One of the biggest storylines throughout the offseason (and dating back several years) has been the Philadelphia 76ers‘ backup center position. Joel Embiid leaves some monstrous shoes to fill when he steps off the court and the Sixers have failed to find a way to fill them. Following the trade for James Harden in which Andre Drummond was sent to Brooklyn, the backup center position became a major position of need once again.
Despite Doc Rivers’ determination to play DeAndre Jordan, he begrudgingly gave Paul Reed the opportunity and was rewarded with the most effective backup center minutes in the Embiid era. The role looked to remain in Reed’s hands, but the Sixers made a late offseason addition to bring in Montrezl Harrell. Through the first three preseason games, it appeared that Reed had the inside track on the backup center job. However, Harrell was the first big man off the bench in the preseason finale against the Hornets which means the battle may not be over.
The 2019-20 Sixth Man of the Year was the first big man off the bench checking in with 3:32 left in the first quarter. He made his presence felt early and often in the pick-and-roll and on the offensive boards. In one sequence, he got an offensive rebound and put-back before rushing back to take a charge on the defensive end. There may not be a quick route for a player to endear themselves to Philly fans.
In total, Harrell ended with 14 points and six rebounds in his 16 minutes of play. He also added a pair of blocks and shot 5-8 from the field while connecting on all four free-throw attempts. The energy and ferocity he played with were notable once again. Despite it being a preseason game, Harrell did not hesitate to let out several screams following a block or a made shot.
It took until 9:21 left in the fourth quarter for Reed to check into the game. He did his thing and mirrored the energy of Harrell in his own way. The former second-round was taken out of the game with 2:56 left to play as Coach Rivers emptied the bench. In Reed’s roughly six minutes of play, he did not score but added three rebounds, an assist, and registered two fouls.
Sixers Backup Big Battle
Both Reed and Harrell have some interesting qualities in their play that can contribute to the Sixers’ success. They also are complimentary of each other in the way that Reed is much more defensive-oriented while Harrell makes his presence felt on the offensive end.
The most intriguing aspect of Harrell’s game is his ability as a screen and roller alongside James Harden. During the duo’s two seasons together with the Rockets, Harrell ranked in the 87th and 89th percentile for points per possession in the pick-and-roll. The eye test would not indicate they are producing at quite this rate in a Sixers uniform just yet but the potential is certainly there.
Building a bench unit around Harrell with either Harden or Maxey as his partner in the two-man game has exciting potential. Surrounding the duo with guys like Danuel House Jr, P.J. Tucker, and De’Anthony Melton around them will space the floor, and this is sure to provide better bench offense than the Sixers have seen in several years.
For all that Harrell brings on the offensive end, Reed can mirror it with defensive impact. His ability to switch onto smaller guard and still make a positive impact is rare. This was a major reason for his strong impact last year and is an increasingly important skill in the postseason. Picking and choosing the right matchups to use each big man seems the best route for the Sixers. While this competition and diversity in play is positive for the Sixers overall, the Bball Paul victory tour may not be running on an every night basis as it was once expected.