The Sixers shored up one major area of weakness this offseason by acquiring P.J. Tucker, Danuel House Jr. and De’Anthony Melton. They now have far more defensive versatility, not to mention the toughness that Joel Embiid said they lacked after their playoff loss to the Miami Heat.
However, their backup center situation is more of a question mark heading into the season.
Paul Reed and Charles Bassey are the only two traditional big men on the roster behind Joel Embiid, although Tucker figures to play some minutes as a small-ball 5 as well. Reed has only 64 regular-season games of experience under his belt, while Bassey has 23. If Embiid misses extended time at any point, the Sixers’ lack of reliable depth at center could be their undoing.
That’s why they should at least entertain the possibility of signing Hassan Whiteside, who still remains available on the free-agent market.
On a per-minute basis, Whiteside was one of the most productive big men in the league last season. While backing up Rudy Gobert on the Utah Jazz, he averaged 8.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in only 17.9 minutes per game.
Whiteside was one of only four regular rotation players last season to average at least 15 points and 15 rebounds per 36 minutes, joining Gobert, JaVale McGee and Omer Yurtseven. He also hauled in 2.6 offensive rebounds per game in his limited playing time, which was better than any Sixer other than Andre Drummond.
The 33-year-old rarely creates shots for himself or others, as evidenced by his career average of 0.6 assists per game. He wouldn’t have to do that in Philly, though. He would primarily serve as a pick-and-roll partner for Tyrese Maxey and James Harden, gobble up rebounds on both ends of the floor and protect the rim. Anything beyond that would be gravy.
There are two main problems with this plan: The Sixers don’t have any open roster spots right now, and Doc Rivers is their head coach. Neither is an insurmountable obstacle, though.
The Sixers currently have 16 players under contract, not counting their pair of Exhibit 10 signings and two-way deals, which is one over the regular-season limit. Barring trades, they’ll have to waive at least one player by opening night. If they wanted to sign Whiteside, they’d either have to waive or trade away two players.
Trevelin Queen has only $300,000 guaranteed on his two-year contract, while Isaiah Joe’s contract is fully non-guaranteed until opening night. Since Harden left the Sixers with a few million in wiggle room below the $157.0 million luxury-tax apron—which is the line they can’t cross between now and June 30—they could waive Joe and Queen if needed, eat the guaranteed money on Queen’s deal, sign Whiteside and still stay below the apron.
Rivers is the trickier problem to solve regarding Whiteside. He tends to prefer veterans over younger players—see: DeAndre Jordan last season—so signing Whiteside could largely relegate Reed and Bassey to the bench. That’s especially concerning considering how much the two young bigs stand to benefit from regular-season reps.
Then again, the Sixers might not have the luxury of waiting for Reed and Bassey to get up to speed. They’re firmly in win-now mode with Harden heading into his mid-30s and Embiid smack dab in the middle of his prime.
Last season, Rivers implied that he leaned on veterans such as Jordan and Paul Millsap because his young bigs were too mistake-prone. He said Reed started to “figure out where to be on the floor, getting sets, how to run a set” toward the end of the season, but the Sixers might not feel comfortable making him and Bassey learn on the fly while backing up their MVP center.
Whiteside would be the ultimate insurance policy. He could be a spot starter if Embiid missed extended time, and the Sixers could rely on him as a backup if Reed and/or Bassey struggle in certain matchups.
It’s fair to wonder how much Rivers would play Reed and Bassey if the Sixers signed Whiteside, but we aren’t talking about the exhumed corpse of DeAndre Jordan here. He was in two of the most potent two-man duos in the league last year, as Matt Moore of The Action Network highlighted in late July.
Top 15 two-man lineups in offensive rating, minimum 500 minutes played last season. pic.twitter.com/7cr2SZqX8Q— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) July 27, 2022
Whiteside also spent 320 possessions playing alongside House in Utah last season. Those lineups had a scorching offensive rating of 121.6 and outscored opponents by 10.1 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass.
House and Whiteside could similarly anchor the Sixers’ bench on both ends on the floor.
Happy 4th of July, with Danuel House Jr. defense pic.twitter.com/1NvW6vzcGh— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) July 4, 2022
The Sixers might prefer to head into the season with Reed and Bassey as their primary Embiid backups and pivot with a midseason move if those two struggle in expanded roles. That will require alignment between Rivers and team president Daryl Morey, though. Otherwise, if Reed and/or Bassey fall into Rivers’ doghouse, he might lean more heavily on Embiid or the Tuckwagon lineups with Tucker as a small-ball 5.
One of the Sixers’ main priorities during the regular season should be limiting the wear-and-tear on both Embiid and the 37-year-old Tucker. They need to get to the playoffs as healthy as possible and see where the chips fall from there.
Signing Whiteside may be their best chance of accomplishing that goal, even if it comes at the expense of Reed and Bassey’s development.