By Connor Thomas
The biggest story maybe in the entire NBA coming into this season was the drama between Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers. The former #1 overall pick requested a trade in the offseason, and since that news broke, it’s been months of back and forth posturing between the Simmons camp and the Sixers front office. As a result, the 5th year man out of LSU has yet to suit up for Philly so far this season, giving 2nd year Kentucky product Tyrese Maxey the reins to an offense with playoff expectations and championship aspirations. It was a big spot to put a 20 year old (who just turned 21 on November 4th), and many doubted whether or not Maxey could perform well enough to allow the Sixers to be the contenders they were viewed as with Simmons running the point. Boy has he proven those people wrong so far this season. Maxey has been an absolute revelation, especially since turning 21, for the Sixers this season, and is now in the top 10 players in the NBA in odds to win the Most Improved Player award. When you take a look at what the dynamic young guard has done since his 21st birthday, you can clearly see why he is in the running for the award.
The Sixers have played 10 games since Maxey’s birthday, which coincidentally coincided with the issues with COVID protocols and the Sixers lack of starters over the past couple weeks. In that time, the Sixers version of Agent 0 has cleared 20 points 7 times, more than his total number of turnovers in the same span (6). That is absolutely ridiculous for any player at the NBA level, not to mention a kid who just had his first legal drink. Maxey has been unbelievable with his ball security, but he’s still getting to the rim with ease and scoring at a great clip. He’s averaging 22.4 points per game in his last 10 contests on 51.8% shooting from the floor, 42.8% from 3. For a career 33.5% shooter from deep, that 3 point percentage may be the most encouraging number our of any that Maxey has put up during this stretch. If he can continue to shoot at that clip when the gravity of a Joel Embiid comes back and draws more players into the post, it could mean a huge benefit in later games this season and even the playoffs.
Make no mistake, Maxey is not yet a triple double threat like Ben Simmons is when he is on the floor, but he’s facilitated well enough in addition to his scoring in this stretch. In his 10 games as a 21 year old, he’s averaging 4.9 assists per game while rarely turning the ball over at all. It’s a sign of an elite ceiling as a point guard, and with a lack of mistakes that even Simmons hasn’t shown consistently. In the games that he has actually played in in his career with the Sixers, Simmons has averaged 3.4 turnovers per game. Obviously it’s a much bigger sample size than what Maxey has done, but in the last 10 outings, #0 is averaging 0.6 turnovers per game, with 5 games without a turnover at all. For comparison, Ben Simmons only has 15 career games with 0 turnovers, and has only had 1 season with 5 such games. Maxey has equaled Ben’s season high of turnover-less games in just the last 10 contests, and has 7 on the season through just the first 18 games of this year, putting him on pace for 31 such stat lines this year. At the end of the day, there is still much for Maxey to work on, but he is quickly disproving the narrative that the Sixers can’t be a competitor with a point guard as young as him. The playoffs are a different story, but at least in the regular season, he’s the real deal.