NBA Awards Rankings: New No. 1 in Most Improved Player race

The Most Improved Player race is crowded, but there's one undeniable favorite right now.
Tyrese Maxey. Philadelphia 76ers
Tyrese Maxey. Philadelphia 76ers / Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
5 of 5

1. Guard. Tyrese Maxey. 1. . 76ers. player. 93. . Tyrese Maxey

The Philadelphia 76ers are 8-3, with a few understandable losses sandwiching an impressive eight-game win streak. The James Harden trade has been officially official for a couple weeks, meaning it truly is Tyrese Maxey's time in the lead guard role. The early results? Remarkable.

Just about everybody projected another leap from Maxey, whose relentless work ethic and staunch self-confidence have placed him on a sky-high trajectory ever since he entered the league. The Harden dilemma made it even easier to expect more robust production from the 23-year-old. While many thought Maxey might be in line for his first All-Star berth, he's currently on track for his first All-NBA berth. Nobody could have predicted the extent to which Maxey has elevated his star profile in Harden's absence.

There was valid concern that Harden leaving might actually hurt Maxey, at least in the short term. Maxey's first major leap toward stardom came when Harden arrived midway through the 2021-22 season, allowing Maxey to rope open catch-and-shoot 3s and attack rotating defenses while Embiid and Harden occupied attention in the middle of the floor. Maxey has never been a natural decision-maker in the point guard role. He always had a tendency to operate in two distinct gears — passive or attack mode. There wasn't much in between.

Now, due to a clear commitment to absorbing coaching and addressing his weaknesses, Maxey has developed into a legitimate table-setter for the Sixers. He's operating at different speeds in pick-and-rolls and forming a prolific two-man game with Embiid. He's averaging 6.7 assists to only 1.5 turnovers, all while scorching the nets with his usual efficiency (27.6 points on .486/.429/.945 splits) despite a sharp increase in volume and shot difficulty.

Not only is Maxey a proper co-star for Embiid, he might be one of the top guards in the NBA. The Sixers have a lot to prove before we comfortably label them contenders, but Maxey sure feels built for the moment.

2024 NBA MOCK DRAFT. Isaiah Collier, Ja'Kobe Walter on the rise early. Isaiah Collier, Ja'Kobe Walter on the rise early. dark