Nick Nurse is the perfect coach for B-ball Paul

Paul Reed, Sixers Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Paul Reed, Sixers Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

Paul Reed currently sits in basketball limbo, a restricted free agent for the Philadelphia 76ers, but without an update on his contract, he remains a man without a home. If history is any indication, it might be in Reed’s best interest to re-sign here in Philadelphia in order to work with new head coach Nick Nurse. Reed has long been a tantalizing prospect, but just as quick to commit a silly foul or unforced turnover as he was to make a highlight block or finish a sensational alley-oop.

Nurse might just be the perfect guy to help Reed thrive.

Nick Nurse has often been criticized as a coach who plays his starters too many minutes, leading to injuries and player breakdowns. The Sixers are led by Joel Embiid and James Harden, two stars who have proven that they need to be held back for their own good, or else they will degrade and miss crucial postseason time. This team will need to have at least three or four consistent players off of the bench to take pressure off of the starters and Reed could thrive as a backup 4 or 5.

Nurse is also known for mixing up both his offense and defense to throw different looks at the opposition and Reed’s unique athleticism and ability to guard multiple positions makes him the ideal curveball in a variety of roles. He can be a game-changing Swiss army knife of the pine for a coach who loves positionally flexible players. The ultimate opportunity would be if the Sixers traded Tobias Harris, leaving a wide-open spot for a new starting power forward.

There has never been a question about Reed’s talent. When given the opportunity in the G-League he responded with studly performances and walked away with the G-league MVP. His issue in the NBA has been his discipline. Knowing the difference between gambling and playing smart, steady basketball has been his Achilles heel. Too often he has been seen committing silly fouls while trying to pressure ball handlers 30 feet away from the rim, which has hampered his ability to show anything on offense.

His fit on the offensive end is another matter. His moves, even when effective, often appear out of control and the unusual form of his jump shot can best be described as “wonky”. And yet his relentless attack of the rim and unwavering confidence has led to some spectacular results, leading many to wonder whether his best position would be at power forward. For fans of the Toronto Raptors, those descriptions should sound familiar, because that was how Pascal Siakam was seen for his first two seasons before Nurse gave him a shot as a starter.

Siakam should be seen as the goal when assessing Reed’s ceiling.

There are a lot of similarities between the two players, starting with the boundless energy and non-stop motor. That degree of on-court enthusiasm can’t be coached, it is an innate gift. It might take some squinting to see Reed at that level, but the ability is there, and it is well within the realm of possibility. His internal drive, basketball instincts, and physical tools on both ends make it easy to imagine Paul as a significant starter with star potential. His defensive skills alone make most coaches drool, but the same enthusiasm that fuels his passion can make him reckless and hurt the team with wild mistakes. This is where Nurse comes in.

Nurse has a history of developing young talent with the Raptors. With a little coaching, confidence, and playing time there is every reason to believe that Reed is a serious diamond in the rough. If Siakam is Reed’s ceiling, then another Nurse product should be seen as his floor: Chris Boucher. Boucher is another G-League success story who grew into a talented bench contributor for the Raptors over the last few years, and his length and shot-blocking skills are similar to Reed’s. But “B-ball Paul”’s athleticism and offensive skill set are both better than Boucher’s, lending credence to the notion that if Reed’s wild ways can be tamed there might be a steal of a talent just waiting for his moment.

Statistically, Reed’s numbers from his first three NBA seasons are already very similar to what Siakam produced off the bench during his first two seasons, before getting his big break in season three. Reed put up similar numbers to Boucher last season despite only playing half as many minutes per game. League history tells us that if a talented prospect is going to blow up it will probably happen this year, or not at all.

Year four could make or break the career of Paul Reed.

The main reason to believe that Reed is on the verge of a professional explosion is that he has gone from a coach who didn’t trust young players to a coach who took pride in growing young talent. Only Miami played more Zone Defense the last two years than Nurse’s Raptors, so Sixers fans should prepare to see more of that here. Imagine Reed roaming and pressuring freely with Embiid guarding the paint. Where Doc Rivers tried to rein Reed in, Nurse will give him the freedom to be himself, focusing on his strengths and downplaying his weaknesses.

Reed’s unique length, speed, and instincts have proven to be Thybulle-esque, and his career per 36-minute numbers of 2.6 steals and 2.3 blocks would put him in the company of some of the best defenders to ever play the game.  For comparison’s sake, Bam Adebayo’s career per 36 numbers is 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks per game, and even our beloved and much ballyhooed Matisse Thybulle’s per-36 numbers are 2.6 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. In other words, Reed has freaky, unique defensive skills.

They say that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Well, Paul Reed has been preparing for this moment for the last three years. He just needs Nick Nurse to help put him in a position to succeed and give him his opportunity. If the Sixers can re-sign Reed, and Nurse can get him 25+ minutes per game, then perhaps next year the team and the player could both find themselves feeling pretty lucky with the results.