76ers don’t need another backup center; Paul Reed is the answer

Paul Reed, Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Paul Reed, Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

The NBA trade deadline came and went, and the Philadelphia 76ers did not trade for a center. With so much buzz around the prospect of Philly adding another big behind Joel Embiid, it feels like only a matter of time until Daryl Morey procures another 7-footer to bolster the frontcourt.

Nerlens Noel has been the talk of the town as a potential buyout candidate. Meanwhile, names like Dewayne Dedmon and Serge Ibaka have crept into the conversation as well.

I’m here to state the unpopular but factual; to admit what others might be too afraid to admit. The Sixers do not need another backup center. There’s already a good enough backup on the roster, and his name is Paul Reed.

The 76ers should invest in Paul Reed as Joel Embiid’s full-time backup

Reed, the 23-year-old former second-round pick, has been largely out of the rotation for Philadelphia this season in favor of Montrezl Harrell. The tide appears to have shifted, however: Reed has played over Harrell in Philly’s last two games. On balance, Philly has won Reed’s minutes. Simple enough, but too often the Sixers completely fell apart whenever Harrell tried (and failed) to protect the rim.

Whether or not you believe fully in Reed right now is immaterial. He’s a whirlwind defensive presence, for better or worse. He can still find himself in a compromised position after an ill-advised gamble on defense, but the alternative for now is Harrell — a 6-foot-7 “big” with cement in his shoes. Reed’s sheer effort and force of will generally yields positive results. He also crashes the glass hard, something the Sixers need more of.

As for the off-roster alternatives, let’s look at the list of names again. Nerlens Noel, who is out of the rotation in Detroit and who gravely lacks any semblance of offensive skill. Serge Ibaka and Dewayne Dedmon are old, thoroughly cooked with zero long-term upside. And, frankly, are you ready to trust the now 33-year-old Ibaka in the playoffs? People forget how, just last season, Reed performed admirably in consistent postseason minutes for Philadelphia.

So many have complained about the lack of real options behind Embiid, and that simply isn’t true. The real issue has been Doc Rivers’ reluctance to trust Reed, not the fact that Reed can’t perform when given the chance. The Sixers even have P.J. Tucker for good measure — one of the few proven, actually competent “small-ball 5s” in the NBA. Why waste a roster spot on a fourth center who, in all likelihood, just isn’t as good as Reed right now. Not to mention the long-term upside Reed carries as he becomes more disciplined on both sides of the ball.

Per-36 stats can be noisy at best, but Reed is averaging 2.5 steals and 2.1 blocks per 36 for Philly. He has the foundation of a singularly disruptive big man defender: not only protecting the rim, but switching effortlessly on the perimeter, busting up passing lanes, and containing guards at the point of attack. His versatility is especially useful in the playoffs, where again, old drop coverage defenders like Ibaka or Dedmon are going to get targeted and destroyed by well-coached offenses. Noel at least has some credibility as a rim protector, but whereas Reed displays touch and flashes legitimate skill on offense, Noel is frequently liable to fumble passes or brick lay-ins.

The Sixers would be much wiser to use their 15th roster spot on another two-way wing in the mold of Danny Green or Will Barton. The odds of whatever backup center becomes available being better than Reed now, or especially down the road, is slim at best.