More Sports:

May 10, 2021

Practice notes: Sixers rookie Tyrese Maxey earns rave reviews for his work ethic

And what's the point of these practices, anyway?

Sixers NBA
Tyrese_Maxey_7_Hornets_Sixers_Frese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey.

Tyrese Maxey has found his opportunities in short supply during the second half of his rookie season with the Sixers. That's life on a contender for the Eastern Conference crown, but it hasn't slowed down or derailed the Kentucky product. In fact, the people around him say it has only brought out the best in the Texas native.

"There's nobody that works more. If you saw the minutes as far as that he has on the practice floor, he's so far ahead of everyone else, it's unbelievable," Doc Rivers said Monday. "He puts a lot of time in with my son, Spencer, and a lot of time with Sam [Cassell] as well. It's just amazing. Even yesterday, where we had a 'black day,' which means no one comes in, I know that he worked out because unfortunately, he's working out with my son.

"He was the only one. That's just who he is, he works at it, he wants to be good."

For the people who can only see Maxey when he takes the floor in a Sixers uniform, his progression feels rapid, as if he just rolled out of bed one day and figured out the pace of play through divine intervention. Tendencies have changed, almost all of them for the better. Maxey's runner package, at one point the beginning and end of his offensive contributions, is now just one weapon in his arsenal. He is beating opponents to the rim, making better reads as a passer, and showing confidence as a shooter, even if the results still lag behind the work.

It has been anything but easy, with Maxey putting in unseen hours as part of a low-minute group that Rivers has called the hardest working of any he has had during his NBA coaching career.

Maxey and the other young guys in that group, Isaiah Joe and Paul Reed, haven't really had much of a choice. With the Sixers using roster tinkering and Joel Embiid's MVP-level development to ascend to the top spot in the Eastern Conference, opportunities are not as plentiful as they would have been in the past. After getting serious burn with COVID protocols bumping other guys out of the lineup early in the season, Maxey's minutes are down. Teammates have raved about his ability to continue focusing on his goals while dealing with the first role uncertainty of his basketball life.

"To be able to play here and there but then to also take that opportunity and show growth in your game throughout the season, that's big. That shows the work he's put in off of the floor, outside when we play in the arena," Tobias Harris said Monday. "I can't say enough about how good he is. When you get young guys, the biggest thing I tell him is just be patient with this process. He's a guy who could be on one of these bottom teams playing X amount of minutes and averaging 17, 18, 20 points a game. But right now he's on a winning team and a team that's fighting for a championship, and there's more growth in that area in my opinion. Just being able to allow him to see the end game and stay in the moment is the biggest thing."

Compared to Sixers teams in years past, this is a group with an abundance of experience (and frankly, time during the pandemic) to pass on to young Maxey. There's a multiple-time champion in Danny Green, a former MVP-level player in Dwight Howard, a steady veteran in George Hill, and the aforementioned assistant coach Cassell, frequently seen during timeouts having one-on-one conversations with players who need them most. No one on the roster plays like him, but that's an asset for him, with lessons to learn from guys who had to make it their own ways.

Critically, Maxey is willing to take those lessons whenever and however they present themselves. Rivers consistently praises Maxey for his coachability, a trait not always common in the hard-headed men who make it as pro athletes in their teens and early 20's. There have been times when his malleability has almost been a negative — early in the season, Maxey showed a tendency to overpass and appease the veterans while he tried to get his feet under him at the NBA level. But he has figured out a healthy balance as the Sixers come down the stretch, a shining light during a period of, frankly, terrible basketball in Philadelphia and around the league.

Those old heads are taking notice. Hill, who has only had limited time to observe and play with the young man, believes the sky is the limit for the 20-year-old guard. 

"I'm super excited for him, I think he's going to be one of the top guards in this league for years to come," Hill said at practice Monday. "I'm always on him telling him to continue to stay ready and continue doing what he's doing because I love everything about him. The kid has heart, has a high motor, wants to learn, and [plays] the right way. I'm so excited for all of the success he has gotten so far, and I know there's way more in that bag that he's got. Looking forward to it."

Whether or not that's enough to put him in Doc Rivers' playoff rotation, mind you, is another matter entirely. Maxey has been one of the bench's best players in recent weeks, evading the rookie wall with one of his best stretches of the year. But he still finds himself in a dogfight for minutes when everyone is healthy and in uniform. With Furkan Korkmaz back in the mix at practice to open the week, Maxey may find himself parked on the pine once again, just hoping to get another shot.

No one in Philadelphia, though, is worried about whether he'll be ready when his number is called, whether it's for 20 minutes against the Pacers on Tuesday or five minutes as a change-of-pace in a Round 1 playoff game. And that quiet confidence in his play is the best compliment his play could receive.

"Tyrese is a great kid, great player. The thing that I love about him is any time he gets an opportunity, he takes advantage of it," Harris added Monday. "To be a vet and to be an influence on him, for me that's an honor."

Other notes

It was not a full practice session for Philadelphia on Monday, with three notable names out of the mix for the Sixers: Joel Embiid, Shake Milton, and Matisse Thybulle. The good news is that the first two guys fall in the "management" category of absences, held out just to give them a little bit of extra time to rest. There could be more of those in the next couple of weeks, and it may even extend to game nights as long as the Sixers can take care of business and close out the race for the No. 1 seed this week.

Thybulle's absence, on the other hand, is of slightly (and only slightly) bigger concern. Saturday night against the Pistons, he was able to come back into the game after Jerami Grant came crashing down on his hand, an ugly situation that felt like it could have gone much worse for Philly. Monday afternoon, Rivers said the hand was enough of a concern to keep him out of the mix at practice to avoid additional contact to the area.

"We didn't want anybody to hit it, just because that would take him out of any chance of playing tomorrow," Rivers said. 

While it feels like it's in the "just playing it safe" category, worth keeping an eye on nonetheless.

What are the Sixers accomplishing in these practices, anyway? They have been few and far between this season, a product of the condensed schedule that has forced teams to think about rest more than ever. And this is the league where "load management" has been a talking point for years, so you know they're thinking about fatigue a whole hell of a lot. 

To let the Sixers tell it, the focus right now is just about maintaining a rhythm and some semblance of consistency heading into the postseason. Even if they went balls-to-the-wall and played all their starters in each of their four remaining games, Rivers reminded reporters Monday they'd be taken out of their gameflow a bit next week. Thanks to the play-in tournament, playoff teams will get about a week of rest and practice time before the postseason begins, a nice bonus for everyone who was good enough this year to avoid playing single-elimination games for the fate of their season.

Up to this point, practice time hasn't been all that involved. Move over, Netflix and chill. Say hello to rest and chill.

"This season honestly is pretty ridiculous," Harris said. "When you look at the amount of games, when you do get practice time it's kind of dedicated to actually rest, it's more like individual instruction. Whereas like, normal season, you have two-day breaks, those are frequent in the regular season. Now, you get a two-day break, yesterday felt like a vacation for me. I was like man, I get to chill out, not have to worry or whatever, get my mind ready for the game. The schedule has been really compact and that does affect practice time and what you're able to do."

"But I don't think it's beneficial if today we came in here and was going live and full throttle, knowing our upcoming schedule. These are more like rest and chill days, just mental recovery days really."

Rest and chill has turned out to be a pretty valuable strategy for the Sixers on their in-between days. We'll see what they look like when the off days warrant intense practices to get it right between games of a high-level series.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports

Subscribe to Kyle's Sixers podcast "The New Slant" on Apple, Google, and Spotify