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Sixers have intriguing defensive duo in Reed, McDaniels — but how long will we see it?

Paul Reed and Jalen McDaniels provide athleticism and activity the Sixers’ bench unit needs, but will Doc Rivers look to use veteran Dewayne Dedmon after the break?

Cleveland Cavaliers v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Before last Monday’s win over the Rockets, Doc Rivers was asked what he liked about the pairing of Paul Reed and newcomer Jalen McDaniels.

Well ...

“Yeah, I don’t know if I like the look or not,” Rivers said, “it was a back-to-back and we were gonna play Jalen no matter what, so I wouldn’t read into one game.”

Despite that not-so-glowing pregame endorsement, Rivers again used that pairing a decent amount as the Sixers easily dispatched of Houston. He went back to it again last Wednesday as the team went into the All-Star break on a four-game winning streak with a victory over the Cavaliers.

So, maybe he does like it?

“[Reed] and — someone said before — but him and Jalen … it’s an athletic second group,” Rivers said after the win over the Cavs. “Both of them can run the floor. They create problems.”

This Sixers team is loaded with talent. Their starting unit has been excellent — whether it’s Tyrese Maxey or De’Anthony Melton in that group. They also have more depth than they’ve had in recent years.

But it’s been clear for the last two seasons that the Sixers have lacked athleticism. For as talented as Joel Embiid and James Harden are, the Sixers can look slow and plodding from time to time. That’s also why their rebounding numbers have dropped and their transition defense can be ugly.

Despite his shortcomings, these were areas where Ben Simmons was effective. In McDaniels, the Sixers acquired a player that has similar size and athleticism to Simmons. While McDaniels won’t likely find himself in any All-Defensive Team discussions, his impact has been noticeable through three games.

“Defensively, he’s about what we thought,” Rivers said, “probably better because of that length. And then the other part that we knew but you can see where it’s going to pay a big dividend is his ability to keep balls alive on the glass and rebound for us. I knew he was fast. I didn’t know he was this fast. He can fly.”

McDaniels isn’t a one-sided player, either — that’s the main reason he’s here and Matisse Thybulle is not.

While the team felt comfortable with his ability to shoot (especially from the corners), his ability to put the ball on the floor to attack closeouts or lead the break off a defensive rebound have been a pleasant surprise.

“He can shoot the ball from the corners. He runs the floor,” Rivers said. “He just knows how to play. He brought the ball up the one time, went coast to coast. Dribbled it up the other time and found Georges [Niang]. He knows how to play basketball.”

Then there’s the other 6-foot-9 active athlete that recently took back over backup center duties from veteran Montrezl Harrell. It’s been evident in that time that Reed has brought much more to the bench unit — most notably on defense. It felt like the Sixers were hemorrhaging points with Doc’s all-bench unit with the backup five yet again being a sore spot.

In the four games since Reed has supplanted Harrell, Reed has been a +4, -2, +7, and +3. The Sixers also (likely not coincidentally) won all four contests. It’s not to say Reed is the answer to all of the Sixers’ backup center woes, but he has certainly looked like a better solution than Harrell.

And Reed and McDaniels together are giving the Sixers a dynamic they haven’t had in quite some time.

“I think [Paul] and Jalen were really active today, and that bothers teams,” Tyrese Maxey said. “Paul Reed was up, he was talking every single time. I knew the screen was coming. He was blitzing; he blitzed — get back, reach, stick his hand in there, knock the ball away, run, block a shot, get the rebound, run the floor. He was really active.

“I think him and Jalen together is very disruptive because of their length. They’re probably around the same height. That’s really good for us, and it’s going to be good for us down the stretch, as well.”

It’s interesting you should put it that way, Tyrese.

With the addition of veteran big man Dewayne Dedmon, Reed’s role looks murky. He’s earned the opportunity to get a longer look. It doesn’t feel hyperbolic to say Reed’s last two games might’ve been the finest of his NBA career.

While Rivers kept the strategic use of his backup bigs to himself, he did mention Dedmon’s size as being a factor in why he was brought in.

Anyone getting deja vu? Just me? OK.

Like Dedmon will have on a new team, Reed had an adjustment period. Harrell got an extended look and so Reed had to knock the rust off. But you can see the work he’s put in behind the scenes with Dwayne Jones, an assistant coach and a key part of the team’s skill development team, has paid off.

“The chemistry between me and my teammates was a little off when I first started getting minutes (again),” Reed said. “But I feel like it’s gotten a lot better and I’m starting to understand when to set the screen, when to not set the screen, what side to be on to give my teammates the lane to drive. Little things like that make a big difference when I’m out there on the court.”

As the new guy in the fold, McDaniels has just been following Reed’s lead. The results have spoken for themselves.

“It’s good. I know he’s coming to block from the weak side,” McDaniels said. “He’s bringing that defensive presence and that energy, and I’m just feeding off him. … We’re both just feeding off of each other already, so it’s good.”

Who knows how long this duo will get to play together, but it does deserve a longer look.

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