It’s not out of the question to think three players 22 years old or younger will play meaningful on-court roles for the 2021-22 Sixers.
Judging by how head coach Doc Rivers has talked about Tyrese Maxey, Paul Reed and Isaiah Joe, he seems to think that trio will put the necessary effort in to push for minutes.
“I tell you, (Maxey) and Paul Reed and Isaiah, along with our skill development (staff), if you watch them work — and listen, I’ve been coaching 20 years — this is the best group I’ve seen of what you would call the low-minute group,” Rivers said in April. “It’s the hardest-working low-minute group I’ve ever been around.
“They work every day; they play scrimmages; they play hard; they execute our stuff. And that is hard for a rookie. You’re not playing a lot. You don’t know if you’re going to play. And to show up every day and want to work on stuff that you probably won’t be able to do, man, it’s hard. And so I give them a lot of credit.”
Maxey, who won’t turn 21 until Nov. 4, is the closest to making a regular impact.
“Obviously Maxey wasn’t every day in the rotation, but we feel he has a really good chance to step into that rotation next year," Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said at his end-of-season press conference.
The Kentucky product aimed to be attentive to the details of NBA defense and draw upon all the knowledge around him.
“I think just knowing personnel, for sure,” he said on June 2 of his defensive progress. “And also just knowing certain spots to be in. I’m still asking a lot of questions. I ask Danny Green, I ask George Hill, I ask (assistant coach Dan Burke) all the time to make sure. Where’s the right spots to be? When to tag, when not to tag and different things like that. So I’m still learning, and I’m trying to get one percent better at it every single day.”
Though Maxey said at his exit interview that he plans to work on every part of his game, outside shooting should be a focus. He displayed promise on occasion as a shooter in Year 1, rarely appearing to lack confidence, but wound up at 30.1 percent from three-point range after knocking down 3 of 4 in the Sixers’ regular-season finale.
Beyond the basic benefit of improving his efficiency, greater success from long distance would make Maxey a more well-rounded offensive threat. And, if he plays heavier minutes alongside Joel Embiid, chances are he’ll have quite a few open catch-and-shoot threes stemming from opponents double teaming the MVP runner-up.
Joe and Reed entered the Sixers’ rotation when the team’s roster was briefly torn apart in January by the NBA’s health and safety protocols following Seth Curry's positive COVID-19 test. Though they didn’t impress as much as Maxey with his 39-point performance against the Nuggets, both second-round picks had nice moments this season.
Joe shot 17 of 39 (43.6 percent) in five games between Jan. 9 and Jan. 16. Reed won G League MVP and was an energetic, productive fan favorite in NBA garbage time.
If the Sixers don’t re-sign unrestricted free agent Furkan Korkmaz and opt against adding much wing depth, perhaps that opens a door for Joe.
“Isaiah’s skill set, he knows who he is,” Rivers said in March. “He really can shoot the ball. He can shoot the ball off the catch, he’s working on his dribble. He’s already an NBA defender, which is nice for a shooter. … He’s going to be a good player.”
Regardless of whether the Sixers bring back free agent Dwight Howard, the team is not presently well-stocked in the frontcourt. For Reed, carrying over anything close to his 44.4 percent mark from three-point range in the G League would help his case for playing time.
However, proving to Rivers he knows his role and can be trusted to execute it with minimal mistakes is likely most essential. Despite his intriguing potential, he didn’t clear that hurdle as a rookie.
“(Embiid) taught me a lot of things this year,” Reed said at his exit interview. “He taught me a lot. He taught me how to get fouls, how to draw fouls and how to keep your confidence up at all times. With Doc, I learned a lot from him, too. He taught me to always be ready for your opportunities, because you never know when you’re going to get them again. And when you get in you’ve got to capitalize because if you don’t, that could be your last one.”
With a smile, the 6-foot-9, 210-pound Reed indicated he intends to return a physically stronger player.
“What I really want to focus on a lot is my passing ability, my shooting ability — just being more consistent and getting stronger; being able to finish at the rim against bigger players; moving guys out of the way with these new muscles I’m (going to) have,” he said. “So that’s what I want to get better at. And my explosiveness, too — getting more bounce and (being) more athletic.”
A more muscular, consistent Reed could be a significant factor for next year’s Sixers. If he, Maxey and Joe have their way, they won’t be low-minute scrimmage participants forever.