CLEVELAND — When it comes to his role with the 76ers, Tyrese Maxey was arguably the most underrated player in Friday night’s Rising Stars Challenge.
The Sixers’ second-year guard plays a vital role on a championship-contending team that now features two future Hall of Famers in Joel Embiid and James Harden.
Yet, you would not have known that by the line of questions Maxey received during the Rising Stars media availability Friday morning.
Maxey was mostly asked about other players during his nine-minute availability for the updated version of the Rising Stars, featuring a four-team mini-tournament format this year. The Sixer was a member of Team Worthy.
Maxey missed his first three shot attempts and was held scoreless in the his team’s 50-49 loss to Team Isiah. The Sixers appeared to be on cruise control after scoring 19 points the night before in Philly’s 123-120 road victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
He was asked about his thrilling head-to-head with Memphis Grizzlies All-Star Ja Morant back on Jan. 25. The 21-year-old spoke knowledgeably about WNBA point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith’s game. Asked to name a WNBA player he’d like to team up with in a two-on-two contest, Maxey quickly mentioned 6-foot-8 Los Angeles Sparks center Liz Cambage. And he complimented the participants in the NBA All-Star weekend’s three-point contest.
Like he always does, Maxey gave thoughtful, informed answers.
Asked to name a fellow Rising Star he wants to play with or against, he mentioned Josh Giddey, the Oklahoma City Thunder rookie from Australia.
“Just the way he passes the ball,” Maxey said. “He looks fun to play with. He always plays pretty loose and the European style I guess, overseas, So I think that will be pretty cool.”
But what Maxey has been able to do this season is better than cool.
He exceeded expectations while taking over the starting point guard position due to Ben Simmons’ absence after he requested a traded and refused to play for the Sixers. Maxey is averaging 16.9 points and 4.6 assists while shooting 39.0% on three-pointers. He has scored 30 or more points on three occasions and is a major reason why the Sixers (35-23) are in the third place in the Eastern Conference standings, 2½ games behind Miami and Chicago.
His role will change after the All-Star break when Harden will make his debut. The Sixers acquired the perennial All-NBA selection, Paul Millsap and two first-round picks from the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Simmons, Seth Curry and Andre Drummond. Harden is assuming the primary ballhandling duties.
Maxey is used to this type of transition, between playing on the ball and off it. It’s the role he had during his lone season at the University of Kentucky.
“Just being a basketball player, honestly, kind of knowing when I had to be on the ball and off the ball, and just kind of feeding off those guys, [Harden] and Joel,” he said. “Shoot, Joel is our point guard sometimes, too. And I’ve been playing off him this whole season. So it’s been kind of great.”