Sixers: How should the rotation change once Tyrese Maxey returns?

Tyrese Maxey, Sixers Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
Tyrese Maxey, Sixers Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

Tyrese Maxey could return to the Philadelphia 76ers’ lineup as soon as Friday, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. The Sixers have been without their star guard since Nov. 18, when he suffered an unfortunately-timed foot injury. Before the extended hiatus, Maxey was averaging career-best numbers across the board: 22.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists on .462/.422/.738 splits.

One has to figure Maxey will, eventually, return to the starting five. There have been rumblings around the fandom about Maxey coming off the bench, and Rivers even acknowledged the possibility as the team reintegrates Maxey over time. But, once he’s fully back, there’s no justifiable way to bring your third-best player off the pine.

So, how will the rotation — which has undergone considerable, constantly-shifting adjustments since Maxey hit the I.R. list — change? Or, perhaps more importantly, how should it change?

What Tyrese Maxey’s return means for the Sixers’ starting five

First off — and this might be the most important implication of Maxey’s return — the Kentucky product should afford James Harden more time on the bench. The Sixers’ 33-year-old former MVP is currently leading the NBA in minutes despite years of intense  mileage on his body and concerning recent injury trends. The reason for Harden’s unwieldy burden can be directly linked to Maxey’s absence.

The Sixers generally stagger Harden and Maxey, keeping one All-Star level guard on the floor at all times. With Maxey available to set up the offense for stretches, Harden’s minutes per game should plummet. Even 4-5 extra minutes of rest each night could add up over the course of a long 82-game season. The Sixers need to preserve Harden for the playoffs.

Also, there’s the matter of P.J. Tucker’s ongoing offensive struggles combined with De’Anthony Melton’s revelatory performance over the last month. Can the Sixers really justify moving Melton back to the bench while Tucker, now 37 years old and clearly running out of tread on his tires, is cemented in the starting five?

Personally, I’m a fan of Adam Aaronson’s proposed solution on Twitter: oscillate between Tucker and Melton depending on matchup. If the Sixers are facing a smaller team with a twitchy lead guard, you’re going to get a lot more out of Melton in that wing spot. If you’re facing the Bucks or Nets, however, and you need someone to body up Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kevin Durant, it’s probably wise to give Tucker the nod. Flexibility is a wondrous thing, but unfortunately, Doc Rivers is Philadelphia’s head coach. So, don’t hold your breath.