CHARLESTON, S.C. — 76ers assistant Sam Cassell and skill development coach Spencer Rivers showed up unannounced at Doc Rivers’ Los Angeles area home this summer, adamant that the head coach needed to help them persuade Tyrese Maxey to ease up on his offseason workouts.
Add that to the growing list of examples of Maxey’s renowned work ethic. The dynamic combo guard’s innate diligence combined with blossoming talent are reasons to expect another leap from Maxey following a breakout second season. While Doc Rivers wants Maxey to remain primarily an aggressive scorer, he has also focused on his decision-making with the ball, adding strength to his 6-foot-2 frame, and becoming a more vocal leader.
“This is probably my first year kind of knowing what my role is going in,” Maxey said Wednesday after practice at The Citadel. “The last couple [training camps], I always told everybody that I’m preparing for whatever Coach Doc throws at me. But now I know exactly what he wants from me. I know what I have to bring.”
Maxey is coming off a 2021-22 season during which he averaged 17.5 points and 4.3 assists per game, blending explosive drives to the basket, speedy transition finishes, and three-point shooting that reached a blistering clip following the blockbuster trade for James Harden.
Rivers said he has noticed a more confident Maxey following two peculiar training camps to begin his NBA career. He had no summer league or unofficial team workouts leading up to his rookie season during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — and then he missed initial practices when he tested positive for the virus. Last year, he was thrust into the starting point guard role when All-Star Ben Simmons did not report to camp.
“This year, he knows who he is,” Rivers said of Maxey. “Now he just has to keep getting better at basketball.”
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To prepare for his third season, Maxey said he tweaked the structure of his summer workouts. Instead of running through skill work without defenders, Maxey said he went “live” more to simulate making in-game reads to create shots for himself and teammates.
Among those he matched up against were his childhood best friend in Dallas along with teammate Shake Milton in Philly. Maxey also quickly linked in Los Angeles with rugged defender De’Anthony Melton after the Sixers acquired him in a draft-night trade, and his new teammate was stunned when he learned that their 9 a.m. session was already Maxey’s second of the day. Maxey and Harden also regularly worked together, further building chemistry as a still-relatively-new backcourt tandem while also “pushing” each other while playing one-on-one.
“I don’t want to lose to James,” Maxey said. “It’s like playing against your big brother. There’s been times where we’ve played pickup in the past couple weeks and we’re going to bump heads, because I’m just extremely competitive like that. And he is, too, which is really good.”
Additionally, Maxey said he lifted weights four out of every five days to gain the muscle to better fight through screens, knowing he must improve defensively for a Sixers team with a goal of becoming the NBA’s best on that end of the floor after adding Melton, P.J. Tucker, and Danuel House Jr. And though Maxey’s vivacious personality instantly endeared him to the Sixers and their supporters, he wants to more deliberately pull teammates aside to offer advice and hold them accountable.
Even with that more defined role, these initial practices are still providing Maxey with plenty of teaching moments. During Tuesday’s session, Rivers gave Maxey a hard time for not bringing the ball up on enough possessions. Maxey said Harden echoed Rivers’ message, imploring him to not defer. Rivers understands it will likely take “years” for Maxey to become a feared facilitator, but “when a guy’s open, I want him to see him every once in a while,” the coach said.
“That will come,” Rivers said. “I’m patient with that one. I’d rather for him to be an aggressive scorer.”
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Maxey also acknowledges that he is still learning how to smartly allocate his workload. He took his first vacation as a professional this summer, enjoying the downtime with his family in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, but adding, “It was too long for me. It was too much doing nothing.” After Tuesday’s practice, however, Maxey spent about six hours playing the Madden and FIBA video games with Harden, Melton, Tucker, Joel Embiid, and Georges Niang instead of going back to the gym for a night session.
Yet before allowing himself to decompress, Maxey lingered on the floor long after practice had concluded, launching three-pointers with Harden and Melton.
“He’s done everything,” Rivers said of Maxey. “More than we’ve asked him to do.”