Just like the 1980's hit rock song by Queen and David Bowie, Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey is Under Pressure. Heading into his fourth season in the league, Maxey is poised to make yet another jump in his game, and the Sixers certainly need him to -- their season, and Maxey's future financials may even depend on it.

James Harden's future in Philly is murky, to say the least -- and also fluid -- as the team is actively looking for a trade for the disgruntled guard. There's a real chance that Harden won't even be in Philadelphia for the bulk of the upcoming campaign, and if he is, it's fair to wonder just how invested he'll be in a Sixers uniform. As a result, more of the point production and playmaking duties project to fall to Maxey. His ability to answer the bell will go a long way toward shaping the Sixers' season.

To this point in his career, Maxey has played relatively pressure-free basketball. The word relatively is italicized to emphasize the point that playing in the NBA is inherently pressure-filled, and that's only amplified in Philadelphia. But, throughout his first three seasons, Maxey hasn't had to shoulder the bulk of the external pressure annually hoisted on the Sixers.

There were tempered expectations for the Kentucky product as a rookie after he fell to Philly at No. 21 and joined an organization with an established rotation and legitimate championship aspirations. He played sparingly under Doc Rivers that season, though he flashed potential at every opportunity.

Maxey stepped into a starting spot in Ben Simmons' absence during his second season and he performed admirably in the role, but again, there were no All-Star expectations for the young guard, and the prevailing storylines out of Philly revolved around Joel Embiid's MVP push, Simmons' holdout and the eventual addition of Harden. Maxey's development was a secondary story.

Last season he was the third option behind MVP winner Joel Embiid and Harden, who led the league in assists for the second time in his career.

Over those first three seasons, Maxey steadily improved thanks to a tireless work ethic and he blossomed into a borderline All-Star. His rapid rise demanded attention from national media, and with that attention comes, you guessed it.. pressure. Pressure to perform, pressure to improve, and pressure to be the second option on a contending team, as the Sixers will need him to be, regardless of what happens with Harden.

He's now tasked with taking that next step into full All-Star/All-NBA status -- a step that can prove difficult for some guys. One thing we've learned about Maxey, though, is that he's willing to put in the work. So, what does the next step look? It starts with another scoring jump.

Maxey his improved his scoring in each of his first three seasons, and he's poised to do so again this season. He averaged eight points per game as a rookie, 17.5 the following season and 20.3 last season. This time around, anything less than 25 points will be considered a disappointment -- at least according to Maxey's trainer, Drew Hanlen.

“If Tyrese Maxey doesn’t average 25ppg, I’m going to be disappointed," Hanlen Tweeted in September -- a comment that certainly doesn't do anything to ease any of that aforementioned pressure.

In addition to increasing his point production, Maxey will have to improve defensively. "One day we'll have a presser where I don't get asked about my defense," he joked at media day. He'll also have to take a step forward as a primary playmaker. He's averaged just 3.3 assists per game over the course of his career, and that number is going to have to rise significantly.

Maxey hasn't been looked to as a primary distributor doing his time in Philly as he's played alongside the likes of Simmons and Harden, but he projects to have the ball in his hands much more moving forward, and to reach his full potential as a player he'll need to generate more offensive opportunities for his teammates, especially out of the pick-and-roll. Knowing this, Maxey fine-tuned his offseason approach.

"I did a lot of different things [to improve as a playmaker]," Maxey explained at media day. "One thing that I did that was new this year was that I played a lot of three-on-three, four-on-four and made it situational... So let's say I'm coming off the pick-and-roll with Joel, and [the defense] doesn't want the pocket pass to come. So, they're taking away the pocket and then I have to hit the skip pass. Or, if they have someone else in the game, a shooter in the corner, they don't want to tag, I'm hitting the pocket pass. Or now it's my turn to come off and score. So I think that was something that really helped me."

Lack of preparation won't be a reason for failure when it comes to Maxey, who is also facing some serious pressure to perform financially. Though he was eligible for one, Maxey didn't get a contract extension from the Sixers this past offseason, as the team prioritized maintaining future flexibility. That means that Maxey has just one year remaining on his current contract, and his play during the '23-24 season could be a big factor in shaping the type of offers he will get from the Sixers, or other organizations next summer.

Some players could let the lack of a long-term commitment from the franchise distract them, but Maxey doesn't plan to do that.

“I’m grateful to [the Sixers] for taking the chance at me and drafting me at No. 21,” Maxey said of the situation. “I feel like I’ve tried to give my all to this organization. I work hard every single day and I’m just going to focus on the season right now. I’m focusing on how we can get better, I can be better... We have one goal in mind and I love Philly. I know this is the business. I know this is how it goes and I’m a happy person. This is my life. I’m happy with it.”

In short, don't expect the mounting pressure to knock the trademark smile off of Maxey's face.

Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on X @therealmikekb.

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