Maxey edges out White as NBA's most improved

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Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey was named the NBA’s most improved player Tuesday night, beating out Chicago Bulls guard Coby White and Houston Rockets center Alperen Sengun.

Maxey, 23, had a breakthrough season with the Sixers, averaging career highs in points (25.9), rebounds (3.7), assists (6.2), steals (1.0) and 3-pointers made (212). He also became an All-Star for the first time as he transitioned into playing point guard full-time following James Harden being traded to the LA Clippers.

“I have had to take different steps,” Maxey said during an interview with TNT before the Minnesota Timberwolves played the Phoenix Suns in Game 2 of their first-round series Tuesday night, when he was presented with the award. “In the offseason I didn’t know what the situation was going to be with James, so my thing was I have to work on pick-and-roll every day, working on passing, working on reads … Those little things excite me the most, because I don’t think I couldn’t have made the plays I’m making this year in recent years.

“I just want to be the best possible version of myself.”

Maxey had 51 first-place votes, 18 second-place votes and 10 third-place votes, finishing on 79 ballots and receiving a total of 319 total points.

White was on more total ballots with 91 but had 32 first-place votes, 43 second-place votes and 16 third-place votes for 305 total points.

Sengun had 92 points in third, followed by Thunder forward Jalen Williams in fourth and New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson in fifth.

“It feels great,” Maxey said of winning the award. “Somebody like myself who prides myself on putting in a lot of work and outworking people and finding ways to get one percent better every time I get in the gym, it feels good for that to come to light, honestly.”

The joy of winning the award was a bit muted for Maxey in the wake of Monday night’s wild finish in Game 2 of Philadelphia’s first-round series against the New York Knicks. Though he finished with 35 points, Maxey had a key turnover in the final 30 seconds that led to what turned out to be the winning 3-pointer for the Knicks.

The league’s Last Two Minute report came out Tuesday and declared that Maxey had been fouled not once but twice on the play in which he committed the turnover.

The No. 20 overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft out of Kentucky, Maxey has grown from a part-time player as a rookie into an essential core player in Philadelphia, and the perfect long-term running mate for the league’s reigning most valuable player, Joel Embiid. There has arguably been no one more in Maxey’s corner than Embiid, who constantly refers to him as the team’s best player.

The most improved player was the first of the league’s season-long awards to be handed out over the next couple of weeks, and the first of four to be awarded this week. The league’s Sixth Man of the Year award will be announced Wednesday, followed by the Clutch Player of the Year on Thursday and Coach of the Year on Sunday.

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