Tyrese Maxey going for 50 points, as he did in a Sixers win over the Pacers on Sunday, would have Philly fans glowing under any circumstances. But when Maxey puts on that kind of show on the same day that James Harden drops another stinker, it’s all the more sweeter.
We all know Daryl Morey wanted to play hard ball with Harden, and to some degree he did, but getting rid of him, even before you factor in all that he got in return, has proven to be an addition-by-subtraction home run. It’s allowed Maxey the full freedom to take over this Sixers team, which is now 8-1 as the No. 1 seed in the East.
Harden’s Clippers,, and 0-4 with Harden in uniform. On Sunday, Harden had 11 points on 12 shots, including 1-of-7 from 3-point land, and the Clippers lost the minutes he played by 28 while winning the minutes he didn’t play by 24.
That’s in keeping with the drag the Harden system has been on a team that was rolling before they added him. Through four games, the Clippers have lost Harden’s minutes by a cool 67 points. In all other minutes this season, they have outscored their opponents by 85 points.
Look at the points-per-possession numbers:
Sixers fans — hell, even the Sixers’ actual players — have to be ecstatic looking at those numbers as they rejoice in what Maxey is doing. He’s been the juice behind coach Nick Nurse’s offense — an offense that looks like it’s on fast forward compared to the paint-drying slog Doc Rivers was running with Harden.
In the wake of Harden complaining that the Sixers put him on a leash, and Joel Embiid rightly, if somewhat diplomatically, firing back that they actually “gave him the ball every possession,” it does not strike me as a coincidence that Embiid called Maxey “The Franchise” on social media.
My guess is Embiid was mostly sending that message to Maxey, but it’s hard for me to believe it wasn’t just a little bit aimed at Harden as well. Everything Harden liked to think he was for the Sixers, Maxey actually is. Hell, Embiid scored 37 points on Sunday, too. That’s 87 between the duo.
That’s not going to happen every game, obviously, but the fact is Maxey can be, and is being, used in many more ways than Harden ever could. He’s faster. He’s a better shooter. He moves more. The good vibes he brings are in direct contrast to the depressing Harden experience, and the 76ers are feeling like an entirely different team because of it.
“Usually me in the mornings, I don’t mess around. But [with Maxey], you can come in at seven in the morning, smiling, I’m like, ‘Dude you just woke up,'” Embiid said of his infectiously upbeat teammate. “That’s always the same energy. It doesn’t change. … It changes everything, it sets the tone.”
Yes, Harden and Embiid were a terrorizing two-man tandem, but the net gain of such a methodical pace and the relative alienation of all the other guys on the floor never proved to be worth the Harden price.
Maxey is doing his thing alongside his teammates, not at the expense of them. Everyone in Philly was pretty happy to land Harden if only so they could be done with the Ben Simmons saga. Well, the same is true with Maxey, who would feel like a straight-up oxygen tank for a suffocating franchise, even if he wasn’t playing like a legitimate MVP candidate.
It just so happens that he is. Maxey is averaging just under 29 points a game on 50/43/93 shooting splits. He made 20 of his 32 shots on Sunday, including seven of 11 3-pointers. In addition to this 50 spot being a career high, it also goes down as the highest-scoring game for a Sixers player since Allen Iverson put up 53 against the Hawks nearly two decades ago.
Maxey isn’t a great defender, but he can be pretty useful; he looks like Jrue Holiday compared to Harden. And that’s the prism through which the Sixers, and their fans, have to be looking at Maxey right now. It’s more than just what he’s doing for them; it’s what James Harden isn’t doing.
Or, looked at another way, what Harden is doing for the Clippers, who drank the same poisonous Harden Kool-Aid the Sixers drank a few years ago. Sure, it’s early, but these signs have been here for a while now. Harden is a drag, and Maxey is really good. It’s not something that popped up out of nowhere, in either case.
If Harden thinks he’s happy to be out of Philly, he ought to check in with a few Philly fans. They can’t wipe the smile off their faces. And everyone in the basketball world not named James Harden understands why.