Tyrese Maxey is not remotely oblivious to all he must juggle.
Back in training camp, when it first became apparent Maxey would replace three-time All-Star Ben Simmons as the Sixers’ starting point guard, head coach Doc Rivers thought about another Kentucky product who’d shared the floor with well-credentialed veterans.
“I want him to continue to be aggressive as a scorer, but now he has to run the team, too,” Rivers said. “Every shot he takes — we used to tell (Rajon) Rondo and other point guards, that’s a shot Paul (Pierce), Ray (Allen) didn’t take and Kevin (Garnett) didn’t take. So when you do take it, it better be a good one.
“So you kind of have to learn the feel of that. That’s a tough spot, because you’ve got to stay aggressive but you’ve also got to get everyone else involved. It’s why it’s a hard position.”
The video above looks at several aspects of that difficult balance. Feel free to watch it and come back here for more.
For Maxey, who turned 21 years old in November, fear is no obstacle. He’s happy to drive into 7-foot defenders’ chests and contort his body around them for crowd-pleasing layups. He’s an ebullient, perpetually undeterred personality who likes when the outcome is at stake and the team needs him to do something special.
Hesitation, of course, is separate from fear. And after a 10-game stretch between Nov. 4 and Nov. 22 when Maxey averaged 22.4 points and 4.9 assists on 51.8/42.9/91.9 shooting splits, he’s appeared less sure of himself.
That’s not the only reason he shot 29.2 percent from the floor over the next five games. Some of the improbable finishes he’d been pulling off turned into misses or blocked shots. After a rookie year in which he shot 30.1 percent from three-point range, a full season over 40 percent never seemed realistic. The cumulative toll of heavy minutes as the top scoring option for a shorthanded team also had to be a factor.
Rivers gave another assessment of Maxey on Thursday night after the Sixers’ loss to the Jazz, indicating he cares more about his approach than his shooting percentages.
“I'm glad he was aggressive,” Rivers said. “I want him to keep getting to the rim, use his speed. It was good to see him at the rim a couple of times (against Utah). That to me is what I like; that’s what he’s not done. He’s not been at the rim at all (recently). And the league will take the floaters and the in-between game, but they can’t handle him when he gets to the rim … so that’s what we need from him.”
Rivers’ messaging was similar last season, and he was pleased with how Maxey relied less on the floater despite his skill with that tool. Thus far, Maxey’s had a near-identical shot profile to his rookie year, with 35 percent of his attempts coming at the rim and 44 percent two-pointers not at the rim, per Cleaning the Glass.
He’s still been a low-volume three-point shooter — not compared to the sidelined Simmons, of course, but relative to the rest of the league. Even if outside shooting isn't a strength, the Sixers are best off when Maxey accepts open looks.
As Caitlin Cooper detailed for FiveThirtyEight, there’s something to the idea that a shooter’s reputation matters more than his actual efficiency, at least in terms of how defenses play. We’ll see how Maxey’s career and jumper develop, but it would almost certainly be positive if he’s known one day as a player that will take (and can make) threes in transition, when defenders go under screens, and when Joel Embiid kicks the ball out to him from the post.
Maxey has yet to have a breakout game since Embiid returned following approximately three weeks out with COVID-19. Their partnership clearly has tons of room to grow, and Embiid knows that shouldn’t all be on a second-year player. When Maxey’s turnover on an attempted pass to Embiid cost the Sixers in their double-overtime defeat to the Timberwolves, the 27-year-old took responsibility.
“I came off and I was trying to throw the pocket pass to Jo,” Maxey said. “And they tipped it. Instead of bounce passing it, I probably should’ve wrapped it around and (thrown it higher) to Joel.”
Embiid, sitting next to Maxey at the postgame press conference, then jumped in.
“It was on me,” he said. “I was supposed to roll and I popped, so it made his angle a little harder to throw that pass. Next time we’re definitely going to do a better job.”
To Maxey’s credit, that turnover stood out because giveaways are rare for him. According to Cleaning the Glass, his 7.3 turnover percentage is the lowest among point guards.
It’s obvious, though, that his head coach and star teammate would be fine with a few more turnovers if they coincided with an attacking mentality.
There’s always a balance with these things, as Maxey knows.
“I’ve been in Tyrese’s ear about just being aggressive, whether it’s creating for himself, whether it’s pushing the ball in transition,” Embiid said Thursday. “I want him to be as aggressive as he can, look for his own shot. He’s a big piece for us and we’re going to need him to be that guy that can create for himself on the perimeter.
“I’ve really been on him about just being aggressive and trying to take on that role. … I’m not going to have a great night every single night, so you need Tobias (Harris), Seth (Curry) — and Tyrese is one of those guys. I’ve been trying to help him and he’s going to get there.”