PHILADELPHIA — James Harden did his thing just as training camp beckoned, so Nick Nurse looked around the room and wondered. Somewhere among 20-something highly compensated professional basketball players, there had to be at least one championship-level point guard.
Tyrese Maxey, maybe.
Maybe he could play the position while Harden effectively went on strike, then keep the job whenever an inevitable trade occurred.
“I think he will get the ball in his hands a lot more,” Nurse said at the time. “That automatically will give him opportunities for pace and for offensive creation, both for himself and his teammates. He’ll be able to go through a learning curve. He’ll see different schemes and match-ups that will look different to him than they did a year ago. But I think the short answer is, he is going to get more chances.”
That was it, at the time — the short answer, as the new coach said, implying it was hardly a season-long vow. While never really appearing comfortable when asked to play there in his first three NBA seasons, Maxey would be asked to try the point, to get more people involved in the offense but also to continue his growth as a volume point-producer and effective three-point shooter.
Nurse even had a description at the time: Plan B, he called his post-Harden plans. But was he convinced that handing the ball to Maxey was in the best interests of the team and the player, who had done enough last season to bob into All-Star conversation? Well, as recently as a week ago, there was Nurse wondering out loud about that Plan B, insisting that the lab report was not ready for publication.
“I’ve said this a lot, that I want him to be more aggressive than he’s being,” Nurse said. “I think he’s a prolific scorer. He’s got burner speed going to the basket. He’s got the deep three-ball. And he’s got to take those chances more often.
“He’s kind of running a pretty good floor game right now. He’s going to what’s open. And I think that was everybody’s question: Can he create for somebody else?”
But that night, Maxey was the best player on the floor in a victory over the Celtics, creating fastbreaks, hitting open shots and open men, defending with passion. By Sunday, he would go for half-a-hundred in a triumph over Indiana. On Tuesday, even in a loss to the Pacers, he supplied 27 points and five assists — the sixth time in the Sixers’ first 10 games that he had at least 25 and five, tying for second in the NBA.
And isn’t that what he predicted if not promised when the season began?
“I’m ready for whatever,” Maxey had said. “They were talking about Plan A or Plan B, but I’m ready for Plan C, D and, all the way down to Z. I’ve been doing a lot of things to find ways to be the best version of Tyrese Maxey I can be.”
Since camp, Nurse has requested a 20-game grace period before all of his decisions and results could be accurately critiqued. Yet there he was Tuesday basically declaring the Maxey issue closed, just a week after expressing a preference to keep it open.
“I think our biggest challenge going into this thing was what he was going to look like with the ball in his hands, over and over and over and over, high-volume things,” Nurse said. “Usually, when you have those high-volume things happen and you’ve got the ball so much, you are going to get assists almost by default, just because you’ve got it and guys are making shots. And you are going to turn it over, almost by default, sometimes.
“But he’s been great. I think he’s just made the easy plays. He’s not trying to thread the needle. He’s not trying to razzle-dazzle with his passes. He’s just making the plays that are in front of him, and that’s just solid basketball.”
That’s it, the secret to the position. When Maxey should shoot, he shoots. When he should handle, he handles. When a teammate is open, he passes the ball that way without thinking. It’s not the only reason the Sixers had played .800 basketball through 10 games — that J. Hans Embiid has a chance to be pretty good, too — but it is why they didn’t play .500 basketball.
“I thought we would see more way-ups and way-downs with this thing,” Nurse said. “But he has made a lot of progress in these games running the team. We just seem a lot more organized than we were on Opening Night. So maybe he was a little closer to a point guard than we all thought he was. Because he sure looks like a very, very good one now.”
There is no maybe about that.
Contact Jack McCaffery at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Berkshire mont