The last three years have been a long and bumpy road for Paul Reed to earn a consistent role at the NBA level, or get “out the mud” as BBall Paul himself would say. After faring well as Joel Embiid’s backup last postseason, it was expected that Reed would have first crack at the job coming into this season. However, last September’s signing of Montrezl Harrell altered those plans, as head coach Doc Rivers rode the backup center carousel for a bit before opting to utilize the veteran at the position.
As frustrations mounted with Harrell’s shortcomings on the defensive end, though, Rivers finally made the move much of the fan base had been clamoring for and turned back to Reed in mid-February. Since Philadelphia’s win over the New York Knicks on February 10, Reed has appeared in every game for the Sixers, even logging 20-plus minutes in a couple March contests.
Despite his proclivity for veterans, Rivers certainly appears to be gaining confidence in the 23-year-old. Rivers was asked what stood out about Reed’s night following Sunday’s 112-93 win over the Washington Wizards:
“Just the same thing — playing hard, rolling, understanding his role. Every time he does that, good things happen. James is trusting him more. You can see that, which is great, because he’s throwing it to him more. And Paul finishes. That’s great. He has really good hands. And then defensively, he’s so active, man. He gets to balls that you shouldn’t be able to get to and he creates extra possessions for us.”
As Rivers alluded to, Paul earning the trust of his teammates was critically important, particularly veteran star James Harden, who has been Rivers’ choice to lead the heavy-bench lineups as of late. Here’s Harden on Reed on Sunday night:
“As a young dude, Paul works. I was in there shooting this morning and he was right there with me. When you’ve got a guy that puts the work in and listens, good things are going to happen for him. He’s already a talented player, but the better connection we can have, the easier it’s going to be on both ends of the ball. He’s been doing a really good job of that.”
Reed chimed in on the importance of Harden trusting him more:
“It’s extremely important. When I’m in the game, more times than not, he’s in the game, too. For us to be successful when we’re on the court together, we’ve got to trust each other, and he’s got to trust me. He sees how hard I work; me and him are the last ones to leave the gym almost every day. So he understands the work I’m putting in, and I think that’s playing a big role in it.”
Harden-Reed two-man lineups have a plus-4.0 net rating across 179 minutes this season. We’ve watched a couple recent games where the second unit has stabilized or built leads and allowed the starters to get an early night off. Paul was asked why he thinks they’ve been starting fourth quarters well:
“I think we’ve all been on the same page. We know we’ve got to come out, play with a ton of energy when Joel’s not on the court. And once he gets back in, we all know he’s going to take care of business. So it’s making sure we keep the energy up.”
Energy is something Reed has never lacked. With Harden stabilizing those bench groups and beginning to trust in Reed to harness that energy, non-Joel Embiid lineups are no longer the death knell they once represented. If James, Paul, and the rest of the bench crew can continue that success in the postseason, or even just not crater completely, Joel Embiid being the best player on the floor will take care of much of the rest. Then maybe we can dream of the real victory tour, the one down Broad Street.