The Sixers’ cut the Milwaukee Bucks lead from 20 points to only five with a few minutes left to go in the third. They trailed for the entirety of game, and it looked like they just might be able to steal another win on the road.
Joel Embiid picked up his fourth foul soon after, which meant Doc Rivers immediately pulled him from the game for Paul Reed. The Bucks saw opportunity with no James Harden or Embiid on the floor, and re-inserted Giannis Antetokounmpo (who also had four fouls) into the lineup.
Come the fourth quarter it was still a game, with the Bucks leading by a modest 14 points. The first two minutes of the fourth weren’t that noteworthy, with teams essentially trading a few baskets. Doc Rivers, for some reason, subbed Paul Reed out with P.J. Tucker. While Reed struggled against Giannis (as did every non-Embiid Sixer), the backup big was giving the team a spark and could’ve remained in the game to play alongside Tucker. Before you knew it, the Bucks iced the game.
Doc Rivers’ handling of Reed has been questionable at best. For those who didn’t watch last night’s game, Reed was easily their best bench player. He played in control, logged 10 rebounds in 13 minutes of play, got five desperately needed offensive boards, and only fouled once. Not bad considering they were playing the team with the best record in the league.
Admittedly, Reed has been their main backup since January — after several months (!!!) of Montrezl Harrell struggling mightily. Since then, Reed’s averaged north of 11 minutes per game through 35 games. That’s a whole lot better than the two full games he had to prepare for the postseason last year.
Still, it seems like when the Sixers’ bench unit struggles that Reed is the fall guy — often getting swapped out for Tucker or even Dewayne Dedmon (yikes).
I’ll admit that there’s still clunky moments of chaos with Reed. In just recent memory, he logged an offensive goaltending. He went for a loose ball while hanging on the rim. Those moments still happen, but Reed has slowly limited them with time and experience.
The Paul Reed experience in 30 seconds pic.twitter.com/PL9mWtQSlG— Sean Barnard (@Sean_Barnard1) March 11, 2023
For better or worse, Paul Reed is a necessary chaos that the Sixers’ rotation needs. He’s one of the best hustle players in the NBA, which at times can be a double-edged sword. Still, Reed leads the league in loose balls recovered per-36 and has slowly decreased fouling.
Fouling has been a big talking point with Reed. Over the past 25 games, Reed has slowly decreased his foul rate — averaging 1.7 fouls in 12.3 minutes per game. It’s still somewhat high given the time played, but he isn’t actively hurting the team. In fact, Reed has had a plus-minus of +64 across the past 25 games. That’s quite an improvement in comparison to Amir Johnson, Greg Monroe, or our old friend DeAndre Jordan.
Reed’s defense and hustle are real, and most people know that. Other concerns transpire on the other end of the floor, an area where he might’ve improved the most thus far. Increased time with Harden has greatly improved their chemistry together. We all know Harden elevates his teammates, but that doesn’t tell the whole story for Reed.
The James Harden + Paul Reed chemistry continues to grow pic.twitter.com/zVdJTl3wwB— Jackson Lloyd (@JacksonLloydNBA) March 31, 2023
On the season, Reed has slowly upped his field goal percentage to nearly 60 percent shooting. His touch around the rim has been better than ever, and he’s even hitting free throws at a respectable 75 percent clip.
I’ll stop throwing stats at you and get to the point: The Sixers, most specifically Doc Rivers, need to fully trust Reed. He’s proven that he’s capable of playing at a high level, in control, against some of the best teams in the league.
The argument for going small with Tucker diminishes day-by-day, with teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks often ignoring him on the offensive end. Opposing defenses won’t treat Reed much differently, but he can reliably convert dunks/layups in the dunker spot. Without Embiid on the court, the Sixers need all the size and rim protection they can get — nether of which Tucker offers.
Paul Reed is playing his best basketball yet, and the recent stretch suggests that they’ll be able to trust him for 10-12 minutes in the postseason. He’s slowly morphed into one of their most consistent bench producers, and it’s time Doc Rivers starts treating him as such.