The Sixers won’t have Tyrese Maxey on Monday night when they try to beat the Rockets and win their seventh straight game.
Maxey's momentum was halted when he entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols before a Sixers victory over Houston. The 21-year-old is “fine,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said after a practice Sunday at the team’s practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, but has not yet cleared protocols.
Paul Reed (protocols), Jaden Springer (non-COVID illness), Shake Milton (back contusion) and Ben Simmons (personal reasons) were also listed as out on Sunday afternoon’s injury report. Isaiah Joe, who missed Friday’s win against the Spurs with back pain, was not listed.
The sunny spin on the Sixers' situation is they've thrived offensively without their usual starting point guard this season. And that's not a stretch at all.
During the team’s winning streak, its 122.3 offensive rating outside of garbage time is No. 1 in the NBA, per Cleaning the Glass. The Sixers’ plus-14.0 net rating during that time ranks second.
Seth Curry, Furkan Korkmaz, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid have all taken significant ball handling reps without Maxey. But, as Rivers envisioned before the season in considering the Sixers’ identity with no Simmons, almost any player on the floor has been free to get possessions rolling.
“It’s what we want all the time, where you can start your offense from any point on the floor,” Rivers said. “I think, because of all the guys being out, it’s forcing us to actually do that. We work on it and talk about it every day.
“But naturally, we have Tyrese or Shake or Seth on the floor, (the other players) give it to them to bring it up. Now we’re not doing that anymore. We’re just bringing the ball up to get our offense started. I think that’s one of the bigger benefits, that we’re starting our offense now at 21 (seconds left on the shot clock) instead of finding the point guard and him bringing it up — four extra seconds offensively.”
Korkmaz likes the increased on-ball responsibility. Though Rivers on Friday described Korkmaz as a player who’s “not a point guard, but he can play the position,” the 24-year-old is starting to see himself differently.
“In the beginning of the season, I was just feeling like, I’m bringing the ball down,” he said. “But right now, I’m feeling more like a point guard. I’m trying to make the calls. Doc is giving me that freedom, too. When I see Joel and Seth together, I call differently. When I see Tobias, I call different sets. I think I play more like a point guard right now instead of just the guy who’s trying to bring the ball down.”
After hurting his left hand in the fourth quarter Friday, Korkmaz took post-practice shots with tape on his index and middle fingers. He said the hand is “a little bit sore,” but that he’s able to play through the injury.
Danny Green, who was restricted to 15 minutes against San Antonio, again had a sleeve on the lower part of his left leg. Green said his calf “feels good.”
Little about the NBA is foreign to the veteran Green, but one new element of the Sixers’ offense this season has been the group of players replacing Simmons in the dunker spot. Maxey, Matisse Thybulle and Green were accustomed to being on the perimeter when Embiid posted up, not hanging out around the baseline.
Thybulle hasn’t merited much respect as an outside shooter, but he’s seemed to progress in the dunker spot through reading help defenders, making timely cuts and playing off Embiid.
“All of us have played in the dunker,” Green said. “Tyrese, this is his first year doing it. Matisse is obviously good at it. He’s figuring it out, but because he’s so athletic he’s able to catch and finish or catch and make plays at the rim, or find other guys. But he’s figuring it out and doing extremely well. So is Tyrese. … Obviously Joel, playing with him, it’s not that hard. He’s going to find the double team and he’s going to kick it out of the double team, and either you’ll be open or someone else will be open.”
A good answer for why the Sixers are winning is generally “Embiid’s great and keeps growing his game," and a weaker section of the schedule hasn't hurt. It's important (and not a coincidence), though, that the recent offensive success hasn’t been a solo show.
“The ball has found the right guy,” Rivers said. “I think we’re figuring it out. Obviously we play through Joel, right? We’re doing that, but we’re not doing it to a point where we’re stagnant. We’re doing it in rhythm.”