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Can Bball Paul be stretch 5 Sixers need?

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Paul Reed has shown out during Summer League, but can he fill a crucial role for the Sixers?

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Paul Reed is a fascinating guy.

On the court, he possesses great size, skill and versatility while also being hyper active on both ends. Off the court, you can just tell he’s having more fun than anyone else playing the sport he loves. Both aspects have endeared him to the Sixers — the front office, the coaches, his teammates, the fans.

But the biggest questions for Reed entering his second NBA season are can he help the Sixers this year and how? Sunday night’s Summer League loss may have provided a little clarity.

Playing exclusively at the five, Reed put up gaudy numbers — 27 points, 20 rebounds, four assists, four blocks, and four steals. It was just the second 20-point, 20-rebound performance in Summer League history. And for good measure, he knocked down a pair of threes in three attempts.

With Andre Drummond locked in as Joel Embiid’s backup, perhaps Reed can earn minutes as a stretch five on a team that could really use one.

“I’m comfortable playing any position, really,” Reed said postgame. “But I’m not going to lie, I like playing the five because I get to bang. But at the same time, I like playing the four because I know those perimeter dudes can’t really guard me like that. I don’t really be getting in my bag, though, because I’ve been trying to play in the offense. So I’ve been trying to keep it simple.”

While there’s no questioning Reed has unique skills — and a “bag” — for a player his size, his role with the Sixers will be different. They won’t be asking him to put up Wilt Chamberlain-like stat lines. On a team that’s trying to win a title and already has veteran players, Reed will be asked to fill a role.

To hear Sixers assistant and Summer League head coach Brian Adams tell it, that’s all Reed was doing Sunday. He thinks that the more Reed focuses on keeping his activity level high and playing within the system, that the numbers will come.

“His ability to just do all the little things is huge,” Adams said. “And the more he just focuses on being a role player, it’s amazing how much his line fills up and all those cool stats come that you don’t usually think come with a role player. So it’s awesome to see him do that. I was so happy for him.”

For the most part, Reed played the four during the Summer League, though his breakout performance came at the five. That kind of versatility is a big part of the reason the Sixers selected the 22-year-old out of DePaul in the second round of the 2020 NBA Draft.

After the backup center spot killed the Sixers against the Raptors in 2019, GM Elton Brand inked Al Horford to a massive contract. The idea was to have a player that could play next to Embiid in the starting lineup and also fill the crater left behind when Embiid goes to the bench.

And the absence of a stretch five hurt the Sixers in a big way during their seven-game series loss to the Hawks. The duo of Ben Simmons and Dwight Howard shrunk the court offensively. When those two played with Matisse Thybulle, it made matters worse.

The Horford experiment was a disaster and Drummond doesn’t remedy the issues from last postseason. The Sixers still haven’t quite found that player that can play next to and relieve Embiid.

Could it be Reed? Perhaps.

When the Sixers were hurting at both the four and five positions last season, Doc Rivers was hesitant to lean on Reed, despite Reed coming off an MVP season in the G League. Simply put, Rivers didn’t think Reed was ready.

After an offseason to work on his game, Reed was able to do what the team asked of him during Summer League.

“They want me to play the role that I’ve been playing with the Sixers,” Reed said. “That’s what it is.”

Still, the man they call “Bball Paul” wasn’t fully satisfied. He assessed his game in quintessential Paul Reed fashion.

“I would grade myself a ‘B.’ A solid ‘B,’” Reed said. “I wasn’t selfish. There were a couple games I got frustrated. As a professional player, I can’t let that happen. I had a couple double-doubles. That’s what I’m supposed to do. So I’d give myself a ‘B.’”

Reed isn’t a perfect player, but he doesn’t need to be to help the Sixers.

If he just plays within himself, there could be a crucial role waiting for Bball Paul.