Philadelphia 76ers: Paul Reed’s defense is rotation worthy

(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers have missed Matisse Thybulle in the worst way.

Not offensively, mind you; Thybulle is only averaging 5.1 points per game, which, funny enough, is a career-high for the third-year pro, but ranks 10th on the team behind every other player who gets regular rotational minutes for Doc Rivers‘ squad.

But come on now; we all know no one puts Thybulle into the game for his defense. When in his element, Thybulle has been as good as ever and has actually taken his stats up a notch from his second-team All-Defensive efforts in 2020-21.

Why, you may ask, is this relevant? Well, because in his absence, Paul Reed has turned in quite a few strong defensive showings himself and deserves a longer look in the Philadelphia 76ers’ rotation moving forward.

Reed should continue to play for the (eventual) full-strength Philadelphia 76ers.

It all started a few weeks back at the United Center, when Paul Reed gave DeMar DeRozan one heck of a time in the Philadelphia 76ers’ win over the Chicago Bulls.

In the possessions where Reed, a second-year player who was drafted at the end of the second round of the 2020 NBA Draft, was tasked with DeRozan, the pride of DePaul held the Bulls’ new closer to only 11 points on 27.6 offensive possessions.

Reed followed that up with a similarly impressive showing on Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Sixers’ eventual home loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, holding the two-time association MVP to just 12 points on 5-12 shots from the field.

Those numbers, my friends, are pretty, pretty, pretty good.

Now granted, Reed only scored 10 and six points respectively in those two contests, which isn’t ideal, but when you consider he drew two particularly challenging ISO matches, one has to give the second-year forward credit for putting in work in his only two games with 20 or more minutes of action on the season.

And in Utah, well, Reed did it again when matched up against Rudy Gobert.

Now I don’t want to get too much “into the mud” of that particular contest. If you watched it, you know it was a horrible showing by the Sixers that is better soon forgotten, but Reed was one of the few bright spots alongside his fellow draft classmate Tyrese Maxey, for how well he looked covering Gobert, a player who stands four inches taller and 48 pounds heavier. Though the duo only shared the court for about six minutes of action, two at the end of the third and the first four-ish minutes of the fourth, Reed held Gobert scoreless on two attempts and even forced a shot-clock violation at the 1:30 mark in the third.

*sigh* had Reed started over Niang at the five spot, maybe the Sixers wouldn’t have been down 23 at the end of the third. I get wanting to try Georges Niang at the five but goodness, that isn’t a good defensive matchup at all.

Is Reed a complete NBA player at this point? No. Is he even just a good offensive player, either at the four or even kicked inside as a small-ball five? No, not yet anyway, but at 22-years-old, Reed’s tweener style makes him a uniquely gifted frontcourt defender in a switch-heavy scheme, even if he gives some of that back on the other end of the court.

So why, dare I ask, doesn’t Reed play more? Why isn’t he out there for a dozen or so minutes a night as the team’s change of pace power forward when Niang plays at the three, or in particularly advantageous matchups where an opposing team’s 6-foot-8 offensive weapons need neutralizing?

Remember how Matisse Thybulle was initially utilized as a rookie? During his first two months in Sixers red, white, and blue, Thybulle averaged 15.1 minutes of action a night, sometimes more, sometimes less, and was strategically deployed depending on the matchup. He didn’t play much at the end of games and was subbed out when the team needed offense, but even in his NBA debut, Thybulle looked like he belonged.

When you hold Antetokounmpo and DeRozan to 23 points combined, I’d like to think that’s indicative of a long-term NBA player.

If the Sixers were a deeper, healthier team, maybe Reed have remained a deep bench reserve or even seen some time back in his adoptive home of Wilmington, Delaware but unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your perspective – that hasn’t been the case. Even if Reed was thrust into action before Doc Rivers wanted him to be, he’s here now and holding him out of games, especially with a short bench, until the end of the third quarter feels like an outcome that could, and frankly should, be coming to an end in the not too distant future.

In the regular season, Reed deserves some run.

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The Philadelphia 76ers are a team in desperate need of a win. I know, I know, Joel Embiid is out, as is Matisse Thybulle, and good ole’ number 25, but one can only stomach so much loss before things take a turn towards demoralization. But while the Sixers are losing, they should at least be trying out different looks and lineup combinations to see if anything unexpected can stick around once the cavalry arrives. Georges Niang at center? Eh, maybe not so much. Paul Reed as a matchup frontcourt defender? Yes please, keep that coming.