Sixers finally have an answer to their backup center problem and his name is Paul Reed

Paul Reed
Philadelphia 76ers’ Paul Reed (44) dunks the ball in the first half during Game 2 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets, Monday, April 17, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Sixers finally have an answer to their backup center problem and his name is Paul Reed

For longtime Sixers fans, the question of ‘who would best fill the team’s backup center hole?’ have long been a point of contention.

Over the years, the team has sought to back up star center Joel Embiid with young guys showing potential, such as Richuan Holmes and Jahlil Okafor.

They’ve attempted to pair Embiid with known big-man talent, such as Mike Scott and Al Horford. They’ve gone through a Rolodex of veteran centers, from Amir Johnson and Greg Monroe, to Dwight Howard and De’Andre Jordan, to Montrezl Harrell and Dewayne Dedmon.

They even signed Embiid’s former semi-nemesis Andre Drummond, who, ironically, became one of the best backups Embiid has ever had.

The answer (not that one)

But after years of failed 1-year contracts, blown leads during non-Embiid minutes, and struggles on the buyout market, the Sixers finally seem to have found their answer in Paul Reed, a.k.a “BBall Paul”. While his potential has always been evident, his development as a player this season has been nothing short of monumental – and he got to showcase it to the world during Game 4 against the Brooklyn Nets. With Embiid out with a right knee sprain, the team was counting on Reed more than ever – and boy, did he deliver.

Reed is almost ubiquitously known as an “energy guy”. His combination of size and speed allow him to keep up with guarding the NBA’s best. While he likely won’t outplay them, he’ll do his best to outwork them on effort alone – a strategy that works more often than one might think. His lean build and impressive vertical jump allow him to nab substantial rebounds – which was critical in the Sixers’ ability to overtake the lead in Game 4. And while his playmaking isn’t perfect, he’s completely serviceable running a pick-and-roll with James Harden and getting to the rim.

Paul reed
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Tre Mann (23) drives against Philadelphia 76ers forward Paul Reed Jr. (44) during the first half of an NBA summer league basketball game Thursday, July 7, 2022, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Jeff Swinger)

After the Sixers drafted BBall Paul in 2020 in the second round, he quickly became electric in the G-League. The 6’9” center-forward led the Delaware Blue Coats to the Finals in 2021, earning both the league MVP and Rookie of the Year awards. But after being converted to a standard NBA contract, Reed’s forceful style of play that set him apart in the G-League became a bit of a hindrance in the NBA. His aggressive on-ball defense led to more fouls, while his lack of ball control caused a substantial number of turnovers. For these reasons, conservative-minded head coach Doc Rivers has often limited his minutes these past two seasons, favoring well-known veterans like Jordan and Harrell. 

But something clicked after the All-Star break this season, and Rivers began substituting Paul Reed in more regularly for Embiid. Whether Reed exercised more ball control during practices, got into a groove with Harden like the team hoped would happen with Harrell, or simply was a better-suited option when playing athletic teams like the Miami Heat or Toronto Raptors – he earned his minutes and a spot in the playoff rotation.

Paul Reed comes alive in the lights

Through the first three games of the playoffs, Paul Reed averaged 6.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and just one turnover in 11 minutes per game. Not too shabby for any backup center in limited postseason minutes, but with Embiid out for game 4, the Sixers needed BBall Paul to step up in a major way. And like any clutch player, the 23-year-old delivered.

Brooklyn Nets’ Mikal Bridges (1) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers’ Paul Reed (44) during the second half of Game 4 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 22, 2023, in New York. The 76ers won 96-88. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

In 32 minutes of play on Saturday, Paul Reed put up a double-double with 10 points, 15(!!) rebounds, 2 assists, a block, and a steal. He also gave up just one turnover and only three fouls – far better than at any previous point in his professional career. In fact, his only turnover came just off a pick-and-roll with Harden, when he attempted an Embiid-type cross-court pass that, while not totally off target, wound up in the wrong hands. While Reed might not yet be at that level, his willingness to attempt more daring plays demonstrates a commitment to bettering his game. 

Paul Reed’s ball-handling improvements, his energetic defense, and his ability to come in clutch when needed the most should not go unnoticed by the Sixers’ coaching staff. Undoubtedly, Reed has earned his spot as Embiid’s primary backup throughout this postseason and into next year. If BBall Paul has shown us anything, it’s that he’s only going to continue to improve.

AP Photo/Derik Hamilton