Philadelphia 76ers: Paul Millsap just isn’t a backup center

(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers‘ first game of the James Harden-Joel Embiid era was a near-perfect evening.

The dynamic duo each recorded a 25-plus point double-double, the team attempted 39 3 pointers, and Tyrese Maxey, in his first game splitting point guard duties since his time playing for John Calipari in Lexington, Kentucky, put up 28 points of his own in only 32 minutes of action.

Doc Rivers actually staggered his the minutes of his “Big 4,” with either Harden or Embiid on the court for almost the entire game, Tobias Harris accepted an adjusted role as a catch and shoot specialist who only posted up a handful of times. Goodness, even Matisse Thybulle‘s offensive limitations were masked by Harden’s sublime offensive game, with the third-year wing out of Washington scoring 11 points in 23 minutes of action – good for his third-highest scoring efforts of the season.

Surely if there was a 76ers game worthy of converting lapsed fans and/or wavering Harden stans to keep their fandom alive, this would be the one, and even if the actual runtime felt incredibly long due to the 61 free throw attempts, the results were ultimately worth the bloated runtime.

However, there was one aspect of the game – outside of Doc Rivers’ up-25 all-bench unit – that did cause more than a few folks to scratch their heads; a rotational decision the team should probably address at some point in the not too distant future.

The Philadelphia 76ers need to re-evaluate their plan at backup center.

For Paul Millsap, being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers was like a breath of fresh air.

After being phased out of the Brooklyn Nets’ rotation mere months after signing a one-year, $2.64 million contract, Millsap finally earned a chance to take the court once more, with his nine minutes of action versus the Boston Celtics serving as his first on-court action since December 27th, 2021. While those minutes didn’t look particularly good from a plus-minus perspective, largely because the Boston Celtics were in the middle of the best game of his life, his pairing alongside Philly’s other Paul, BBall Paul Reed, was incredibly encouraging.

Why? Because Reed and Millsap masked each other’s weaknesses and highlighted each other’s strengths.

Despite being the oldest player on the team, Millsap’s switchable defense remained his calling card, and he even knocked a pair of 3s on his way to a nine-point performance. And as for Reed? Well, he was an athletic menace at both ends of the court and picked up four rebounds, three points, and a pair of steals in a little over 15 minutes of action. Reed’s limited offensive game was made up for by Millsap, as was his occasional lapses on the defensive end of the court, and with the other Paul a capable last line of defense, the reigning G-League MVP was able to play fast, loose, and aggressively.

But since then, the duo of Millsap and Reed were split up, with the former taking over backup center minutes full time and the latter heading back to his usual spot on the bench. In Milwaukee, Millsap played all 10 of his minutes at the five and finished out the contest with a plus-minus of -10, which is less than ideal in a game the team won by three.

In his first game re-paired up with James Harden, conceivably the player he should have the most chemistry with on the roster, Millsap again struggled, though not for the reasons one might think. Like in his Sixers debut, Millsap was good in switching situations and helped whenever he could on the defensive side of the court, but when it came to doing the things Harden likes from a backup center, crashing the boards, setting screens, and catching lobs, the connection just wasn’t there. Millsap looked slow and just couldn’t make plays around the rim in the same way Reed, Joel Embiid, Charles Bassey, or even Willie Cauley-Stein would in a similar situation.

Could this have been the simple results of a poor showing? Potentially so, but with three games in a red, white, and blue uniform under his belt, there are no signs that Millsap is suddenly going to become a lob threat or have the requisite athletic talents needed to block a crucial shot off the glass.

Next. Joel Embiid and James Harden are already showtime. dark

Should the Philadelphia 76ers release Paul Millsap? No. Neither Tobias Harris nor Georges Niang are particularly effective on the defensive end of the court, and there are situations where inserting Millsap into a game alongside Danny Green, Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, and Joel Embiid could be the difference between a win or a loss. But as a backup center for roughly 12 minutes per game? Yeah, I just don’t think that is the best way to deploy Millsap at this or any point in his NBA career. If Doc Rivers is dead set on not using Paul Reed as a backup center full-time, which, in my humble opinion, is a look worth considering, then Daryl Morey should do whatever it takes to secure a player like Derrick Favors on the buyout market, as it would be a shame to waste 12 minutes of James Harden per game on a series of similar lineups with an ill-fitting option at center.