After the 76ers broke their huddle at the end of the first training-camp practice of the 2021-22 season, Tyrese Maxey, Shake Milton, and Seth Curry gathered at one basket inside the team’s practice facility to work on off-the-dribble moves, pull-up jumpers and catch-and-shoot three-pointers.
This is where the Sixers’ point-guard situation currently stands, after a disgruntled Ben Simmons officially missed their first formal practice and remains unlikely to return to the team anytime soon.
Maxey, Milton, and Curry are not multi-time All-Stars and Defensive Player of the Year runners-up like Simmons. Sixers coach Doc Rivers even concedes that Maxey, who can currently be penciled in as the projected starter, has a learning curve because point guard is not his natural position. Yet that trio will lead a wider range of players Rivers feels comfortable with initiating the offense off a rebound.
“Last year, at least with Ben, we more gave [the ball] to him every time,” Rivers said, “because of his ability to get to the paint and make plays. This year, we’ll probably do something different.”
When asked at Monday’s media day about the point-guard pecking order without Simmons, Rivers quipped, “I think you’ll figure that out. I don’t think that’s that hard [to guess].”
Maxey worked with the starting group — alongside Curry at the other guard spot, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid — during a limited media viewing portion of Tuesday’s practice. Milton was with the second unit, presenting Curry with the flexibility to toggle between both units and backcourt spots.
But Rivers added that 6-foot-7 wing Furkan Korkmaz and power forward Georges Niang were “very effective” at bringing the ball up with the reserves.
“We don’t want that unit to feel like they have one guy that is your pure point guard,” Rivers said. “And really, the same with the first unit. Tyrese will bring it up a lot. But if Tobias gets it, I want him to break out with it. If Seth gets it, I don’t want him to wait.”
Thanks to Maxey’s development as a rookie, a strong showing at summer league and a relentless work ethic, the chatter around him indicates he is poised for a breakout second season.
Rivers stressed multiple times at media day that Maxey, who averaged eight points and two assists in 15.3 minutes per game last season, will be a crucial part of the Sixers whether or not Simmons rejoins the team. And unlike last year, when Maxey navigated a rapid turnaround following the NBA draft and missed time at training camp while in health and safety protocols, he said Monday he has “never been this excited to practice.”
During that first workout, Harris said he was impressed with how Maxey managed the offense and set teammates up to score. As Maxey gets more comfortable in the role, Harris expects him to expand his ability to play with teammates in halfcourt sets, use his speed to get downhill to finish at the basket, and improve his leadership as a young player.
“Just to run the show,” Harris said of what he wants to see from Maxey. “I think when you’re at that point guard spot, playing at the 1, [it’s important] really to be patient, be poised. ... He’s continuing to evolve into his game.”
Maxey’s effusive personality makes the fact that he is close friends with Simmons much less awkward than it could be during this period of uncertainty for the franchise. They are both represented by agent Rich Paul, and now both train with Chris Johnson in Los Angeles during the summer.
Maxey, who first met Simmons during a pre-draft workout, also shot down a report that, because of that Klutch Sports connection, he also wants out of Philadelphia.
“I don’t know where that came from,” Maxey said. “It’s funny. Me and Rich were sitting there laughing at it. I love being here and I love the city.”
Milton, now entering his fourth NBA season, joked that he “[looked] kind of swole” while examining himself on screen at media day. He worked on his body while training in Dallas this summer. Perhaps more importantly, he worked on his three-point shot and his defense.
Milton hopes improvements on that end of the floor will make him a contender for more minutes after his role diminished down the stretch last season. He played just 10.1 minutes per game during the playoffs, which coincided with Maxey’s emergence.
“I want to be the type of player who’s in the game when it matters most,” Milton said. “To be able to do that on this team, you’ve got to be able to get stops. … Last year, that was something that really ate at me. Of course, you’re on the sideline supporting your teammates, but you want to help them win. For me, I think defense is going to be the key to that.”
Curry, meanwhile, prides himself on possessing the versatility to play on or off the ball, and with either group. He said at media day that he is pleased with how he and Embiid played off each other in the pick-and-roll and on dribble handoffs last season, and wants to “continue to find ways to make the game easy for him, like he does for all of us.”
“I’ve got lot of different layers to my game,” said Curry, who shot a blistering 50.6% from three-point range in the playoffs. “Nothing new. … I feel like I can adapt to any situation, so no matter what the team needs from me, I’m ready to do it.
“Every season, every month, every part of different seasons call for different things from us as a team, as individuals. I want to be a well-rounded player that does a lot on the floor.”
Rivers acknowledged that Simmons’ absence most hurts the Sixers’ depth at point guard. They added veteran George Hill at last year’s trade deadline but then released him this summer before he signed with the Milwaukee Bucks. When president of basketball operations Daryl Morey was asked about potential moves to acquire another point guard, he said, “We love the players we have.”
So for now, that end-of-practice, point-guard shooting group will remain a trio.