As the team begins to turn its focus to next season, the roster is nearly complete. As things currently stand the Sixers’ options at the backup center position include Paul Reed, Charles Bassey, and PJ Tucker.
The Sixers have struggled to find the proper backup center to Joel Embiid throughout the entirety of his career. The franchise has been through Greg Monroe, Boban Marjonovic, Al Horford, Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond, and several others. While each player has brought a different style and a new collection of strengths and weaknesses, the franchise has not found the proper solution when Embiid is not on the court.
To some extent, this should be expected. Joel Embiid is undoubtedly the best player on the Sixers and the team is built around him on both sides of the floor. Many teams view backup centers as highly replaceable, however, the Sixers cannot afford for this to be the case due to the importance of Joel Embiid.
While Tucker will surely spend time on the wing and as a power forward, he also has experience as a small-ball center dating back to his days in Houston. While each player has exciting attributes that could be put to use they each have some glaring weaknesses. There are still several notable veteran big men on the market such as DeMarcus Cousins and Hassan Whiteside whom Doc Rivers would surely love to add to the rotation. However, should the Sixers feel confident rolling out Paul Reed as the primary option?
Is Paul Reed ready for the backup role?
Paul Reed has gathered a cult following since being drafted in 2020. The man is nicknamed after the very sport he plays and has an incredibly unique style of play. Bball Paul brings erratic energy that can rub some the wrong way but should be recognized for its impact in diving for loose balls or making the necessary hustle plays.
In his first season with the Sixers, Pail Reed played a total of just 177 minutes during the season. Last year he saw a slight uptick and tallied 302 minutes in the regular season. In the playoffs, Reed played a total of 140 minutes. For reference, Andre Drummond played a total of 902 minutes during his 49 games with the Sixers. The bottom line is Reed is still fairly unproven.
In the positive sign of things, Bball Paul deserves a ton of credit for the impact he made in the postseason. Reed played 11.2 minutes per game where he provided 3.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.8 steals, and 0.5 blocks. He also had some notable foul issues and averaged 6.8 fouls per 36 minutes.
There was the good, bad, and ugly with Paul Reed, but there was enough that should have the franchise wanting more. The areas in his game that need improvement are all extremely fixable and stuff he can work through. The Sixers have opted to leave Reed at the G-League level but there is an argument that this has not been the best thing for his development. The DePaul product is comfortable when looking like the best player on the court, as is often the case in the G-League and certainly was in the Summer League, but is still adjusting when filling a complementary role. Allowing him to get some extended time in this role could produce some extremely positive results.
Do the Sixers have other backup options beyond Paul Reed?
While he has an NBA frame and an intriguing skill set, Charles Bassey does not look ready to be tasked with rotational minutes. Bassey showed some impressive flashes in his brief minutes with the Sixers last season but clearly was not trusted by Doc Rivers. The former 53rd overall pick saw his stock drop in summer league as he failed to find his stride.
In fairness to Bassey, this is an extremely difficult setting for him to shine. He is a player who is incredibly reliant on the creation by his guards for his offense to occur. It is becoming clear that his NBA role for him is as a lob-catching and rim-running big man. Modeling his game after players like Clint Capela or Mitchell Robinson appears the route to get the most out of his career. Bassey had some solid flashes that were set up by Trevelin Queen or Cassius Winston, but never truly hit his stride.
On the other hand, there are few players in the NBA’s history who are as effective at creating for their teammates as James Harden. Charles Bassey is the type of big man that Harden has had success with in the past and the Sixers’ star guard would certainly make life easy for him. It was also concerning the lack of defensive impact that Bassey had in summer league which would be something that needs to change if he is to compete for regular minutes.
Another option the Sixers have is playing PJ Tucker at center. Despite standing just 6’5″ Tucker has the toughness and ability to survive minutes guarding opposing big men. He became most famous for this during his time in Houston with Harden and Morey and has done it in small doses with other teams as well.
While this should absolutely be played around with and an option in the postseason, it does not make much sense to put a ton of miles on Tucker in the regular season. The 37-year-old is set to be a vital part of the Sixers postseason but limiting the wear and tear on his body until this point would be the proper move.
What Should Sixers Do:
While many people (Doc Rivers likely included) would be more comfortable with a veteran big man added to the Sixers roster, the team is best off seeing what they have with the young guys. If there is a move made for a veteran Doc Rivers will undoubtedly play him over the young centers and we will be left asking the same questions next season. Allowing Paul Reed to play through some growing pains could result in him becoming the long-term backup for Joel Embiid that the franchise has been in search of.
If Paul Reed is not progressing at the rate the team is hoping, there are certain to be playable backup big men on the free agent or buyout market. However, making this decision without giving the young guys a true opportunity would be a mistake. The backup center position is sure to be under evaluation throughout the next season. However, for the time being, let the Paul Reed victory tour begin.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Swinge