In his recent edition of his “Lowe’s 10 things” column for ESPN, NBA Senior Writer Zach Lowe highlighted the Sixers’ backup center situation and, specifically, Paul Reed.
Reed has recently, and deservedly, taken over backup center duties from Montrezl Harrell, who struggled in the role. This role is referred to by Lowe as the “‘Can we just not fall into a sinkhole while Joel Embiid rests?’ backup center” and, frankly, he’s not wrong. The bench unit, especially when head coach Doc Rivers opts for an all-bench lineup, has been a “hold your breath and pray for minimal damage” situation for the Sixers more often than not.
Sixers fans, I hear you all shouting at once now that Rivers doesn’t need to put out all-bench lineups. Don’t worry, Lowe noted that as well.
I hate to belabor this, but Step 1 toward Embiid Sinkhole Avoidance is playing at least one starter with those units — specifically James Harden. Doc Rivers has been doing this more of late. In fairness, Tyrese Maxey has helped Philly win a few of those stints — including against the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday.
Please, belabor away.
It is interesting to reference the recent Mavericks matchup, and specifically the use of Maxey as the starter anchoring the bench lineup, because it was the first time Rivers has opted to use this strategy since moving Maxey to the bench. Whether Rivers continues to utilize this option remains to be seen.
I digress, back to the backup center situation and the recent increased appearances of Reed.
Lowe highlighted a recent standout performance from Reed against in Miami in the second leg of the home-and-home against the Heat earlier this week. He played almost 29 minutes of the contest and finished as a game-high +26.
Reed is an elite offensive rebounder with nice touch, and he’s grabbing defensive boards at a career-best rate; he put up 16 points and 14 rebounds with Embiid out against the Miami Heat on Wednesday.
Reed’s rebounding in particular has been a breath of fresh air for the Sixers, who often are outdone on the boards, allowing an inexcusable amount of possessions and second-chance points for opponents. In Reed’s 14-rebound performance, nine came on the defensive end.
The defensive end, however, is where Lowe claims Reed waivers a bit.
The rest of his defense is hit-or-miss. Reed is sometimes flat-footed corralling pick-and-rolls, prone to taking poor angles with his arms drooped at his sides:
He can also get lost amid bang-bang rotations:
Harden expects Reed to switch into Victor Oladipo, but Reed doesn’t download that.
Both fair assessments of two specific plays from Monday night’s contest hosting the Heat. However, on Wednesday, Reed looked perfectly in tune with the switches that helped the Sixers hold the Heat under 100 points. That “hit-or-miss” aspect to Reed’s defense is something that may be smoothed out with him now getting consistent time on the court. Plus, inconsistent defense is better than the consistently poor defense the Sixers were getting from Harrell.
Lowe does conclude that, despite the inconsistencies, Reed should be part of Rivers’ plans for the playoffs, alongside P.J. Tucker.
Tucker is currently part of the Sixers’ starting lineup, having started all 60 games he appeared in this season. For him to feature as one of the backup fives in the playoffs as well as start, Rivers will have to actually stagger the starters a lot more than he does now. No more five in, five out. Whether that will actually happen remains to be seen, though it’s worth noting that Rivers did not go all-bench when the Sixers were healthy last postseason — and also didn’t utilize the look against the Grizzlies or Celtics.
Reed is certainly making the case for himself, though — and people, fans and media included, are starting to take notice. Sixers fans can only hope he is continually given the chance to play, improve and smooth out any inconsistencies before the playoffs come around.
This next test for Reed will be a big one. He and the Sixers travel to Milwaukee to take on the red-hot Bucks, currently on a 16-game win streak, on Saturday night at 8:30 P.M. EST.