TORONTO — Ben Simmons’ absence gives the 76ers the opportunity to look at Tyrese Maxey as a starting point guard.
They get to see how the second-year player has improved and whether he can make the next step. The latter is extremely important, at least until the Sixers trade Simmons, who refuses to play for them again.
So Maxey’s first dress rehearsal came during Monday night’s 123-107 preseason-opening loss to the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena. This marked the Raptors’ first game at their home arena since Feb. 28, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Andre Drummond showed why the Sixers acquired him to back up Joel Embiid and start at center when the MVP candidate doesn’t play. Drummond finished with a team-high 19 points to go with game highs of 14 rebounds and four blocks. His one problem was five turnovers.
Maxey’s preseason debut as starting point guard
Maxey was vocal and played with pace. He also showed an ability to get to basket. Those are the things the Sixers (0-1) knew about Simmons’ replacement.
Aside from that, he looked a little hesitant.
Maxey needs to get a better feel for teammates and cut down turnovers. His timing on passes could use some work. The Raptors’ defensive pressure bothered him. Maxey finished with 10 points on 5-for-11 shooting, 3 assists, and 4 turnovers in 21 minutes and 15 seconds.
In his defense, some of that could be attributed to not having Embiid (rest) and Tobias Harris (sore knee) on the floor. He played alongside them with Seth Curry and Danny Green in the starting lineup throughout training camp. Then on Monday, Drummond and Georges Niang replaced Embiid and Harris.
During Monday’s shootaround, coach Doc Rivers was asked what he wanted to see from Maxey.
“Just basketball,” Rivers said. “Just go out there and play. Too early, again. The more minutes that Maxey’s out there on the floor, the better for Max. But even with him, we are going to watch his minutes at some point.”
Maxey was focused on getting in the paint, help the team pick up the offense, play full court on defense and stay poised.
The 20-year-old has watched film from the postseason to go over the plays and see where teammates scored.
“At the end of the games, you got to know where certain guys like the ball, which side, right side, left side,” Maxey said. “[He looked] which ways guys want to go, which ways guys are better at.”
Drummond shows he’s a solid pickup
I know it’s just the preseason. But one gets a hint that Drummond will be a better Sixers backup center than Dwight Howard was last season.
Drummond, who finished last season with the Lakers, signed with the Sixers for the veteran minimum of $2.4 million after he failed to get a lucrative free-agent deal. Rivers told the 6-foot-10, 300-pounder during free agency that he would get him back to where he would garner a lucrative deal.
“The fact that we got him for the minimum should never be,” the coach said. “I think he’s better than that. And that’s on [him], and we have to fix that. But I need [his] cooperation to do that. He’s been great, and he’s really worked his butt off in camp and has come in in great shape and doing what we need him to do.”
All those things were obvious against the Raptors. Drummond was basically unstoppable against the young, overmatched Toronto post players. And it didn’t take long to realize that.
He had 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks while playing 8:32 in the first quarter. Drummond made 3 of 4 shots and went 5-for-6 from the foul line.
The two-time All-Star scored old-fashioned three-point plays on consecutive possessions. His final points of the quarter came on an alley-oop dunk with 3:28 left.
“I’m here for one reason and one reason only,” he said. “That’s to help this team in any capacity to play hard on both ends of the court, give it all I have, and play to exhaustion.”
For a former starter who made more than $28 million last season with the Cleveland Cavaliers and now finds himself a minimum-salary backup, that says something about Drummond and his ability to adjust.
“He’s kind of bought in,” Rivers said. “He asks every day, ‘What do you expect from me?’ That’s a pretty good question.”
Poor shooting blues
The Sixers experienced opening-game rust in regards to shooting the ball. They made just 8 of 34 three-pointers and 40-for-96 from the field.
Shake Milton (1-for-6), Matisse Thybulle (1-for-5), and Green (0-for-2) combined to shoot 2-for-13.
Rivers isn’t concerned about the team’s shooting woes.
“Last year, I remember Seth struggled early, and Danny,” he said. “Everybody was making [a deal out of that]. Seth knows how to shoot. Danny knows how to shoot. That’s not going away. It’s about getting their legs under them. Seth shot the ball well [Monday].
“But I’m using last year as an example. I don’t worry about shooters. I worry about non-shooters shooting. I don’t worry about shooters shooting.”