TORONTO — The 76ers look like a team that misses ... well ... um ... Ben Simmons.
For all his shortcomings, the All-Star point guard is a gazelle in transition, an assist machine, and an elite defender.
The Sixers were unable to duplicate his play in their 123-107 preseason-opening loss to the Toronto Raptors Monday night. The absences of Joel Embiid (rest) and Tobias Harris (right knee soreness) also contributed to the lopsided loss.
But the game provided a glimpse of what the Sixers can expect from the position while Simmons remains a no-show or gets traded. Right now, Tyrese Maxey and Shake Milton are the primary point guards.
Maxey, the Sixers’ first-round pick in 2020, finished with 10 points for 5-for-11 shooting, three assists, and four turnovers, and was a minus-15 in 21 minutes, 16 seconds as the starter. Milton, a second-round pick in 2018, had three points while making 1 of 6 shots to go with a team-high five assists and four turnovers in 19:26. He, too, was a minus-15.
Point-guard play was a glaring weakness against the Raptors.
“You know [we need] more point-guard play,” coach Doc Rivers said. “We got to be able to space the floor running stuff. We don’t have a lot of stuff in. So we knew they would struggle through some of that.”
Harris and Embiid are expected to handle the ball a lot in the halfcourt. Maxey slid to the corner in those scenarios during portions of training-camp scrimmages open to the media.
At this stage of his career, the 6-foot-2 Maxey is more of a slashing, scoring point guard.
He scored a career-high 39 points against the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 9. Then Maxey finished with 30 points in the regular-season finale against the Orlando Magic on May 16. He finished that rookie campaign averaging 8.0 points and 2.0 assists in 15.3 minutes
But his strengths don’t mesh well with the starting lineup. It needs someone who can get teammates the ball in certain spots and create spacing.
Maxey agreed that he needs to create space, find teammates, and cut down ill-advised turnovers.
“Other than that, keep pressuring the ball, keeping downhill, and keep staying aggressive,” Maxey added.
If Monday’s game proved one thing, it’s that Maxey is a work in progress as a pure point guard.
“Oh, yeah, he has a long way to go,” Rivers said. “He’s a second-year guy. He played one year in college [Kentucky], one year in the NBA. So we’re not threatened by that at all.
“I thought Shake didn’t play great [Monday], but he will, too.”
For the time being, Maxey is the starter, and Rivers wants to him to run the team better.
“I thought the pressure [defense] bothered him,” he said. “We were thinking about it. [When is] the last time he’s been picked up in his life? You know at a guard it’s rare. [The Raptors] did that. You can see it bothered him a little bit. But that’s something he will be able to handle.
“I have no doubt about that.”