Philadelphia 76ers: Paul Reed is playing for an audience of one

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

If your nickname is “BBall,” you’d better be able to go.

After checking every box possible in his first season in the G-League, Paul Reed has found a new league to dominate in his second season as an NBA player: The Summer League.

Whether playing a complementary role next to Tyrese Maxey in the team’s debut performance versus the Dallas Mavericks, single-handedly dominating the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2’s overtime, or turning in only the second 20-20 double-double in Summer League history in the team’s eventual overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Reed has been one of the more impressive second-year performers to take the courts in Las Vegas, right up there with Desmond Bane, Obi Toppins, Tre Jones, Immanuel Quickley, and Bol Bol.

In a normal situation, could Reed ride his impressive showings to a spot in the rotation this fall? Heck yeah, you don’t put up 27-20-4-4-4 in a game by luck or average 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.5 blocks, and 2.5 steals per game by chance, but unfortunately, Reed isn’t playing in a true meritocracy.

No, if Reed wants to make it onto the court this fall, he needs to only impress one person: Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers.

What more can Paul Reed do to impress Doc Rivers and the Philadelphia 76ers?

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In 2020-21, the Philadelphia 76ers were desperate for a 6-foot-9 guy who could shoot the ball from deep, switch defensively across the frontcourt, and split his time between the four and five defensively.

Sure, they had Mike Scott, who was initially acquired and then extended to a two-year, 9.8 million extension to fill that role, but his game, unfortunately, dropped off from his 2019 high-water mark into a below-replacement-level performer. There was also Anthony Tolliver, a super-late season acquisition who only passed the 20 minutes of on-court action mark once in the regular season and logged less than two minutes in the playoffs.

Dwight Howard? For all of the fun and “wildcard factor” the player formally known as Superman brought to the table during his one year sabbatical in the City of Brotherly Love, he just didn’t help to space the field well enough to be a plus performer next to Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid, which is bad news when those two average 33 minutes of action a night in the postseason.

So why, we all collectively asked, didn’t Doc Rivers give the nod to Paul Reed?

I know, he’s young. He’s a tad undersized to play the five against dominant offensive centers and isn’t quite efficient enough to be a viable floor spacer from the four, but my goodness, at one point, the team was playing a four-guard lineup featuring Tyrese Maxey, George Hill, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, and Howard for crying out loud; it’s not like he got stuck behind an ultra-deep platoon of superstars.

Fast forward to the summer of 2021, where Reed is once again dominating against players his age, and like clockwork, the hype cycle is back up and running. Reed has played well at the four off of 2021 second-round pick Filip Petrušev, turned in quality minutes as a small-ball five, and developed into a more efficient passer who can kick it out of double-teams and get his teammates open shots. Has Reed been perfect? No. He’s only jacking up 1.5 3s per game and has maybe, just maybe, gotten a bit too overly ISO crazy in the waning moments of tight contests, but it’s hard to look at Reed on the court and not see a viable bench player who deserves to play high single-digit minutes a night at the bare minimum.

If Rivers feels that way too, maybe we’ll actually see that happen, but with Georges Niang signed for a sizeable chunk of the team’s MLE and an $8.2 million trade exception available to further fill out the frontcourt, that outcome is far from guaranteed.

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With only one more game left to play, a 3:30 pm EST bout against the Utah Jazz, the Summer League Philadelphia 76ers’ collective opportunity to impress the NBA world is going to be counted in minutes, not hours, literally. If a player like Paul Reed, Isaiah Joe, or even Rajyon Tucker shines, maybe it’ll be the exclamation mark at the end of a fantastic summer needed to turn some heads and carve out a role moving forward. But really, the only person anyone needs to impress is Doc Rivers, who controls the clipboard and designs with rotation. Considering how 2020-21 worked out for Reed with the big club, I’d say that’s a bit of an uphill battle.