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

There's a new sheriff in town for the Most Improved Player race.

Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets
Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets / Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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. . Guard. 3. 93. 3. 76ers. Tyrese Maxey. player. Tyrese Maxey

Tyrese Maxey was always going to average more points and assists without James Harden, but his actual improvement has been wonderous to behold. He looks perfectly comfortable at the controls for the Philadelphia 76ers' offense. Joel Embiid's playmaking leap certainly helps, but Maxey has been seamlessly running pick-and-rolls and perfecting two-man actions with his MVP center.

With one of the league's best 3-point strokes and a blistering first step, Maxey doesn't have much trouble pressuring the rim. That said, his ability to react to different coverages and make decisions on the fly has vastly improved compared to last season. He looks like a legitimate point guard, averaging 6.7 assists to only 1.6 turnovers. His ability to limit mistakes while shouldering the heaviest workload of his career (26.6 USG%) is no small feat.

Maxey has made the 'point guard' adjustment while also ratcheting up his scoring volume, averaging 27.0 points on .464/.396/.899 splits in a league-high 38.4 minutes per game. Nick Nurse tends to lean heavily on his stars, so expect Maxey to continue pacing the league in playing time. His shooting percentages have curtailed slightly in recent weeks, but he still outpaces the majority of his peers on the efficiency front.

So, the Sixers have a perennial All-Star on their hands. Maxey has been better than even the most optimistic fans dared hope. He's not a James Harden replacement, but he's a damn effective playmaker who has helped the Sixers maintain their winning ways sans Harden's facilitation skills. Maxey was always a primary beneficiary of Harden. For him to look so good, so soon after Harden's departure is a major credit to his work ethic and self-belief.