There’s a charming, frenetic energy in many G League basketball games, a sense anything that could possibly happen probably will.
Paul Reed embodies this spirit well. The 6-foot-8 Reed, one of the Sixers' two-way players, has been excellent for the Delaware Blue Coats in the G League bubble in Orlando, Florida. He was great again Tuesday night, recording 26 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals in a 127-100 win over Raptors 905 to send Delaware to the G League Finals, a winner-take-all game Thursday at 4:30 p.m. against the Lakeland Magic.
On a characteristic second-quarter sequence, Reed swished a corner three-pointer, missed two shots near the hoop after a nifty pump fake, stripped a rebound from Henry Ellenson’s hands, dove to keep the loose ball in play, and swatted away an Ellenson pass attempt, which deflected off the Raptors 905 big man’s leg and out of bounds. He did it all within a minute or so.
“Controlled chaos” is a popular sports cliché. With Reed, it seems full-blown chaos isn’t always a bad thing, though Blue Coats head coach Connor Johnson acknowledged there’s a “balance” in a phone interview Tuesday before his team’s semifinal win.
“… I think that lately, he’s forcing a lot less of his offense,” Johnson told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “He’s been playing more productive team offense and he’s been finding other guys. … He plays with a high motor, there’s a lot going on, he’s aggressive trying to score, but I think he’s made steps thus far refining his game to be a complete offensive player that can fit in with other guys that are going to need the ball a lot. I think that’s a huge positive for the Sixers.
“Defensively, we take the chaos — his motor, deflections, blocking shots, getting steals. All that is good; we’re just trying to make sure he’s locked in on his defensive assignment every possession. When we look at the broad picture of what we’re trying to do with Paul — make him the best team offensive and team defensive player he can be — I think he’s made great strides in both.”
When Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey took Reed with the 58th pick, the team knew it was getting an intriguing, versatile prospect. Reed’s jumper, though, was a question mark. He attempted 103 three-pointers over three seasons at DePaul, making 34 (33 percent). The 21-year-old's shot didn’t look smooth or dependable.
Counting the playoffs, Reed has made 29 of 63 G League threes (46 percent). Johnson has encouraged him to fire, believing he possesses all the essential ingredients to be an effective shooter without entirely conventional form. We’ll see if that’s the case at the NBA level but Reed’s shooting could, in theory, be a useful quality playing alongside Ben Simmons.
“I think Paul’s been playing really well and his shooting’s been a large portion of it,” Johnson said. “I think it’s a little overblown, the discussion about his shooting form to begin with. When you really look at it, his release point is great, his consistency in getting there is great, his hand under the ball is great, his balance is good. A lot of the key factors that you look at, Paul has.
“I totally agree that it looks a little different, just given where he starts his shot, but a lot of the elements are positive and I think that’s why it translates to good shooting. I don’t think that there’s some big overhaul coming for Paul’s jump shot. I think Paul’s shooting it really well and will continue to. It’s not a fluke. When you look at what adds up to the end product, there’s a lot of positives that make him a good shooter.”
When asked after Tuesday's win how he felt about being a candidate for G League MVP and one game away from a championship, Reed seemed genuinely, pleasantly surprised.
“No cap, I didn’t even know I was in the running for MVP,” he said, no doubt smiling below his mask. “That’s lit. … Before the season even started, it was on my goals. I write down my goals almost every day and that’s one of my goals, to be a champion. I put the work in and it’s paying off. It’s a good feeling, but I’ve just got to keep working. Keep working, keep going hard, stay humble. That’s the biggest thing. I don’t want to get ahead of myself so I try to contain my emotions.”
Of course, Reed is not the only reason the Blue Coats have a shot at a title. Justin Robinson has racked up 27 assists over the team’s two playoff wins. Sixers assignee Isaiah Joe has taken 29 postseason threes, converting 12. Michael Frazier II and Jemerrio Jones are among the team's steadying veterans.
Two-way player Rayjon Tucker is attack-minded, often bowling over players in the paint like an old-fashioned fullback. Johnson has been pushing the 6-foot-3 guard to diversify his game and shoot more threes, though the Sixers like his highlight-magnet leaping and contortionist finishes around the rim.
The Sixers obviously care far more about their own playoff fate in a few months than whether Delaware wins Thursday, though it’s clear the organization values the Blue Coats. Sixers vice president of player personnel Prosper Karangwa has been with the team in Orlando, and Johnson described a constant back and forth between himself and the folks thinking about how a player like Reed might be able to contribute in the NBA. Both Johnson and Blue Coats general manager Matt Lilly send reports to the Sixers coaching staff and front office after every game.
In the Brett Brown era, the Sixers were happy to extol the benefits of their robust player development program. Brown enjoyed watching his young players grow, as well as his staffers. Johnson was once one of them, having joined the Sixers in 2014 after a stint as a graduate assistant under Jay Wright at Villanova.
He said he's stayed in touch with his former Sixers boss, noting Brown watched the Blue Coats’ playoff game against the Austin Spurs with interest. Matt Nielsen, Austin’s head coach, played for Brown in Australia.
“I think the development instilled from Brett was great,” Johnson said. “I think that’s a lot of the parts as a coach that I carry on to this day … caring for a player, having great relationships, making sure the player knows that we are bought into their individual success and their career success as much as we are into everything that they can be doing for the team. Under the new leadership of (Sixers head coach Doc) Rivers, I feel really lucky to have both those guys who are so successful in coaching as people to look up to and people to steal from moving forward.”
Reed, meanwhile, appreciates Johnson’s trust in his game, in addition to the support he's received from Sixers fans. Morey is another ardent believer in Reed, as a perusal of his Twitter page would indicate. However, Reed likes the idea of overcoming tough odds without any assistance — getting “out the mud,” in his words.
“I’m still in the mud,” he said Tuesday. “We haven’t won the championship yet. I’m definitely still in the mud. Got to get it out the mud, for sure. People are asking me what it means, and what it means is just being in it with nobody helping you. If you don’t have that much support, you’ve got to support yourself.
“You’ve got to go and put the work in yourself. You’ve got to do workouts in your room — you’ve got to do 100 push-ups a day, you’ve got to do sit-ups. All that kind of stuff — get it out the mud. Go get those offensive rebounds, go put it back up. Stuff like that.”
The way Reed explains it and the way he’s made it look, the mud doesn’t seem like the worst place to be. Whatever works, right?