Sixers’ face familiar Achilles’ heel following band-aid buyout addition

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CHICAGO, IL – APRIL 02: Miami Heat center Dewayne Dedmon (21) makes a lay up in action during a NBA game between the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls on April 2, 2022 at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire)

Death, Taxes, and concern over the Sixers‘ backup center position. These have become the three certainties of life.

As Joel Embiid has ascended to true superstar status among the NBA’s best, it also has made his shoes that much larger to fill during the minutes in which he is not on the floor. While the backup center position may be able to be overlooked on most teams, Embiid being the most important player on both sides of the floor increases its importance on the Sixers. With the lone remaining roster spot that has been kept open all season, Philadelphia elected to attempt to address the uncertain backup center play through the buyout market once again this year.

Who is Dewayne Dedmon?

Turn back the clock a few years ago, and Dewayne Dedmon would be an ideal backup center candidate for the Sixers. He is an impressive rebounder and a true seven-footer with an intriguing jump shot and overall touch around the basket. However, the Sixers have made it a habit of signing veteran centers when they do not have enough left in the tank (*cough DeAndre Jordan, Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard, etc.), and there is a reasonable concern with Dedmon being the next on the list.

After spending three seasons with the franchise, the 33-year-old agreed to a buyout with the Miami Heat. Dedmon did not receive any minutes in 20 of his last 24 games with the Heat. He also was fined and suspended by the Heat for an altercation with head coach Erik Spoelstra which resulted in Dedmon throwing a massage gun onto the court shortly before his exit. The University of Southern California product also played 11 games with the Sixers back in the 2013-14 season.

While his size and skill set are an appealing fit for the Sixers, the question is if he has any life left in his legs. The Heat averaged 13.8 fewer points per 100 possessions when Dedmon was on the floor this season, and his -12.5 net rating was the worst of any player on their roster. His reputation has been for his defensive impact, but the Heat posted better defensive numbers while he was off the court this season.

Yes, Dedmon is a true center and a different option for Doc Rivers to go to, but it is not certain the players on the roster don’t provide the Sixers with the greatest chance of winning.

Paul Reed’s Development

Perhaps the most frustrating part of this conversation is not knowing where Paul Reed’s development stands. Reed has taken a backseat in the backup center role for stretches at a time and has had a notably short leash in his opportunities on the court. The DePaul product has not seen any time on the court in 13 of the Sixers’ 57 matchups while playing five or fewer minutes on the court in 15 games.

During his on-court opportunity, Reed has shown flashes of looking much more under control when given an extended opportunity. His activity on the offensive end, particularly as a screen-and-roller, should be looked at as a massive stride forward. Defensively he continues to shine with his ability to block shots at the rim while also matchup with smaller guards on the perimeter, making him unique compared to the entire crop of Embiid’s backups from years past. The concerns over his foul issues are also extremely overblown, considering in the best of circumstances; Reed will play a maximum of 12 minutes as Embiid will shoulder the load at center.

One factor that could open the door further for Reed is the addition of Jalen McDaniels. Reed and McDaniels have formed a fearsome defensive duo in the second unit. Their lengthy wingspans and athleticism are capable of swallowing up opponents. This was put on display in the most recent victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, in which the duo blitzed and trapped in pick-and-roll situations, which wreaked havoc in the halfcourt. This has even opened the eyes of Rivers from a lineup standpoint.

Should Montrezl Harrell be Forgotten?

The forgotten man in this conversation has been Montrezl Harrell. There was some excitement surrounding the news of the Sixers signing the former Sixth Man of the Year due to the offensive punch he was expected to be capable of bringing. Unfortunately, the high-level offensive weapon that Harrell once was is not the version of him that arrived in Philadelphia.

In his 12.5 minutes per game, Harrell has averaged just 5.7 points and 2.8 rebounds. While his energy has been important, and he appears well-liked within the locker room, Harrell looks to have lost a significant amount of vertical ability. James Harden can make just about any screen-and-roll big man look good, but Harrell is no longer capable of being the lob threat that previously was a large part of his offensive repertoire. He also has attempted a total of just nine shot attempts outside of 10 feet which has resulted in the floor shrinking with Harrell on it.

There also is plenty of evidence that points to Harrell being unplayable in the postseason. In fact, Rivers’ decision to play Harrell too much in the 2019-20 playoffs was a major reason for his getting fired from the Clippers during the duo’s time there. During the postseason matchup with the Nuggets, in which the Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead, Harrell posted a -27.1 net rating when matching up with Nikola Jokic despite sharing the court for just 72 minutes. Now a few years older and with his feet still too slow to hold up on the perimeter, going back to the well could earn the same result for both Rivers and the Sixers.

Do the Sixers Have Enough at Backup Center?

The simple answer to this question is we will find out. Harrell has underperformed as an innings-eater during the regular season, and it would be further concerning if the plan is for him to be the postseason option. Reed is still a bit of a wild card, although signs of promise are there, and it is fair to be pessimistic about what Dedmon has left in the tank based on the Sixers’ past history. Having this variety of options and counting on Rivers to pull the right strings based on matchups likely causes an even greater trepidation among Sixers fans.

Is the Dedmon addition a positive sign and a solid option to have on the bench? Sure. Is he the cure-all backup center option most hope the Sixers would have in hand at this point? Absolutely not.

It is frustrating to be fighting the same concerns year after year, but the limited assets the Sixers possed handcuffed them this season. Previous transactions soaked up the majority of the organization’s flexibility, and they frankly couldn’t check every box on the wish list. Whether or not continuing to overlook the significance of the backup center role may prove to be a bigger gamble than Daryl Morey realizes.