Have the Sixers Solved Their Backup Center Problem?

PHILADELPHIA, PA – MAY 07: Shirts line the seats of the Wells Fargo Center for fans before the Eastern Conference Semifinal Game between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers on May 07, 2018 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

The Sixers have been in search of a proper backup center for Joel Embiid for the entirety of his career. Have they finally solved the problem?

From Boban Marjanovic to Al Horford to Greg Monroe, the Sixers have failed to successfully cut into the drastic plus/minus drop that is seen when Joel Embiid is not on the court. This was seen most evident during the heartbreaking 2019 playoff loss to the Raptors, where the Sixers outscored the Raptors by 21 points per 100 possessions when Embiid was on the court and were outscored by 46 points per 100 possessions when he was off.

While this is the most drastic example, this problem has been evident every year. Daryl Morey turned his search for a player with more pedigree to back up Embiid and elected to sign Dwight Howard last season. Despite some positive flashes throughout the season, Dwight proved to be unplayable in the playoffs and extremely limited in his skillset at this point in his career.

With Dwight Howard clearly not the answer to the Sixers’ backup center problem, the Sixers made a change again this offseason. The near three-week absence of Joel Embiid due to contracting Covid-19 has provided a chance for the Sixers to give each backup option to make their case why they belong in the rotation. There have been positive takeaways for Andre Drummond, Paul Reed, and Charles Bassey, but have the Sixers solved their backup center problem yet?

Andre Drummond

In many ways, Andre Drummond has been Dwight Howard without the nonsense. He hasn’t been perfect, but it has been refreshing the lack of unnecessary offensive and technical fouls from the backup center position. Through the first 18 games of the season, Andre Drummond is averaging 23 minutes played per game which has resulted in 6.9 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists.

When looking at Dwight Howard, there was a limited amount of minutes that he could shoulder. The 6 fouls per 36 minutes that he averaged ensured that he would foul out, and he made head-scratching decisions at times. Andre Drummond is much more effective in an “innings-eater” type role, as you can leave him out there for longer stretches of time without him killing the team.

Drummond has more offensive layers than Dwight Howard at this stage of his career but still is limited in his game. Despite his massive 6’10 frame, Drummond lacks effective post moves and is mostly ineffective at scoring around the basket.

While Andre Drummond has been an upgrade over Dwight Howard, it is tough to feel confident he is the missing piece in the Sixers rotation. His lack of foot speed makes him especially vulnerable on switches which will become an even larger issue as the postseason approaches.

This was especially evident in the recent Warriors game as they continually switched Drummond into space and took advantage of the mismatch. On a veteran’s minimum contract, the Sixers certainly found value in Drummond, but there is still much to be desired with the areas of the game in which his weaknesses are.

Paul Reed

Bball Paul is pure chaos on the basketball court, but in a way that can be bottled effectively. The former G-League MVP has played in just 9.8 minutes per game this season which he has contributed 2.6 points and 2.7 rebounds. Despite the limited minutes, Reed has shown growth in his ability to serve as a complementary player. Reed is still extremely raw, but there have been some very encouraging signs early on in his career.

The most exciting aspect of Bball Paul’s game comes on the defensive end. While he is effective as a rim protector, Reed also flashes quick enough foot-speed to stay with perimeter players. This makes Reed much more switchable and prevents opposing teams from exploiting this potential weakness.

While the signs of growth are there, Paul Reed is far from a finished product. With just 40 games of NBA play in his career, Reed has been unable to crack the regular rotation to date. It is certainly not time to give up on Reed climbing out the mud, but Doc Rivers is clearly not ready to rely on Reed as a regular big man reserve option.

Charles Bassey

The Sixers expanded their search for a reliable backup big man by selecting Charles Bassey with the 53rd pick in last year’s draft. The 21-year-old has impressed in his limited minutes and shows all the signs of what you look for in a backup center.

Unlike Reed, Bassey is completely content staying in his role by grabbing rebounds, blocking shots, and capitalizing on second-chance points. Bassey is a terrific shot-blocker and averaged 3.1 blocks per game his final season at Western Kentucky. He also has made some advanced reads in the pick-and-roll and flashed some overall impressive defensive IQ. While there has been a lot to like so far, Bassey has played a total of just 81 minutes so far in his NBA career.

In the long run, there is a lot to like surrounding the Sixers’ backup options for Joel Embiid. However, looking at this season, it is tough to feel great about their options looking toward the postseason. Even during the shorthanded road trip, Doc Rivers has not shown the commitment to developing these young centers that is necessary. The short-term growing pains are completely worth what the long-term results of the minutes will provide.