At one point during the Sixers’ 125-108 win in Sacramento Thursday, a fan in the stands was caught on video looking up Shake Milton on their phone.
This seems to be the trend during the Sixers’ West Coast swing. A 39-point performance against one of the best teams in the NBA on national television will do that. As will dropping 20 points a few nights later on the Kings and their apparently unsuspecting fans.
The thing is, this seems to be more than just a hot stretch. On a team devoid of positive stories, Milton is that, but not just that. He very much looks the part of an NBA player and has the exact type of skillset the Sixers need.
The Sixers knew what the skill package was when they drafted him 54th overall in 2018, but likely didn’t see this coming.
“If you go to his history,” Brett Brown said to reporters pregame, “when you started studying what he had done at SMU and you started looking at his size — personally, I’ve always been intrigued by his physical abilities, the length of his arms, his skill with his left hand — and then you start digging into the person. He’s a smart young man, he’s good people. You start weighing that up and you thought, well, maybe. Do you know is he a one or a two? Not really. But you know the other qualities are impressive enough at a young age to invest in it and try to help cultivate it.”
Brown, who was the interim GM when the Sixers selected Milton in the second round, admitted that even the Sixers weren’t sure how good the 6-foot-5 guard was going to be. That’s part of the reason — along with a back injury Milton suffered before the draft — why he was signed to a two-way contract last season.
Over the last five games, Milton’s made current GM Elton Brand look awfully smart for converting that to a full NBA deal this summer. The 23-year-old is averaging 22 points and 4.4 assists while shooting a preposterous 67.7 percent from three on over six attempts a game during this stretch.
Yes, the current run is completely unsustainable, but Milton has a track record that hints at this being more than just a few good games.
When he was at SMU, where former Sixers coach Larry Brown “beat Indiana and Oklahoma,” to recruit him, Milton shot 42.7 percent from three over the course of three seasons. He averaged 18 points a game his final year.
During his time in the G League, Milton had been the focal point of the Blue Coats’ offense. Over the past two seasons, he’s averaged 24.2 points and hit 38.4 percent from deep — 45.5 percent in six games this season.
Even in the glimpses we’ve gotten of him in the NBA previously, Milton has flashed.
It was actually in Sacramento last season where it looked like he may catch a break. With veteran Wilson Chandler out, Brown rode Milton down the stretch of a tough loss to the Kings. It appeared Milton was about to get an NBA look.
Instead, Milton went back down to Delaware and broke a bone in his shooting hand the very next game. While he got a little run during the end of the year, the Sixers never appeared to seriously entertain the idea of converting his deal last season.
Even at the beginning of this season, Milton got a look as a rotational player. In two games, he hit 4 of 9 from three and looked like he could fill a role. Again injuries played their part with Milton suffering a bone bruise and mild sprain of his left knee in Atlanta. Milton’s absence coincided with Furkan Korkmaz going on a ridiculous run of his own.
Now healthy, Milton is thriving and looking the part of a contributing NBA player on a playoff team.
“Just his confidence. There’s a cocky side that’s emerging, which I love,” Brown said. “I think he’s done a better job of spacing. But I just think his attitude, his mindset is as important as anything.”
Injuries have held him back previously, but an injury to Ben Simmons gave him a starting spot, an expanded role and tons of confidence. People may be searching the name “Shake Milton,” but this isn’t just a feel-good story. His previous and continued success make it seem like this isn’t a fluke.
This kid can play — and when everyone else is back healthy, he needs to keep playing.
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