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How viable is Paul Millsap as a backup center for the Sixers?

Assessing how the veteran big man might help his new team.

Philadelphia 76ers Introduce James Harden

While James Harden was rightfully the focal point of the Sixers’ press conference on Tuesday afternoon, newly-acquired forward Paul Millsap also took some time to address the media ahead of his Philadelphia debut.

As he answered his first question, Millsap joked it was starting to feel weird sitting at the podium with all the attention directed to Harden.

“Coming here with the talent, the players, the coaching staff, and the organization, mixed with that energy and talent, it’s unbelievable,” Millsap said.

According to President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey, the Sixers’ interest in the 37-year-old big man dates back to the offseason, when they tried to sign him before he ultimately chose Brooklyn.

Now that he’s a full-time bench player, Millsap has taken on a different role this year, spending considerably more time at the center position.

Head coach Doc Rivers said Friday that his initial conversations with Millsap have been about backing up Joel Embiid and replacing the role of Andre Drummond, who was sent to Brooklyn in the Harden-Simmons blockbuster trade.

“I told him if we use him, it will be at the five, because I just think that’s where he’s at,” Rivers said. “I just think a vet, a high [high, high] character guy is never bad to put in your locker room.”

So, how viable of an option is Millsap as a backup center, especially on a team with championship aspirations?

Millsap appeared in just 24 games and averaged 11 minutes per game for Brooklyn, before the two sides mutually agreed to find him a new home. According to Cleaning The Glass, Millsap has played 51 percent of his minutes at center this year, which was by far the most of his career.

During the 2020-21 season, he played 19 percent of his minutes at center, which was a career-high at the time.

It was not the biggest sample size, but Millsap’s minutes at the five in Brooklyn were not ideal. Lineups featuring Millsap there yielded 111.9 points per 100 possessions, which ranked in the 46th percentile among lineups around the league.

For reference, the Sixers allowed 109 points per possession with Andre Drummond on the floor this season, though it’s worth noting differing contexts will breed different results. After all, Philadelphia is a better defensive team than Brooklyn.

Rebounding has been one of, if not the, biggest Achilles heel of these Sixers. Even with Drummond, one of the NBA’s best rebounders, on the court, they conceded a 26.7 percent offensive rebounding rate. With Millsap at center for Brooklyn, opposing offenses grabbed offensive boards at a slightly higher rate of 27.2 percent.

Given Millsap’s age and height, he certainly will not be a quick fix to the Sixers’ rebounding woes. There is also reasonable cause for concern about what a defensive lineup anchored by Millsap will look like.

While the Sixers are high on Millsap’s game, they are entertaining other options to replace Drummond as well. Rivers mentioned Tuesday that Paul Reed and Charles Bassey will also be looked at for backup center minutes, and that the team is patrolling the buyout market.

Only time will tell how serviceable Millsap is to this team. One thing is for sure, however: it wouldn’t be a Sixers season if there weren’t questions swirling over who will backup Joel Embiid.

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