Film Study: Tyrese Maxey's Strange Passivity Vs. Minnesota
Regardless of who is on the floor, Maxey needs to have a much higher willingness to make his presence felt late in games
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While the Sixers went just 2-7 during their Joel Embiid-less and (partially) Tobias Harris-less stretch over the past few weeks, there was an obvious positive takeaway in the form of the growth that we saw from Tyrese Maxey. During those nine games after Embiid’s COVID diagnosis, Maxey excelled as the lead man in the pecking order offensively, leading the team in scoring and keeping the offense afloat during that time.
As the lead shot creator during that stretch, there was no question as to what Maxey’s mentality should be -- it was carte blanche for the young point guard, and the Sixers needed him to create a shot opportunity on virtually every possession that he was on the floor.
As the Sixers’ stars returned to the lineup on Saturday night -- the team’s first game with a full strength starting lineup since October 30th -- there naturally had to be an adjustment on the part of Maxey, transitioning from lead shot creator to a more balanced role that involves catering to players like Embiid and Harris.
Throughout the game, there were moments in which Maxey struggled to find the right balance of when to call his own number. He disappeared for stretches of the game, went scoreless in both overtime periods, and had a crucial turnover late in the game on an obviously telegraphed pass to Embiid. He seemed to overcompensate for the addition of his star teammates, too often opting to defer instead of looking to create a shot.
Throughout the fourth quarter and overtimes, Maxey’s timidness on pick and rolls was a constant theme in the Sixers’ offense. Virtually every possession late in the fourth quarter and in the overtimes unfolded exactly like this: Maxey runs a pick and roll with Embiid, doesn’t even look to turn the corner, and loops a lazy pass to Embiid.
That predictability led to the final turnover that sealed the game for the Timberwolves. Knowing that Maxey wasn’t even considering making a play for himself, Russell peels off of him early, and intercepts the pass.
With Maxey operating at this level of passivity, it almost doesn’t make sense to have the ball in his hands -- if the sole point of the play is to get the ball to Embiid, why not have Seth Curry run the pick and roll, since he’s a threat to make the defense pay if they overcommit to Embiid?
By the way: it wasn’t just scripted pick and roll situations where Maxey was passive. Even within the flow of the offense, Maxey hardly so much as considered capitalizing on his openings; he seemed hellbent on getting rid of the ball almost as soon as it touched his hands.
Much of his passivity in the clips above has to do with a lack of confidence in his jump shot; a player who trusts his jumper shoots the ball in a couple of those situations. But I don’t attribute Maxey’s passivity as being entirely related to jump shot hesitancy, or even late game butterflies. I often see Maxey being overly deferential even in normal, mid-game situations.
My gripes with these types of situations are more subtle, but let’s use these plays as examples. In this clip, Maxey has space to attack downhill in the pick and roll, but instead opts to skip a pass to Matisse Thybulle. Then, after Thybulle’s drive dissolves, Maxey defers to Georges Niang to create a shot with 10 seconds left on the shot clock.
As the lone shot creator on the floor, alarm bells should go off in Maxey’s head when the offense resets and he gets the ball with 11 seconds left on the shot clock. He has to know that it’s his job to create a shot in this situation, or else the possession has a chance of ending in a Georges Niang floater. Again, this individual possession is far from egregious, but when it happens over and over, it becomes a problem.
This possession from the third quarter is another such example. I understand the urge to not want to over-dribble, but what exactly is Matisse Thybulle supposed to do with the ball in the corner with eight seconds left on the shot clock?
Even if Maxey didn’t want to go into his isolation bag in that situation, there are better options. He’d be better off taking a moment to survey the floor, direct traffic, and get some type of offense flowing. With this play and many others, Maxey seems to have the urge to play hot potato with the ball whenever the offense stalls, rather than taking charge and getting things organized. He needs to take more ownership as a decision maker in the offense -- he can’t always be getting rid of the ball the second it touches his hands with 10 seconds on the shot clock. It’s his responsibility as the point guard to re-establish order in those situations.
Much of this is simply the growing pains of a second year guard trying to figure out his role within a revolving door of personnel. But regardless of who is on the floor, Maxey needs to have a much higher willingness to make his presence felt late in games. Whether that means creating for himself, taking jumpers when they’re open, or simply directing traffic rather than playing hot potato, there needs to be a higher degree of intentionality. Passing up open shots, making the same pass over and over again, and lazily dumping the ball off to role players isn’t going to get it done. For as gifted a scorer and playmaker as he is, he’s leaving far too many opportunities on the table.