Sixers: 3 players who must step up with James Harden out

James Harden, Sixers (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
James Harden, Sixers (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Without James Harden, Tyrese Maxey can make his All-Star case

The Sixers will rely extensively on Joel Embiid now that Harden is out. But it doesn’t have to be a one-man show. Tyrese Maxey is presently making another leap, averaging 24.2 points and 3.4 assists on 51.6 percent shooting (46.8 percent from deep). Now, he will be the Sixers’ primary source of playmaking and tempo in the backcourt.

We have seen Maxey put up numbers with shorthanded lineups in the past. While Embiid will dominate halfcourt possessions, Maxey should still get plenty of opportunities to attack the rotating defense — especially if Embiid commits to locating teammates out of double teams. The Sixers should also ratchet up the pace significantly, making a point to let Maxey run loose in transition. Especially when Embiid sits.

The numbers listed above already indicate All-Star potential. Now, Maxey’s scoring average could creep up even higher. His absurd efficiency will be put to the test without Harden easing the ball-handling burden, but there’s every reason to believe Maxey can thrive as lead ball-handler and true No. 2 option (he did it for half of last season already, though he didn’t look nearly this good).

The biggest number to watch in the box score will be Maxey’s assists. We have seen flashes of passing improvement, but his ability to manipulate the defense and locate teammates will be far more critical without Harden. If Maxey can establish pick-and-roll chemistry with Embiid and consistently leverage his dribble penetration to create looks for teammates — whew, the entire city of Philadelphia collapse from joy.

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