It’s time for the Sixers to try the Reed at the four

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Philadelphia 76ers forward Paul Reed, left, blocks a shot by Oklahoma City Thunder guard Aaron Wiggins during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Kyle Phillips)

After a soaring 8-1 start to the season, the Philadelphia 76ers have quickly simmered down. They’ve been knocked out of the inaugural In-Season Tournament, they’ve dealt with their fair share of injuries, and they’ve had a sizeable number of ultra-close games against teams they should be able to beat handily. In particular, the Sixers have struggled mightily against teams of size.

Size issues continue to plague the Sixers

New Orleans Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas (17) goes to the basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers in New Orleans, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Their recent loss was the largest margin of any of their losses this season at a whopping 13 points. And while they largely did a nice job containing the Thunder last Saturday, they struggled against breakout rookie Chet Holmgren, who put up his second-highest points (33) and career-high three-pointers (5).

With their recent loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, the Sixers once again found themselves struggling against size. Yes, in both the games against Minnesota and New Orleans, the Sixers were without Joel Embiid, which makes an enormous difference, but the struggles against the Thunder and even the Boston Celtics remain.

One potential solution is to ramp up Paul Reed’s role in the rotation. Reed, AKA BBall Paul, has been Embiid’s primary backup center thus far and has done a decent job in that role. But many fans have long wanted to see how Reed would function playing the four and sharing the court with Embiid. During the offseason, Nick Nurse strongly suggested he would take this approach, but to date, it hasn’t materialized.

Would a Reed-Embiid on-court duo actually work?

Philadelphia 76ers forward Paul Reed (44) shoots over Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) during the first half of Game 1 in the NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals playoff series, Monday, May 1, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The pros are certainly there. Reed is a classic “energy guy” with a combination of speed and athleticism that allows him to block shots and out-rebound opponents. In his last five games, Reed has put up 5.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in just 12.9 minutes per game on average. His efficiency has continued to improve, and Sixers head coach Nurse himself has spoken about his confidence in the 24-year-old.

What’s more, Reed could take on some of Embiid’s defensive duties in the post, allowing the latter to get back in transition more quickly – another area in which they’ve struggled. While Embiid has been the team’s absolute defensive anchor this season, the downside to that is the defense quickly falls apart when Embiid isn’t on the court. Mixing in Reed might have the added bonus of giving him the confidence and flow with his teammates in running the Sixers’ defense when he’s in his more traditional role as a backup center. 

Of course, there are cons to this approach too. While Reed is lightning-quick on his feet, he isn’t exactly known for his footwork. Many of his opponents can beat him to the rim in that regard, getting Reed in foul trouble to boot. Furthermore, despite Reed’s rare gem of a corner three against the Thunder, he’s not yet a guy you really want taking many shots. Tobias Harris and Nico Batum are much better options offensively, and Reed may be squeezed out of that role even further once Kelly Oubre Jr. returns to action. 

Still, Nick Nurse has shown a willingness to experiment with the lineup and a keen ability to adjust his style of play depending on the opponent. With it still being early in the season, it’s worth a shot to explore what benefits a Reed-Embiid on-court duo may have for the Sixers.