Sixers: 3 players who have to step up after 0-3 start

Sixers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Sixers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /
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Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /

Can Tyrese Maxey make the leap?

On the surface, it’s hard to complain about Tyrese Maxey‘s production so far. He’s averaging 20.3 points per game on 46.8 percent shooting. His 3-point percentage his momentarily down (31.3 percent), but his volume is up and regression to the mean is all but inevitable. For the No. 3 option behind two ball-dominant superstars like Joel Embiid and James Harden, it’s hard to ask for more.

And yet, here I am asking for more. All summer we’ve been talking about the third-year leap for Maxey. He already made unfathomable strides between years one and two, but this could be the year he explodes into the national conscience. Many pegged him as the preseason favorite to win Most Improved Player.

So far, Maxey’s points are up and the shooting will presumably follow. But, has he truthfully improved, or are the Sixers simply making it an emphasis to get Maxey more involved? Probably some of both. But Maxey’s mild scoring surge has not been paired with improved playmaking or more dynamism off the dribble. He’s still mostly a play finisher. That’s fine when Embiid and Harden consume so many possessions, but it does limit the Sixers’ offensive ceiling if Maxey is still largely reliant on others to kickstart his opportunities.

The far greater issue, however — and the reason Maxey makes this particular list — is the defensive side of the ball. Philly’s defense has been a mess to open the season for a variety of reasons. Joel Embiid just wasn’t very good the first couple games, nor have James Harden and Tobias Harris been especially locked in on D. But by far the biggest weak point in the starting five right now is Maxey.

At 6-foot-2, Maxey faces the natural challenges of being a small guard in the increasingly wing-oriented NBA. But, he’s an absurd athlete who visibly added muscle over the summer. He should be able to stick at the point of attack and provide some resistance to opposing ball-handlers. The effort has always been there for Maxey, but right now he’s allowing dribble penetration far too easily. That collapses the defense around him and affords open shot after open shot to the opposition.

If Maxey wants to qualify as a true third star — if he wants to affect winning on the level of other All-Stars around the Eastern Conference — then his defense simply has to improve. There are plenty of weak defenders who make up for it with offensive firepower, but Maxey wants to separate himself from the crowd. He has to be better moving forward.

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