The Philadelphia 76ers spent much of the 2021-22 season embroiled in controversy and drama. Whether it was Ben Simmons forcing his way out of Philly, a James Harden trade that didn’t yield the expected results, or Doc Rivers’ continued postseason failures, the season didn’t pan out the way everyone expected it to. Instead, they lost to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Aside from Embiid’s continued growth into one of the top players in the league, arguably the biggest bright spot for the Sixers was the development of second-year guard Tyrese Maxey. Maxey filled in for Simmons throughout the first half of the season and ended up forming an excellent backcourt tandem with Harden once he got traded over from the Brooklyn Nets.
Maxey believes Harden helped him step his game up
Maxey doubled pretty much all of his per-game averages from his rookie season, and he will head into his third year as a shoo-in for a starting guard role next season with the 76ers. His ability to fill in for Simmons early in the season was a huge reason Philadelphia was able to keep pace with the top teams of the Eastern Conference rather than falling out of the race.
While Maxey was good early on, his improvement from the beginning of the season to the end was hard to miss once the playoffs rolled around. He was usually Philly’s second-best player when Embiid was on the floor, and sometimes he was their best when he was off it. Things weren’t always that way, and Maxey credits Harden for helping him develop into the player he became towards the end of the season.
“When James even came in, I think I really got a clear vision of when I had to be aggressive to score and then aggressive to create for others. I think it really did help me, and my game blossomed. It helped me open up and see the floor better.” - Tyrese Maxey, Bally Sports.
Will the Maxey/Harden partnership run it back for an entire season?
For the most part, Harden’s fit with the 76ers didn’t ever seem to work fully. He was incredibly passive with the ball and failed to integrate himself into their offense fully. But the one player who benefited the most from the Harden trade was Maxey.
Maxey’s ability to take advantage of his matchups while Harden and Embiid received a lot of attention was huge. They probably wouldn’t have made it as far in the playoffs as they did without him. He has always been great on drives to the basket, but his three-point percentage sat at 42.7 percent this season, which was over 12 percent better than his rookie season.
Harden and Maxey could form a dominant backcourt duo for Philadelphia if they are allowed to play an entire season together. The question remains whether or not they will get that chance to do so.
Harden has a player option in his deal this offseason, so he could technically become a free agent if he wanted to, despite basically forcing his way to the Sixers just a few months ago. Philadelphia’s front office has also reportedly been exploring potential options to move away from Harden this offseason.
Harden will likely end up sticking around with the Sixers moving forward, but there’s a chance that his tenure with the team could already be over. Maxey benefited greatly from playing alongside Harden, but Harden failed to make an impact on the rest of his new team. That failure could mean that Maxey is forced to take on an even bigger role in his third season in the league, and Philadelphia would have to hope the dynamic young guard could continue to blossom.