When Tyrese Maxey completed his rookie regular season with the Philadelphia 76ers, he had appeared in 61 of the 72 game schedule, averaging eight points and 15 minutes. When the NBA playoffs started, he was ready to do more. Maxey had three double-figure scoring games in the first-round series against the Wizards. And in a critical game six conference semi-final contest against the Hawks, he contributed 16 points playing 29 minutes in a five-point win.
The University of Kentucky product had won over the Philadelphia fan base with his enthusiasm and energy, not to mention his infectious smile. He hoped to build on that experience in his second season by earning more minutes and a permanent place in the rotation.
“My goal for the summer was to get one percent better every single day,” Maxey said at the start of training camp. “Now that we are here, I want to apply that and help the team win. There is one goal in mind, and that’s winning.”
When Maxey and the rest of his teammates arrived in Camden, NJ, to get ready for the 2021-22 season, there was one glaring absence; Ben Simmons was a holdout. The Sixers roster lacked a true backup point guard. The temporary job would have to be filled by Shake Milton, Tyrese Maxey, or Furkan Korkmaz. Simmons was a three-time all-star and named first-team all-defense last season, so big shoes had to be filled. Could Maxey assume those responsibilities?
Maxey’s college coach, John Calipari, strongly believed his former player could handle the job. He had said as much the day after the Sixers selected him No. 21 overall in the 2020 NBA draft.
“I thought he should have gone earlier,” Calipari said. “Let me tell you; there are a lot of people that are going to regret that they passed. There are about eight positions that will look back a few years from now who will say look where he went, and look where he could have gone.
“But he goes to Philly. Do you know who the last player Doc [Rivers] had from us? It was Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander]. I will go deeper; Sam Cassell was helping tutor John Wall in Washington, Shai, and now he has Tyrese. As an assistant coach in Philly, you have a guy, who played for me, took my team to the playoffs, won championships – Doc’s won championships. They are going to have a great run in Philly, and Tyrese is going to be a part of that.”
Fast forward to opening night of this season, and Maxey had earned the starting point guard spot. He helped his team beat the Pelicans by scoring 20 points, grabbing seven rebounds, handing out five assists, and turning the ball over just one time. Also included in his night were two made threes and a perfect night at the foul line.
It was just one game, but people saw a capable on-court leader who did things his predecessor did not; attempt three-pointers and make free throws. The Sixers proceeded to win eight of their first ten games before being ravaged by injury and players landing on the health and safety protocols list. But Maxey was a constant, and his game was growing. With that, compliments started pouring in. After a loss to the Bucks in November when Maxey led the way with 31 points, Doc Rivers acknowledged his second-year guard benefitted by being surrounded by veterans, but he gave greater credit where credit was due.
“Having all of those guys [veterans] is probably good for Tyrese. But Tyrese is good for Tyrese,” Rivers said. “He works. He listens. He watches film. He does everything you need to do to become better in basketball.”
There are nights Maxey struggles shooting the ball. After those games, he and his coach are often asked should he have found one of his experienced teammates? Striking that balance when to give and when to take is a work in progress.
“It’s tough,” Doc Rivers said. “He’s young, and he’s playing with a bunch of guys that are really good. Every time he shoots, he’s thinking, “Hell, I should’ve gotten that to Seth, Tobias, or Joel.” He’s got to keep picking his spots.”
There is a lot of basketball left in the season, but Tyrese Maxey is proving to be worthy of the company Coach Calipari put him in before he ever played an NBA game. The second-year numbers of Gilgeous-Alexander, Wall, and Maxey are almost identical, with all three averaging between 16 and 19 points and four to six rebounds. The assists for each have greater disparity, with Maxey currently averaging five dimes.
It’s become clear, setting a goal of getting better one percent every day adds up.