Tyrese Maxey On Taking A Leap, His Relationship With Joel Embiid, And Early Lessons From James Harden

Tyrese Maxey has been one of the breakout stars of the 2021-22 NBA season, going from promising rotation player as a rookie to an apparent foundational piece for the Sixers as they hope to be a championship team this season.

Maxey took the reins as the starting point in Philadelphia this season amid the Ben Simmons fiasco and thrived, doubling his production from last year while actually becoming more efficient a scorer. The second-year star is averaging 16.9 points, 4.6 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game on 46.9/39.0/87.1 shooting splits, making himself untouchable in James Harden trade talks as the Sixers see those two partnering to create a highly productive and dangerous backcourt combo opposite Joel Embiid’s dominant inside presence.

For All-Star Weekend, Maxey got to play in the revamped Rising Stars Game and take in the full All-Star experience in Cleveland for the first time. On Saturday, we got a chance to sit down with Tyrese at Mountain Dew’s The Block activation and talk about Rising Stars, he and Scottie Barnes hilariously missing bunnies, seizing opportunity this season, and lessons learned from Embiid and his newest star teammate in Harden.

How’s All-Star Weekend treating you?

It’s been going great, going smooth, but it’s freezing out here.

It is very cold.

No, it’s like, too cold.

It’s extremely cold. Aside from that, though, you had Rising Stars last night. That was fun for us as fans watching because the new format seemed to be genuinely fun and you guys seem really engaged. What did you think of the new format?

It was great. It was cool. It kind of kept things competitive, to a certain extent. But, no, it was great. It was fun. I had a great time. I made a lot of connections, talk to some guys and joked a little bit and had a lot of fun.


Are you and Scottie [Barnes] going to work on five-foot push shots a little more?

You know, maybe. After the break, though. My break started on Thursday night [laughs]. But nah, It was just a fun deal, you know. It just turned out like that and we didn’t plan it like that, but now it’s just it’s a funny thing.

And coming here to work with Dew. What does it mean to be able to partner with somebody like this who has an activation like this going on here at All-Star?

This is a major establishment and you really just appreciate it. Mountain Dew and The Block and you know, different things like that. It’s really good. It’s a cool thing to do.

I do want to talk about your season so far, because when we talked last year, we talked about you always being ready for opportunity whenever it came. Obviously this season you come in and you’re given an expanded role. What was it that lets you come in and take advantage of that opportunity to the degree that you have in getting the starting role this year?

Yeah, my father, he told me a thing when I was young about “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.” So coming in, Coach Doc told me at the end of last year after we lost he was saying that no matter who’s here, no matter what the circumstance is gonna be, your role is gonna expand, it’s gonna be bigger. And he told me it’s gonna be a big summer for me. He wanted me to be ready to hit the ground running as soon as training camp started. So that’s what I did. I told myself that I’ll get one percent better every single day throughout the summer. And, you know, that’s what I did and now we’re here.

What are the things that if you look at where you were last year as a rookie, to where you are now in your second season, where do you think he took the biggest leap over the last year?

I think one is communication. Being able to talk to my teammates, having their trust, and them having the confidence in me to where when I say something they understand it and we can have that respect for one another to go out there on the court and execute it. And then just knowing where to be, like defensively. Because last year I missed training camp just because of the COVID situation, different things like that, so that helped me, having the full training camp and a full offseason. And then lastly, I think catch-and-shoot threes. I’m playing with Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, now James [Harden] the catch-and-shoot threes, the opportunities are going to be a lot more, and when it comes, you got to knock it down.

Your partnership with Joel Embiid, that seems to be more comfortable this year and you seem to be really learning how to work off of a guy like that. What have you learned about playing off with somebody who dominates inside that way, but also is able to step out and kind of create space for you, because it’s obviously working well for both of you?

Yeah, you know, you just appreciate it. Sometimes I have to sit back and not take the moment for granted, because what he’s doing is special. For him to be his size and to have the ball, like you say, shoot back threes and also dominate in the paint and defend the way he defends, it’s amazing. But yeah, I just try to pick his brain as much as possible. You know, I think our friendship off the court is really what helps us be successful on the court. We have a relationship to where when he criticizes me or when I criticize him, it’s still all love, but we just try to push each other to make each other better.

And you’ve now had a week or so with James in the building — obviously he’s not playing yet but he’s been on the practice court. What are you already picking up from somebody like that, who plays your position, who’s somebody I’m sure you’ve watched and pulled stuff from watching him but now you get to share the court with him?

I mean, he’s a former MVP. He scores the ball well, he creates for his teammates well, and I think the biggest thing is he has a high basketball IQ. He knows what a defense is going to be. He knows how to pick a defense apart if it’s pick-and-roll or just one-on-one isolation. So just picking his brain like that, and he’s really helped me as far as confidence as well. He’s like, man, don’t change who you are. You go out there and he said I’m here for you and we’re going to do this thing together.

Lastly, obviously you’re going to make the playoff push here coming up. What did you learn from your first postseason experience that you think is going to help you as you guys try to make a run at the title this year?

I think the biggest thing I learned is that the playoffs is single possession games. You know, every possession matters, every single possession. I feel like you don’t realize that until the end of the game when, you know, you had a layup or something and you turn the ball over and then now at the end of the game with five seconds left you down one or you’re down two and now it’s like, oh, man, I wish I had that layup back. Coach Doc said something last year that I think will stick with me the rest of my career. He kept saying that you never know how many good teams you’re going to be on. You never know how many contending teams you’re going to be on, and you never know how big the window is.

So every chance you get, you gotta cash in on the opportunity.