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How can Paul Reed carve out his niche with the Sixers?

The rangy big man is in a tricky spot with the Sixers.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Philadelphia 76ers Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be profiling every player currently on the Sixers’ roster ahead of training camp, which begins on Sept. 27.

Paul Reed

Age: 23

Contract status: $1.78 million for 2022-23, restricted free agent for 2023-24 ($2.2 million qualifying offer)

Paul Reed’s stint as the Philadelphia 76ers’ backup center lasted roughly five months and 15 games. Finally, after a month of struggles from DeAndre Jordan, he seemingly earned the job in early April, just ahead of the playoffs. Then, when Joel Embiid missed the first two games against the Miami Heat, Jordan was in the starting lineup, only to be ousted from the rotation in favor of Reed once Embiid returned for the final four games.

Throughout the summer, Philadelphia plugged holes on the wing and avoided signing any reserve center, presumably to let the youngsters, Reed and Charles Bassey, fill that role. But on Sept. 6, the Sixers agreed to terms with Montrezl Harrell, a dynamic scoring center and former Sixth Man of the Year, on a two-year, $5.2 million deal. Given Harrell’s talent and history with James Harden, head coach Doc Rivers and president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, he will assuredly back up Embiid over the next two years.

As such, that significantly muddies the outlook for Reed, who has one year remaining on his contract and just 630 minutes to his name in a Sixers uniform. Our own Paul Hudrick posited last year that Reed’s size (6-foot-9), mobility and cutting instincts could make him a viable 4-man, especially alongside Embiid. I absolutely agree on that and it could remain salient this season if the Sixers weren’t overflowing at the position (Tobias Harris, P.J. Tucker, Georges Niang). The path to playing time there is daunting.

Regardless of whether Reed receives a genuine chance in Philadelphia, his abbreviated run has shown the outline of a useful NBA player. Whether it’s drop coverage or switching, he excels defensively in pick-and-roll coverage playing near the level of the screen. He’s agile with swift hands to cause havoc.

However, to assume anything more than a bench gig, Reed must greatly improve his discipline and discretion as it pertains to applying his dexterity. According to Cleaning The Glass, he’s ranked in the 98th percentile or better in steal rate and 85th percentile or better in block rate among bigs each of his first two years. He’s a truly exceptional defensive playmaker, yet that approach comes with a glaring caveat.

Through two regular seasons, he’s averaged 6.5 fouls per 36 minutes. Across 140 playoff minutes last spring, he averaged 7.5 fouls per 36 minutes. The fouls aren’t much of an issue when he’s supplementing an MVP-caliber center in a narrow workload, but they swell in importance as he looks to scale up his minutes over the course of his career. He’s prone to reaching or being poorly positioned against drives or dives to the hoop.

Reed’s sprightly vertical explosion, keen eye for reading the angle of rebounds and rarified motor make him a master of the boards, especially offensively. Last season, Philadelphia was wretched at generating second chances (30th in offensive rebounding rate) and pedestrian at concluding defensive stops (15th in defensive rebounding rate). Reed’s services substantially addressed the latter and routinely preserved possessions for the Sixers; their offensive rebounding rate jumped 12.3 percent with him on the floor, per Cleaning The Glass.

Among his offensive rebounding artistry, heady cutting and limited outside jumper, he commonly found himself around the rim, where he shot 71 percent last season (63rd percentile). Yet his true shooting percentage was only a smidge above league average (56.8 vs. 56.6). If he’s going to be a play-finisher, he has to become elite around the rim or craft a viable long ball (4 of 17 for his career). Converting more than 14 of his 29 (48.3 percent) free throws is also an emphasis. He just can’t be a league average scorer efficiency-wise in a position that primes him for a bunch of simple, high-value shots, even if the defensive versatility and chaos production are his overarching contributions.

Season outlook: Had this preview been penned two weeks ago, the outlook for Reed’s season would assuredly look much clearer and rosier. After the addition of Harrell, his chance to garner a sizable reserve role have dwindled severely, which is unfortunate for a young dude who succeeded in his limited run last year, both in the playoffs and regular season.

During his 140 playoff minutes, Reed performed admirably, especially for someone who hardly accrued NBA experience prior to being thrust into backup center duties. Backup centers often look out of place in the postseason, but Reed was generally fine. His defensive malleability, playmaking and rebounding all popped.

As long as Harrell and Embiid are healthy, along with Philadelphia’s glut of power forwards, Reed’s development will have to come behind closed doors. He appears too good for the G League, dominating whenever he suits up for the Delaware Blue Coats, and I’m not sure the primary scoring role he’s afforded there properly mimics his NBA projection. I fully believe there’s a place for Reed in this league. For now, though, his place in Philadelphia appears to be as a change-of-pace or in-case-of-emergency option.