Backup center position could be the Sixers’ downfall

DeAndre Jordan, Sixers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
DeAndre Jordan, Sixers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

When the Sixers traded for James Harden, they elevated themselves to the level of a championship contender. Regardless of your personal feelings about Harden and his play style, he makes the Sixers significantly better than an absent Ben Simmons.

The cost of acquiring a superstar talent came at the depth on the bench. With the trade, the Sixers lost arguably the best backup big man in the entire league in Andre Drummond.

There has not been one problem that has consistently hindered the Sixers more during The Process era than the backup big man. Whether it was Amir Johnson, Kyle O’Quinn, or Dwight Howard, the problem was always the same. Joel Embiid would dominate for 35 to 40 minutes, then when his backup came, everything fell apart.

The Sixers seemed to have solved this quandary with the Drummond signing last offseason, but following the Harden deal, the Sixers’ backup big men now features DeAndre Jordan and Paul Millsap, two players who would have been excellent six years ago, but sadly this isn’t 2016.

The Sixers’ poor depth at backup center could cost them in the playoffs

To say Jordan and Millsap have been bad in their role behind Embiid might be an understatement. The eye test doesn’t look pleasing, and the stats validate the fans’ criticisms.

Since joining Philadelphia, Jordan and Millsap have a plus-minus of -1.7 and -3.0. Plus-minus isn’t the end all be all in player evaluation, but for two players who only average 13 and 12 minutes a contest, it is very concerning.

Back in their primes, both Millsap and Jordan were All-NBA caliber defenders who brought immense value to their teams. Today at their advanced age, their defense has turned from a positive to a negative. Lower body injuries haven’t helped, and now, they can no longer keep up with the NBA elite.

Just how bad have Millsap and Jordan been for the Sixers? For Millsap, opponents shoot 73.3-percent against him when they are within six feet of the rim. For Jordan, that figure is better, but still not great at 64-percent.

To contextualize these stats within a game setting, I’ll give one example for each player within the past couple of weeks.

On April 5, the 76ers took on the lowly Indiana Pacers who were 25-54 at the time. With 1:52 remaining in the third quarter, DeAndre Jordan subs in for Joel Embiid with the Sixers having a 107-90 lead.

During the roughly four minutes Jordan was on the court in Embiid’s absence during the late third and early fourth quarter, the Pacers went on a 16-4 run to bring the game within five points. In the process, Jordan got ejected from that game after committing a flagrant two foul on Duane Washington Jr. Ultimately, Jordan’s play didn’t affect the outcome as the Sixers won 131-122.

For a more concerning example, let’s go back to Mar. 29 when the Sixers faced off against the reigning NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo torched Philadelphia for 40 points en route to a comeback victory, but that number doesn’t tell the full story.

With 2:22 remaining in the third, Embiid is subbed out for Paul Millsap with the Sixers holding an 82-72 lead. In the five minutes Millsap was at the 5, Antetokounmpo scored 15 points and brought the game within 2 points. Unlike the Indiana game, the Sixers couldn’t regain the momentum once Embiid came back in and fell to the Bucks 118-116.

To put it blunt, these two are simply unplayable at this stage of their careers. Both are liabilities on the defensive end while adding little to no value on the offensive end.

Doc Rivers has opted for Paul Reed to serve as Embiid’s backup the past two games. While this is definitely a positive sign, we’ve seen Rivers have a very short lease with Reed in the past. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Rivers becomes impatient with Reed in the playoffs or completely opts back to Jordan or Millsap. Either way, Rivers has to play this correctly, or it could end up being the reason why the Sixers don’t bring home the Larry O’Brien this postseason.

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