Life as Tyrese Maxey has been an auspicious existence. He entered an ideal scenario as an ancillary piece in Philadelphia behind Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and James Harden. He’s been able to grow into his role as the section option, and this season has become Robin to Joel Embiid’s Batman.
Not only has his prestige increased — the Sixers’ lineup was the NBA’s best through the first half of the regular season — so has his price tag. Maxey earned his first All-Star selection on Feb. 1, which means he will be eligible for a max contract next summer worth 25 percent of the cap, or 30 percent if he’s named to an All-NBA team.
Lost in the cacophony of updates about Embiid’s meniscus, Daryl Morey’s trade deadline options, and the future of the Sixers’ playoff aspirations, are Maxey’s struggles. The guard is having difficulty maintaining his All-NBA level of play as the Sixers’ No. 1 option. Need proof that Embiid is the NBA’s most valuable player? Look no further than Philly’s 1-7 record since their star center initially started exhibiting symptoms of a sore left knee against the Indiana Pacers back on Jan. 25.
Maxey’s explosive efficiency has also given way to him bouncing bricks off the side of the arena. His All-Star selection left Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young out in the cold for the second consecutive year despite him accruing the league’s second-most assists per game in the league. (Young has since been named an injury replacement). In contrast to Young, Maxey has always carried the weight of the world on his shoulders — and he’s been dragged for it.
Maxey is discovering how difficult it is to be a heliocentric guard and a one-man show. Maxey has been vital to orchestrating the Sixers’ offense through the first three months of the season, but Embiid was by far Philly’s highest-usage player. Young has been routinely dismissed as a peripheral cubic zirconia Steph Curry by outsiders who’ve hitched themselves to the bandwagons of Ja Morant, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Maxey instead.
Young is guilty of being immature and displaying poor shot selection. But Maxey in the Sixers’ lineup minus Embiid is Trae Young. And life as Trae Young is hard.
After dropping 51 points on the Utah Jazz at the start of the month, defenses have honed in on Maxey. His shot has abandoned him; he’s bricked 37 percent from distance and 25 percent from behind the arc. It’s no knock on Maxey.
It may be too much too soon, but heavy is the head that wears the crown in a modern NBA offense. Maxey is a young king who has been elevated to the throne ahead of time, and he has collapsed under the weight. At 23, this isn’t his peak, but in the short-term, this should be concerning for Philadelphia’s outlook in the East.
The next time critics pile on Young, all he has to do is remind everyone what some of his peers resembled while playing without marquee frontcourt talent. Young may not be a principal on a title team, but pair him with a partner who can keep defenses honest and he could be even more formidable and remind everyone of himself circa 2021.
Young’s public approval rating has cratered more than Jada Pinkett Smith’s in the three seasons since Atlanta’s run to the conference finals. Since Young spearheaded last season’s record-setting .500 purgatory, State Farm Arena has been a mood killer for much of the current regular season campaign. While Maxey’s Sixers search for their footing, there’s actually hope brewing in Atlanta’s red table talk arena.
Young has been lighting up nets the last few weeks, while Jalen Johnson is forecasting a breakout of his own — if he continues acclimating to the league at this rate. Atlanta is playing the long game, holding onto Dejounte Murray through the trade deadline instead of slapping the big red reset button. Philadelphia on the other hand can’t afford to wait for Maxey to mature. Embiid is still on pace to return in time for the postseason. It’s bad enough to waste a year of Embiid’s prime, but it’s even more detrimental to trade for the postseason’s AC Green — Buddy Hield — and miss the postseason.
Philly can turn on its guys fast. If Maxey is a max guy, now is the time to prove it before the Sixers end up watching the postseason from home while everyone points fingers at their star guard for the first time.