The debate surrounding who will take the backup center minutes has been a troublesome conversation for the Philadelphia 76ers dating back several years. Joel Embiid is the team’s most important player on both sides of the basketball and he leaves some massive shoes to fill when he takes a seat on the bench. The team is coming off a postseason in which Paul Reed provided the team with some of the best production that has been seen in this role. Montrezl Harrell was also signed in free agency and is sure to earn some time on the court.
However, when speaking to reporters following Friday morning’s practice Doc Rivers revealed another veteran that will be in the mix. According to Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia, Rivers said P.J. Tucker will have an opportunity in the backup center role and they plan to experiment with this lineup before the preseason is over.
Tucker’s Backup Center History
He may stand just 6’5″ but Tucker is no stranger to playing center. He first fully embraced this role with the James Harden and Daryl Morey-led Rockets which put an emphasis on small ball and increased three-point volume. He has spent at least 11% of his on-court time matching up with opposing centers over each of the last five years.
This was the case last season with the Miami Heat as well. While Bam Adebayo primarily served as the team’s big man, they experimented with Tucker at center while he was off the court. During the 140 game minutes the veteran played center, the Heat outscored opponents by 4.4 points per 100 possessions according to Cleaning The Glass.
Tucker’s tenaciousness and rebounding ability more than makeup for his lack of size. His career 5.6 rebounds per game do not properly indicate how much his presence is felt on the boards. The veteran has already made this clear in his preseason debut against the Cavaliers.
Sixers Backup Center Battle
After years of being without a viable backup center option, it is refreshing to see such depth on the roster. Reed, Harrell, and Tucker each have their own individual strengths and weaknesses that will be impactful in different matchups. If he is able to make the roster, Charles Bassey could also find himself in the mix. While he is the youngest and most unproven of the options, Bassey is the purest big man in terms of his frame and style of play.
This variety of options also puts much more pressure on Coach Rivers to make the right decisions. Reed and Harrell will be the most notable battle to watch due to how much their styles contrast. Reed’s impact was felt so strongly last postseason due to his versatile defense. Harrell is the most offensively gifted backup the Sixers have had in the Embiid era, but his inability to defend in the postseason has been an Achilles Heel during his time with the Clippers in which Rivers was his coach. In contrast, Tucker has shown success in the postseason at the center position.
The Sixers have two remaining preseason games for Rivers to experiment with Tucker in the backup center role. His communication and leadership have already been acknowledged by many teammates for how impactful it has been. This surely will continue as the season progresses and Tucker is sure to make his presence felt regardless of what position he is playing.