As the Philadelphia 76ers prepare for the second round of the NBA players, two members of the bench will prove important to the team’s success. The Sixers will likely face off against the Boston Celtics in Round Two and will need every bit of contribution each and every player can spare. Here are two players in particular who could prove vital.
Shake Milton needs minutes
Behind James Harden, the Sixers have a few players that can handle the ball. Tyrese Maxey is the most obvious choice, as he’s one of the stars of this current Sixers team. Furkan Korkmaz and DeAnthony Melton are also able to handle a role as a backup to Harden, but none of these options is as good as Shake Milton.
Prior to last season, with the drama surrounding Ben Simmons, the starting point guard role was Milton’s. Doc Rivers had shown that Milton would be the guy, and Maxey would be coming off the bench. Milton then injured his ankle, and the job was Maxey’s. Through it all, including testing positive for Covid and then a back injury, Milton has fought to keep in shape and be ready for when the team needed him.
We’ve all seen the Rivers experiment with Maxey off the bench and how that didn’t work out. We’ve seen teams key on Maxey when Harden is off the floor, and Maxey is charged with running the offense. It doesn’t work.
When Milton is on the floor, Maxey is able to operate as if Harden were there. He can move without the ball, and the defense can’t key on him. Milton, while not a true point guard, has the ability to get the ball to the players in an open position. In his final three games of the season, seeing starter’s minutes, Milton averaged 15.3 points and 11.3 assists per game. Those numbers aren’t an accident.
With James Harden obviously affected by the Achilles injury that was aggravated at the end of the season, the Sixers need to be smart with his minutes if they hope to get past Boston and move toward the NBA Finals. Milton has shown that he can handle the extended minutes and get the ball to the players that need it when they are ready for it. He’s the key to keeping Harden healthy and the offense moving in the right direction when their star point guard is on the bench.
Paul Reed has arrived
Paul Reed, for whatever reason, hasn’t seen a lot of time on the floor the past two seasons, or at least as much as everyone in the Philadelphia area and those watching on TV have thought he should get. He’s waited patiently behind players like DeAndre Jordan, Montrezl Harrell, and Dewayne Dedmon while trying o improve his game.
The big problem is that you can’t expect him to improve if he doesn’t get to play in a real game against real opponents. There’s only so much practice that a player can do.
While Reed will never be Joel Embiid, the Sixers don’t need him to be. What they need is a valuable backup center that can rebound, score a few points, and, most importantly, give the Sixers MVP candidate much-needed rest as they go through the rest of the playoffs.
In the series-clinching win over the Brooklyn Nets, Paul Reed was finally given the chance to shine. He responded better than you could have expected. While his very early foul trouble was something that everyone planned on, how he recovered wasn’t.
Reed took some time on the bench and then came back as a menace against a Brooklyn team that was looking to take advantage of the Sixers not having Embiid on the floor. In 32 minutes, Reed had 10 points, 15 rebounds, and 2 assists, with 1 block and 1 steal. What more could you ask for a guy stepping into the position on a team that has high expectations for these playoffs?
If the Sixers are going to get past the Celtics in the second round of the playoffs, they’ll need more Paul Reed. The Sixers have seen, last year in Toronto and this past series against Brooklyn, that teams will not take it easy with Embiid on the floor. They resort to physical tactics, as Nets coach Jacque Vaughn had stated he told his team. (Embiid on the series averaged more than 2 fewer free-throws per game compared to the regular season, despite being abused any time he touched the ball.)
The Sixers are going to have to rest Embiid. They’re going to have to put someone on the floor that can move and defend. Someone that’s going to chase after every loose ball and rebound. Someone that will be able to compete with the Celtics’ many offensive threats. That person is Paul Reed, and it’s finally his time.