players under the age of 25, based on future potential, Maxey came in at No. 11, one spot behind Grizzlies All-Star Jaren Jackson Jr. and one spot ahead of Cleveland Cavaliers big man Evan Mobley.

On that list, six point guards were listed above him, five of whom have already earned All-Star selections: LaMelo Ball (No. 9), Darius Garland (No. 8, Cade Cunningham (No. 6), Ja Morant (No. 5), Tyrese Haliburton (No. 4), and Luka Doncic (No. 1).

MORE: Tyrese Maxey joins Allen Iverson in the record books with 50-point performance

The two-man game between Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid is unstoppable

Perhaps the most encouraging indicator of Maxey’s ascension has been his offensive cohesion with reining MVP Joel Embiid. The duo has quickly formed one of the most lethal two-man lineups in the league, with their pick-and-roll numbers off the charts. 

Just look at the non-stop movement between the pair to get Maxey an open 3 against the Blazers.

Embiid and Maxey lead the league with the most points scored or assisted by a duo this season, with their consistent ability to create points out of the pick-and-roll proving to be a headache for defenses. 

As a duo, no one is scoring more points than Embiid and Maxey. The reigning MVP leads the league in scoring at 31.9 points per game and is seventh in rebounds (11.2), while Maxey is 10th in scoring (26.8) and 11th in assists (7.1).

Embiid is fourth in the league in points per game out of the pick-and-roll as a roll man (6.4), thanks largely to Maxey’s increased focus on playmaking. 

In their early November win against the Washington Wizards, the duo repeatedly pummeled the Wizards’ defense with repeated sets of their two-man game. In just 30 minutes, Embiid finished with a season-high 48 points, including 29 in the third quarter alone on a perfect 10-of-10 shooting.  

“In the first quarter, we ran it one time, and I just saw how open it was,” Embiid said. “And then I just told coach don’t even call nothing anymore. Let’s just keep running it. He just kept finding me, setting screens, finding me, kept scoring. They made an adjustment of icing the screen and then didn’t change anything.

“We stuck to the two-man game. Him going back, me going back at him, and we’re still turning to the same thing. I thought it was great. Any adjustments they made, we just countered it, and I thought it was good.”

Not only is Embiid scoring more in pick-and-rolls, his passing out of double teams has been much sharper this season as he is dishing out a career-high 6.2 assists through the first few games of the season. 

As he continues to grow into his role in Year 4, Maxey is on track to take that next leap to superstardom with potential All-Star and All-NBA nods on the cards if he continues his current trajectory. And looming is a max contract extension as he becomes a restricted free agent this summer. 

“I’m just trying to read the game, let the game come to me, I know what my role is… once you know what your role is, what the expectations of the team and organization are, it makes it easier for me,” Maxey said.

“So now I know I need to go out there and put guys in the right place, or score the ball when I need to do that, so it’s been great.”

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