The Philadelphia 76ers are free-falling. No, not like Tom Petty free falling — there’s absolutely no love here. Through five games, the Sixers have just one win, a 120-106 dub against the Indiana Pacers, whose jersey, by the way, Victor Wembanyama will look great in next season.
Through five games, there’s been little to excite fans other than James Harden’s resurgence. He’s far from the quick-footed guard of five years ago and is still wary of drives to the rim, but he’s showing more than fans got to see last year.
But everywhere else, the Sixers have fallen well short of expectations. Joel Embiid looks far from an MVP candidate. Tobias Harris is missing defensive assignments left and right. The bench is also failing to see any extended time after the front office added Danuel House, De’Anthony Melton, and Montrezl Harrell to reinforce last year’s atrocious unit.
And it’s the latter that came under fire recently by Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. In a recap of Wednesday night’s loss against the Raptors, Pompey called out both Harrell and Paul Reed, two of Philadelphia’s reserve big men.
“Montrezl Harrell is a solid scorer, who plays well with point guard James Harden. Meanwhile, Paul Reed is an athletic rim protector.
“The problem is when they’re in the games, teams appear to take advantage of their weakness.”
Basically, if you could put both bigs together, they’d be a complete NBA player. They’d also be Joel Embiid, but that’s beside the point.
So far, Harrell has earned a lion’s share of minutes at backup center. But could the team look to incorporate Reed more?
76ers Overplaying Embiid Early
So far this season, Harrell has played 37 minutes this season, or just over five minutes per night. Reed, by contrast, has only gotten 17 minutes, less than three per game. What gives? Wasn’t Harrell supposed to slot in and give Embiid a minutes break, keeping him fresh for the postseason?
In theory, yes. In practice? Not so much.
And lest you think PJ Tucker is getting more time at the five, that’s not the case either. Tucker has played 20 possessions this season at the five, according to Cleaning the Glass. Harrell has, by far, gotten the most time of any of Philadelphia’s “backup bigs,” with 50 possessions. But that figure pales in comparison to the 300+ possessions Embiid has gotten at center.
The Sixers are wasting their big man in these early, ultimately meaningless games. But they also need more from the bench, as Rich Hofmann of The Athletic noted.
“[T]he Sixers were averaging just 11.3 points per game from the bench. That was the lowest total in the league by a good margin. According to basketball writer Kirk Goldsberry, it was the team’s lowest output through three games in the last 50 years.”
But if Harrell is a defensive liability, could the Sixers look to swap him out for the more defensive-minded Reed?
Should 76ers Swap Harrell for Reed?
As it stands, defense is a glaring concern for the Sixers. Pick just about any defensive stat you wish, and the Sixers are near the bottom. Defensive rating? Philadelphia is 23rd. Effort? The Sixers are dead last in pace. The team is also 27th in defensive rebounding, 19th in steals, and 23rd in blocks.
The Sixers do have the offensive firepower to sacrifice some of what Harrell theoretically brings offensively. Between Harden, Embiid, and Maxey, the Sixers are stout scorers. But on defense, the team tends to ball-watch and laze to get back.
Why not add the springy Reed to some of these lineups to nudge up the team’s general defense? At this rate, most fans are probably willing to try just about anything.