BOSTON — It’s no secret that Tyrese Maxey has been one of the 76ers’ early-season MVP candidates.
However, the point guard headed into Wednesday’s 88-87 loss to the Boston Celtics two days removed from his worst shooting performance of the season. Maxey scored nine points on 2-for-12 shooting while finishing with nine assists and eight rebounds in Monday’s win against the Orlando Magic.
Under normal circumstances, Maxey’s outing would be chalked up as just an off-shooting night. Things like that are bound to happen during an 82-game season. However, the performances came on the heels of him shooting 5-for-15 in Saturday’s double-overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Never mind that he also shot 5-for-15 in last Wednesday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors, the final game of a six-day road trip.
And things weren’t any better against the Celtics. Maxey shot 3-for-13 en route to finishing with a season-low six points.
Four straight subpar shooting performances would suggest that Maxey, who’s logging a team-high 35.7 minutes a game, may have hit a wall or entered a slight shooting slump. But the timing has raised some questions.
Joel Embiid returned Saturday after being sidelined nine games after testing positive with COVID-19. Maxey just happened to struggle to shoot the ball during the first three games of Embiid’s return.
The result suggests Maxey might need a transition period as he readjusts to playing with Embiid. There were times he was indecisive and lacked the aggressiveness he played with before Embiid came back.
“There’s no issues with Maxey playing with Joel,” Doc Rivers said before Wednesday’s shootaround. “Maxey didn’t play well the other night. That had nothing to do with being with Joel. You know Maxey has played great all year with Joel. So that’s not going to change.”
The Celtics game will mark just the eighth time this season the Sixers played with their opening-day starting lineup of Embiid, Maxey, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, and Seth Curry. Maxey is the only starter to play in all 22 games.
While Embiid and Harris were out, Maxey’s role was to score points. His teammates fed off the excitement that he brought to the court.
Now with the starting lineup intact, the Sixers have gone back to having Harris initiate a lot of the offense. The team runs a chunk of their half-court sets through Harris and Embiid. The duo passes to cutting teammates on the perimeter and finds open three-point shooters.
As was the case before the injuries mounted, the Sixers want Maxey to find a happy medium between running the team and being aggressive.
Maxey has scored in double digits in 19 of his 22 games of the season. He finished with nine points on Monday, snapping a streak of 16 straight games with 10 points or more. The 21-year-old was the team’s third-leading scorer (18.0 points per) and leader in assists (5.0) heading into Wednesday.
“I think where people get lost is when Joel’s out, someone’s got to score,” Rivers said. “You know, that’s just the way it is. When Joel and Tobias is out, someone’s got to score. When Joel, Tobias, and Seth are out, someone’s got to score more points.
“And when they come back, that doesn’t mean that same someone is going to score the same amount of points. It’s asinine to think that way.”
But Maxey’s scoring has taken a major hit while playing with Embiid. Maxey averaged 22.3 points in the games Embiid missed compared to 14.1 in games with the star center at his side. So his role is definitely different.
Maxey goes from being the go-to guy to having to get teammates — especially Embiid — involved when playing with a full-deck of players.
“It’s tough,” Rivers said earlier this week. “He’s young. He’s playing with a bunch of guys that are really good. And every time he shoots, he’s thinking, ‘Hell, should’ve got that to Seth, to Tobias, to Joel.’ He’s got to keep picking his spots.”