For most of this offseason, Sixers fans had the expectation that the team would head into the year relying on a combination of Paul Reed and Charles Bassey as the backup centers. While we certainly wouldn’t have been surprised had they made a play for a big like Hassan Whiteside, eventually it started to feel like they might actually give the young guys a shot.
But then they signed vet Montrezl Harrell, and while he’s a good player who can certainly fill some gaping holes on the roster, the signing also struck fear into the hearts of fans who rightly worried about how the head coach may deploy this backup big rotation.
Would it spell the end of the Paul Reed Victory Tour? I mean, we’re talking about a head coach who literally played Paul Millsap ahead of Reed in a must-win game with one-seed (and MVP) implications on the line against Giannis just a few months ago! You know how that went.
The whole thing starts to feel like a microcosm of the quiet awkwardness that’s played out across Daryl Morey and Doc Rivers tenure together.
Morey, historically, has pushed the experimental boundaries of the game, leaning into spacing, small-ball, switching, feverishly deploying “bigs” who can either switch or shoot, in many ways setting a template for the modern NBA. Reed, who Morey drafted, in theory represents a big who can switch and wreak havoc, if not credibly shoot...yet.
The fact that Steph Curry cites the 2018 Rockets (a team that starred James Harden) as the best example of a switch-everything man-to-man defense, is a testament to Morey’s preference for bigs who can capably switch, and if that dude can knock down corner threes too? Well, that’s pure gravy.
Monday night football last week, Steph credits the 2018 Rockets with some of the best man-to-man switch everything defense he’s faced. Says he prefers facing zones pic.twitter.com/br2GPM9x1B— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) October 7, 2022
That’s why P.J. Tucker is here, he can do both. Tucker and Harden would both love to switch more, although Joel Embiid is probably better in drop coverage. Harrell struggles in pick-and-roll coverage. So there’s a key playoff role, in theory, for Reed.
And Doc, who won a championship in 2008, has largely rejected these vital changes to the game, devotedly deploying his trusted veteran banger big like a Montrezl Harrell, Dwight Howard, or DeAndre Jordan; no matter how poorly it’s played out come the second round.
So is Paul Reed relegated back to mud? Keeping tabs on preseason, listening to Rivers talk after the team’s Blue and White scrimmage last week, maybe not.
“But listen, I won’t be scared to play one of [Harrell or Reed] at the four,” Rivers said. “I just think they both do things that you can’t equate sometimes. Both of them. They rebound, they do the dirty work, they can defend. I think Paul’s probably a better on-ball defender. Trez is obviously a better scorer, better rebounder and better with the ball, just playing with guys. We have in practice, when Tuck’s out, put (one of) them at the four at times. It’s not a bad look. We have enough shooting around them — and with Joel’s ability to shoot — that you can put a non-shooting four on the floor and get away with it.”
Intriguing! A plot twist? Tucker is going to be a very important part of whatever success this team has. But at 37 years old, heading into the start of a three-year deal, coming off an arthroscopic knee procedure this summer, they’ll want to be very conservative with Tuck’s load management program. And that could open the door for both B-Ball Paul and Trez.
A passionate student, Reed is eagerly picking up tips and tricks from Trez already.
“Paul’s learning a lot, let me put it that way,” Rivers said with a chuckle. “Trez’s ball skills are amazing as far as his dribble handoffs, his touches. That’s something that Paul’s never done and he’s working on. He’s still very robotic in it, but they work together after practice, they see it. I think Paul will progress quickly in that because Trez does it so well.”
“I’m definitely learning a lot from Montrezl,” Reed told reporters at practice. “He’s been teaching me a lot, small things like rolling to the rim, when to roll in certain situations. And then defensive coverages; P.J.’s always in my ear talking to me, helping me out, letting me know, ‘Yo, you’ve got to talk to me when we’re trapping’ — little things like that.”
Rivers has spoken of the backup big rotation as a combo of players that may include Tucker, Reed and Harrell. But little is set in stone yet. Dare we say a quiet tournament? Many of us penciled Trez into the Joel-backup-role upon his signing because of his history as a NBA Sixth Man of the Year under Doc, but according to Keith Pompey, Reed has actually been the one operating as the de facto backup in practice.
“I feel like we have a great idea, [of our rotation],” Rivers admitted, “but I can’t tell you that we are completely settled on it, to be honest. I think through the practice and two more games, it’ll kind of spell itself out.”
Trez recently popped up on the injury report and the team started Tucker at the five vs. the Cavaliers Monday, and got a win. That they even showed a willingness to try that was exciting. That they outscored the Cavs (playing all of their studs save Evan Mobley) 33-20 after one hopefully reinforced the strategy to a coaching staff whose been frustratingly loathe to tinker with outside-the-box stuff when Joel sits.
Reed made the most of his minutes, putting up a Thybulle-esque stat line, recording three steals, three blocks, three rebounds, and four points in just 18 minutes. He was second on the team in +/- at +15, as the Sixers ran circles around the Cavs while he was on the floor, despite his picking up four personal fouls.
Rivers expanded on the idea of using both Trez and Reed each night, music to the ears of the Mud Hive. “Both deserve to play, but this is a competition in basketball and that doesn’t mean they will play every night,” continued the coach. “I do think both of them will end up playing every night, just the way the game is played. I just see that coming. I think some we’ll play a little bit at the four at times.”
Wait, have they tried Trez and Jo together? Remember those Embiid-Drummond minutes we got a flavor of last year when the roster was thin?
“We did that. We did that in Charleston and it was good. Trez has played the four before. Trez knows how to play, that’s the thing that helps with that. And then when Paul Reed plays four, he’s great just because of the rebounding part. And he fits more in a way at the four, because he’s the only roller in the group. You can use Jo to space the floor and do other things. So I think they both work.”
(It sounds like there may be some experimentation during the year, because we cannot imagine they’re going to figure all of this out during the preseason).
So how has Reed handled the uncertainty, knowing Harrell, as helpful as he’s been in practice, may still be coming for at least sizable chunk of his minutes?
“How I look at it is I just can control what I can control,” Reed told reporters at practice Sunday. “So I’ve got to go out there and whenever I get my opportunities to play, I just need to make sure that I’m doing what I need to do and taking advantage of it. Being aggressive and helping the team win. That’s how I look at it.”
Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle and Reed have been the three players coaches have credited with working the hardest this offseason. That should also be music to the Mud Hive’s ears.
Reed says he’d be comfy playing alongside any combo of Embiid, Trez and Tucker. “Hey, wherever they need me at, I’m Mr. Versatile. I can play three, four, five. One, two, if I need to,” Reed said with a laugh and smile.
It’s an exciting time in Philadelphia. The Eagles are the lone undefeated team and look like they’re in a tier by themselves, just behind the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs. (Don’t @ me). The Phillies are moving on. And the Sixers have massive expectations.
Reed is feeling the electric energy.
“I love it, man. I love it,” B-Ball Paul said. “I love how much Philly supports their teams. It’s really good to see, and I just hope we get the same type of support when we go on our run.”
We’ve really noticed the special bond Reed has developed with Tyrese Maxey as well. Those two seem especially close. Reed has taken note of Maxey’s rise in the eyes of fans.
“I don’t know if it was the first year or the second year, but I heard the crowd chanting, ’Ty-rese Max-ey!’ At that point, I was like, ‘Wow. You can’t play for a better city than Philly.’ For all the fans to be chanting his name like that is very special.”
Maxey returned the love on media day. “Just being able to have a chemistry and a brotherhood, I can pick up the phone and I can call [Reed] whenever — not just for basketball, but for life, and I really do appreciate him for that,” Maxey said. “I talk to [Reed], Maxey continued, “pull him to the side, because he’s a key part of our team. What he brings to the team a lot of guys can’t do. He can switch one through five, he can get offensive rebounds, he can play with energy, and he can has a special talent.”
So it really sounds as if Harrell’s signing hasn’t put the kabash on the Paul Reed Victory Tour. Reed may even be winning over a head coach, notoriously reluctant to lean on young guys.
“I feel I’ve gotten a lot better at playing within the role that they want me to play,” Reed said. “Being decisive, being intentional with my movements and where I’m at on the court spacing-wise, as well as when I get the ball, having that good connection with my teammates where they know what I’m going to do before I even do it. I’ve only got a couple of options: Dribble handoff, drive to the rim, pass. And then I’m also getting better at getting my teammates open a lot, just looking for them more and trying to get them more shots. That’s probably what he’s talking about, for sure.”
Like he says, whether it’s at the two, three, four, or five, Reed seems hellbent on carving out a role on this squad, even with Trez and Tucker getting theirs. And his head coach at least sounds like he’s going to do some more experimenting than he has in the past, from small ball to double bigs.
Reed is in the plans and he’ll get opportunities. Then he’ll have to force coach to keep playing him the way his boy Tyrese had to just a couple years ago.