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6 backup centers Sixers should consider ahead of the trade deadline

Kyle Neubeck of The Philly Voice is reporting the Sixers could target a backup five in a trade. We look at six players that could make sense.

Chicago Bulls v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

With NBA trade winds blowing, we’ve heard so little about what the Sixers might do at the deadline — beyond trying to duck the luxury tax.

But, finally, we’ve got a little Sixers slop to satiate the masses.

On Monday night, Marc Stein reported that the Kings are monitoring Matisse Thybulle’s availability. It’s a little hard to pinpoint what Sacramento could offer the Sixers that would make sense for a contender, but a three-team trade could be an avenue worth exploring.

Kyle Neubeck’s recent article for The Philly Voice gave us even more insight into the Sixers’ thinking with the deadline looming. One of the more notable things Neubeck mentioned is that the Sixers could look to add a backup center to the mix. With the defensive struggles of Montrezl Harrell and Doc Rivers’ obvious lack of trust with Paul Reed, it does make sense from a basketball standpoint.

With that in mind, we look at six backup bigs that could fit the Sixers.

Andre Drummond

Drummond is the first of a few familiar names on this list. Neubeck specifically said the team is looking for a more traditional big. Drummond certainly fits that bill.

With Nikola Vucevic logging huge minutes — and the Bulls electing to go small when he goes to the bench — Drummond is essentially out of Chicago’s rotation. His low cap number ($3.2 million) and the fact that he’s signed for next season could make him very appealing for a team up against it tax-wise.

Drummond isn’t perfect. We all know the weaknesses, but speaking frankly, he’s a better overall basketball player than Harrell. He’s a better defender/rim protector and significantly better rebounder. He also checks boxes as a veteran big Doc will actually trust and a veteran screener and roller that James Harden should enjoy playing with.

We saw Drummond struggle defending in space against the Celtics in the postseason, especially when Boston went small. But the Sixers won’t be asking Drummond to take on that kind of role. He’s going to play roughly 10 minutes a game backing up Embiid once the playoffs start. If a team goes small, the Sixers can simply use P.J. Tucker at the five, something the Heat had great success with. If the price is right, a Drummond reunion makes a lot of sense — for both team and player.

Nerlens Noel

Who says you can’t go home again?

Noel is in a weird spot in Detroit. He was traded to the Pistons in the offseason so the Knicks could clear space to sign Jalen Brunson. Detroit has multiple young big men it’s trying to develop, leaving the veteran Noel as the odd man out. The cap number is trickier than Drummond’s ($9.2 million) but still doable in the right trade.

Any bad blood Noel had with the Sixers is gone. He remains great friends with Embiid. Serving as his backup would be both beneficial for the Sixers and quite fun for Process devotees. Unlike Drummond, Noel is pretty damn good moving in space as a big and is still an excellent rim protector. Overall, Noel is a strong and disruptive defender. He’s also a decent lob threat for Harden to play with in non-Embiid minutes.

Another reunion that makes so much sense ... if the price is right.

Jarred Vanderbilt

Admittedly Vanderbilt does not fit the “traditional big” mold, but he’d be an outstanding fit on this roster.

It’s clear the Timberwolves are missing Vando’s activity this season after Minnesota dealt him to Utah as part of the Rudy Gobert trade. With the Jazz in clear rebuild mode (despite an excellent start to the season) Danny Ainge will likely listen on just about any play player. There are reports that Vanderbilt can be had for the “equivalent” of a first-round pick.

Vanderbilt is a monster on the offensive glass. For his career, he’s averaged over five offensive rebounds (and over 15 total boards) per 100 possessions. He is a loose ball magnet because of his blend of athleticism, length, tenacity, and instincts. Though it’s far from a strength he’s also incorporated the three ball into his offensive mix (34.5 percent on 1.1 attempts).

Again, Vanderbilt is not a traditional big, but that could work in the Sixers’ favor. As a combo big, he could play the five where he can be a screener and roller for Harden and allow the Sixers to deploy a switch-heavy unit. If Georges Niang falters on the defensive end, you could slide Vanderbilt in next to Embiid at the four (Vanderbilt spent most of the last two seasons playing next to Karl-Anthony Towns). He’s the perfect type of role player to complement star talent.

The Sixers’ bench could use more length and athleticism. There is no shortage of that with the Vandolorian.

Khem Birch

On the off chance Masai Ujiri wants to help the Sixers, Birch could be a fit.

There’s nothing spectacular about Birch. He’s just a solid big man that fits well in Nick Nurse’s heavy switching and trapping scheme. He’s proven to be a strong rebounder (12.6 rebounds per 100 possessions) and though his offensive package is nothing to write home about, he does have good hands and decent touch around the rim.

Birch is probably somewhere between a traditional and modern big. He’s solidly built (6-foot-9, 233 pounds) and can hold his own underneath, but he’s a decent switchable rim runner as well. It feels like the type of addition many would greet with a shrug, but Birch would be a clear upgrade over Harrell and Reed. His $6.6 million salary wouldn’t be prohibitive, but you’d have to move multiple players to get him.

Mike Muscala

The goal was not to fill this list with 50 percent former Sixers, but here we are.

Moose has one above-average NBA skill: shooting. He’s not a particularly great rebounder or defender and doesn’t have much in his offensive repertoire, but the dude has a clean stroke.

For Houston Morey, Muscala would’ve been an ideal fit to fill a Ryan Anderson-like pick-and-pop role next to Harden. But for Morey now with Doc as his head coach, I’m not as convinced Muscala works. He’d be an improvement over Harrell in that he’d be getting you three points instead of two on most possessions. His addition would also likely benefit Tyrese Maxey, who’s better served playing with a stretch big that would give him cleaner looks at the rim than a pick-and-roll threat. Still, the defensive improvement over Harrell would be minimal.

Taj Gibson

Look, I don’t think the Sixers should trade for 37-year-old bigs, but if you’re looking to create competition, Gibson isn’t the worst option.

The veteran is serving as a deep reserve in D.C. and he’s been solid in that role. Gibson is what he is: a strong rebounder, a savvy on-ball defender and an efficient offensive player.

He’s a traditional big that gives you more on defense than Harrell and is much less mistake-prone than Reed. He’s not my first choice on this list, but if you’re unable to strike a deal for the other names, Gibson will at least be in the right spots and not kill you for five minutes a half in the postseason. The better strategy with Gibson might be waiting to see what happens at the deadline and seeing if he hits the buyout market.

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