November 19, 2022
Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey is expected to miss three-to-four weeks due to a small fracture in his left foot, a source confirmed to PhillyVoice on Saturday evening. A team official said Saturday that Maxey will be reevaluated in approximately two weeks, but even if Maxey ends up on the positive end of that timeline, it's a big blow to a team already short on high-end firepower, and the first major setback of Maxey's young and promising career to date.
If you missed it on Friday night, Maxey stepped on Jevon Carter's foot while attempting to get a shot off in transition, howling in pain as he limped off past the basket afterward. After offering a few choice words and taking a pair of free throws, Maxey retreated to the locker room and was not seen again.
"I talked to him, he says what he always says. 'Coach, I'm good,'" Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said after the game. "But you know, I don't know he'll be good right away, would be my guess."
The injury comes at a terrible time for both Maxey and the Sixers, the former of whom exploded for 24 first-half points. Maxey had been struggling to find his way in a James Harden-less universe over the past couple of weeks, but he was sensational in Philadelphia's win over the Bucks, albeit in an abbreviated appearance. Even on his bad nights, Maxey has been one of Philadelphia's only shots of dynamism on the perimeter, and he has settled into a comfortable rhythm with Joel Embiid as the two operate most of Philadelphia's most important plays.
Maxey going down while Harden is already out of the lineup due to a foot injury of his own is a pretty devastating blow for the Sixers. Harden spoke to reporters earlier this week about his recovery process, relaying that he is on track and out of the boot he had to wear immediately after suffering the injury. Harden was able to return to the court for shooting drills on Thursday, Nov. 17, the first time he could do so since suffering that injury in a game on November 2nd.
On the original month timeline that was given for Harden's return to the floor, that would leave the Sixers without both members of the starting backcourt for eight games or more, perhaps slightly less if he's somehow able to return to the court by the time they play the Memphis Grizzlies on Dec. 2. While the Sixers have some winnable games during this upcoming stretch — a road game vs. Charlotte, and a pair of games against the Orlando Magic — there are no freebees when you have a roster missing the majority of its creative perimeter talent.
In the immediate term, responsibility will be passed on primarily to De'Anthony Melton and Shake Milton, the latter of whom has been with Joel Embiid longer than anybody else on the roster. The synergy they've built over the years is something the Sixers will have to lean on, and Milton will have to try to rediscover the scoring form that once had him as a nailed-on member of the rotation, often serving as Philadelphia's sixth man.
Philadelphia's guard situation is dire enough right now that we'll have to see if they decide to use the 15th roster spot they opted to leave open to start the year, a move that was made to preserve as much flexibility as possible early in the season. With the Sixers hard-capped, they have to carefully consider what moves they make all season, with each inch they moved toward the apron taking on extra importance.
Truthfully, one of the biggest concerns coming looking forward at this stretch is how it will overextend the guys left behind, primarily Joel Embiid, who is playing a gargantuan role at the center of both sides of the ball for Philadelphia. Though Embiid has obviously shown he can play Superman and rally this group with starters missing, doing so for an extended stretch is a different story. The Sixers will have to balance the priority of winning games in the short term with making sure they're not overtaxing their most important player, everyone aware of his health history and the general issues with pushing a seven-foot behemoth to his limits this early in the season.
(To date, I think the Sixers have done a relatively good job of that, Embiid clocking in just under 36 minutes per game for the season to date. We also need to keep an eye on somebody like P.J. Tucker, who is not going to have much to do with fixing the creativity problem but who will undoubtedly be leaned on more as the Sixers cope with the missing starter problem.)
The solution to their woes is probably going to be leaning further into the defensive identity they've started building over the past couple of weeks, with the Sixers rising up the ranks on that end to make up for the offensive slippage without Harden. This group now has few ways to regularly play uptempo basketball, and will have to dig in and get a lot of stops in order to hang in. Matisse Thybulle becomes an even more important player in that respect, which naturally heightens the importance of No. 22 hitting some shots to dissuade doubles sent in Embiid's direction.
And it goes without saying, but thoughts go out to Maxey during this process. As noted in our immediate recap of Friday night's win, few players in the league play with as much outward joy for the sport as Maxey does, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone with a bad thing to say about him. He's a spark of positivity in a team that often needs it, and it will be up to the rest of the group to band together in his absence, perhaps putting that smile right back on his face.
This story is developing...
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