76ers

Larry Brown reflects on Shake Milton's development since he coached him

Larry Brown reflects on Shake Milton's development since he coached him

Shake Milton took the NBA world by storm when he dropped 39 points on the Clippers in L.A. back on March 1.

It left a lot of basketball fans asking, “Who the heck is Shake Milton?”

One man who knew the guard very well was former Sixers head coach Larry Brown. Brown had recruited Milton and coached him for a short time at SMU. 

“One of the greatest kids I’ve ever been around in my life,” Brown said of Milton as a guest on the Sixers Talk podcast. “And he loves it [in Philadelphia] — respects the coaches, loves the players.”

Brown said he “got lucky” in stealing away the Oklahoma native from the University of Oklahoma and Indiana. Brown wound up retiring in the middle of the 2015-16 season and only coached Milton for 21 games as a freshman.

“He was tough on you,” Milton told NBC Sports Philadelphia's Noah Levick back in December of 2018, “but at the end of the day, you knew that he cared about you and you knew that he would stand by you, go to war with you. He was somebody that I know I could always come to no matter what. He was more than a coach to me.”

Milton went on to have an outstanding career for the Mustangs, averaging 18 points a game during his junior season. That year, his final one on the college level, was cut short. He played in just 22 games because of a broken right hand.

Unfortunately, injuries became a theme for Milton going into his NBA career.

People forget, early in his last year, his junior year, everybody projected him as a first-round pick. Then he got hurt, he didn’t play the rest of the year. He went to the combine and one of the first games that he played in he got hurt and didn’t tell anybody and didn’t play as well in the combine as most people expected.

“I got calls from everybody in the NBA asking me about Shake and his character and what I thought about him. Obviously I love the kid and was very, very high on him. The remarks to me were, ‘Where does he play?’ The NBA in so many ways tells you what a kid can’t do instead of telling you what a kid can do. That bugs me a little bit.

“But Philly drafted him at No. 54. He slipped considerably because of his showing in the combine, and then when [the Sixers] examined him they found out he was hurt. They were really upset. ... A lot of people were upset with [his agent] and thought they pulled something over Philly’s eyes, but Shake couldn’t work out for anybody during that time and a lot of times after the combine when you have an individual workout, that’s how people judge you.

Nobody can be unhappy with that pick now. 

Milton’s rookie year was largely spent in the G League after the team signed him to a two-way deal — in part because of the back injury he suffered before the draft. Milton shined for the Blue Coats in Delaware and played well during his NBA stints. A broken bone in his right shooting hand came at an inopportune time during his rookie season.

Even when it appeared Milton could become a regular part of Brett Brown’s rotation this season, he suffered a bone bruise and a mild left knee sprain. The emergence of Furkan Korkmaz left Milton as the odd man out when he returned to the lineup.

Though injuries may have mired the start of his NBA career, Ben Simmons’ back injury gave Milton his latest opportunity — and he ran with it. Over his last nine games before the season was suspended, he averaged 19.4 points and shot a preposterous 60.5 percent from three.

Brown believes the time the Sixers spent developing Milton was instrumental in making sure he was ready when injury struck.

“You won’t find a better kid than him, and somebody that really trusts the process,” Brown said. “And Philly did a remarkable job with him. Playing in the G League in Delaware, Shake told me was huge. …

“The greatest thing is they had patience with him. They had some injuries and you never know when the opportunity is going to be there for you to show you can play.”

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Ron Brooks, virtual fans and what to expect for Sixers' 'home' games

Ron Brooks, virtual fans and what to expect for Sixers' 'home' games

The Sixers have yet to lose a home game this calendar year.

Monday night, they’ll look to maintain their home excellence, just not at Wells Fargo Center. They lost their seeding game opener at Disney World, a designated road matchup against the Pacers, and "host" the Spurs tonight.

The team has worked to replicate the environment in which the Sixers went 29-2 this season as closely as possible.

“We want to keep that going,” Sixers Chief Marketing Office Katie O'Reilly told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Paul Hudrick in an interview Monday. “Our fans are incredible. Our season ticket members are incredible, they’re loyal, they’re passionate. They really create that environment.”

For Monday's game against San Antonio, you’ll see on screens courtside “virtual fans," which will include, according to O’Reilly, “season ticket members, our marketing partners, our community partners, as well as friends and family of the players.” Those virtual fans have been given packs that have T-shirts, hats and noisemakers.

Several unique features of a typical Wells Fargo Center game night aren’t going anywhere. PA announcer Matt Cord has some pre-recorded segments, and, per O’Reilly, the beloved Ron Brooks — “the world’s first double amputee to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout,” as Cord always introduces him — will still be belting out the national anthem. 

“Even in-arena for our home games, we’ll have Ron Brooks, our guy, singing the national anthem,” O’Reilly said. “We’ll have our traditional bell ringing, we’ll have our player intros, we’ll have our open video. So that sort of entire pregame ritual that we have will run really exactly the same, just virtually on video.”

And the Wendy’s Frosty Freeze-out? 

“If someone misses two (straight) free throws, you will still be able to redeem for your free Frosty,” O’Reilly said. 

The roar of the crowd obviously won’t be nearly as loud or intense after a big play, but many of the “sounds of the game” should be familiar for players. O’Reilly didn’t mention the boos that both Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid hope to hear if the Sixers aren’t playing well, but player input factored into the new home gameday experience. 

“Our players are constantly collaborating with our marketing and game operations department on the look and feel,” O’Reilly said, “and they really feed off that home energy, so it was important for us to maintain as much of it as we could down in Orlando, and we’re excited to see it come to life tonight.

“Our players’ voices are always heard. We’re always receiving feedback from everybody, whether it’s front office, season ticket members, the players, the coaches, and we really take pride in delivering on that. … Every player has a song that they get to pick to play in-arena when they make a big play or a big shot. So it is really important to us that we sort of curate the experience based on everyone who is there, and we’re collaborating all the time.”

Given how invincible the Sixers appeared at home before the coronavirus pandemic forced the season to pause, the idea to essentially duplicate a normal home atmosphere that players feel comfortable in seems intuitive. We'll learn soon just how effective it is.  

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Sixers vs. Spurs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Spurs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Updated: 1:48 p.m. 

The Sixers (39-27) and Spurs (29-36) will meet Monday over eight months after their first matchup this season, a 115-104 Sixers win on Nov. 22. It’s technically a home game for the Sixers, the team’s first since March 11. They were 29-2 at Wells Fargo Center. 

Mike Scott (right knee soreness) is out and Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) is doubtful. Kyle O'Quinn missed his coronavirus test on Sunday and is not eligible to play, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game:

When: 8 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7 
Where: Visa Athletic Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

An outlier opener? 

In several ways, Saturday’s defeat to the Pacers wasn’t like most for the Sixers this season.

The team outscored Indiana by a point in nine Joel Embiid-Al Horford minutes but saw their 10-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate when Horford stepped in at center, the opposite of the trend this year. The starting backcourt combined for four points on five field goal attempts. Turnover problems that had characterized seasons past resurfaced as the Sixers gave it away 14 times in the first half and 21 times in the game. They’d been 10th in turnovers (14.2 per game) before the hiatus. Ben Simmons’ defense was not anywhere close to as great as it’s been for much of the season. 

A loss is a loss, but perhaps the Sixers on Monday will look more like the team we saw in their first 65 games. 

Another size disparity 

Jakob Poeltl is the only traditional frontcourt player in San Antonio’s starting lineup, which means the Sixers will again have plenty of size advantages. With LaMarcus Aldridge out for the season after right shoulder surgery, DeMar DeRozan is the Spurs’ second-tallest starter at 6-foot-6. Shake Milton and Josh Richardson are the Sixers’ shortest starters at 6-5. 

The Spurs have opened well at Disney World, winning their first two games and moving into ninth in the Western Conference, but the Sixers will present a unique challenge. 

'Walking that line'

Brett Brown doesn’t generally have an endless level of patience with younger players. He’s sometimes quick to pull the plug when they make mistakes or have trouble adjusting to a new situation.

Following Milton’s poor first game in the new starting lineup (no points, three assists, three turnovers, five fouls), it will be interesting to see Brown’s approach if Milton struggles again early. 

“The tolerance level … whether it’s trying to persevere and grow Shake, whether it’s the distribution of how you actually use Ben Simmons, all of those things are always on my mind,” he said Sunday. “It’s the launching pad that we have now where you’ve got some games before you enter the playoffs. And life moves quickly where you get stuck in this current where you’re going to blink and the playoffs are going to be right at your doorstep. 

“Walking that line of persevering and patience vs. gut feel — you like it or you don’t — that ecosystem is my job.”

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