76ers

With Shake Milton at point guard, it sounds like Sixers are leaning toward a new starting 5

With Shake Milton at point guard, it sounds like Sixers are leaning toward a new starting 5

Shake Milton has been the Sixers’ starting point guard in their practices at Disney World, Joel Embiid revealed on Monday.

The 23-year-old Milton started the Sixers’ final seven games before the NBA season was suspended on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic, and he appears to have retained that responsibility for the time being. Ben Simmons, who’d been out with a lower back injury before the season was suspended, is healthy now. According to Brett Brown, the two-time All-Star has been used exclusively as a power forward in practice. 

“In relation to trying new things, there’s some high-level stuff, whether it’s Ben more off the ball, how we’re going to rotate the group,” Brown said. “Who are we going to start is probably the simplest way to go. And it’s still all on the table. We’re still all learning about some things."

If the Sixers used a starting lineup of Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Simmons and Embiid, it would be the first time that unit has ever played together in a competitive game. Simmons and Milton have only played 223 minutes together this year. 

It makes sense that the Sixers would want Milton to still be a starter. He averaged 17.8 points and 4.1 assists over the team’s last nine games, and he shot 60.4 percent from three-point territory during that span. 

He also theoretically pairs well with Simmons in several ways. The Sixers sound determined to use Simmons more as a screener and roller, and Milton is comfortable and competent as a ball handler in the pick-and-roll. The sample size isn’t large — Milton has only played 32 NBA games in his second professional season — but he’s in the 59th percentile in pick-and-roll efficiency this year. He’s converted 44.2 percent of his catch-and-shoot three-pointers, which is a valuable trait next to Simmons, who has already assisted on 230 threes

“I feel like it’ll be easy,” Milton said last Tuesday of playing with Simmons. “Ben’s a very unselfish player. He can pass the ball, he can finish however, we can play pick-and-roll together, I can spot up while he creates and does his thing and just shoot the ball. I feel like playing with Ben is going to make the game a lot easier for anybody, so I don’t see it being a problem.”

Embiid is impressed with what he’s seen from Milton. 

“He’s been amazing,” he said. “He’s been the starting point guard. I think he has a huge opportunity to help us accomplish what we believe we can. He’s been doing an amazing job, just running the team, and we're going to need him to knock down shots, which he did before the league basically got shut down. He was on a roll. So we all need him to keep it going. But it’s been great.”

Milton spent parts of this season in the G League and outside of the Sixers’ rotation, working quietly behind the scenes, but he’s received opportunities to start because of injuries to Josh Richardson and Simmons. His steady, unperturbed approach has served him well, and it seems he may have a big chance to build on his emergence before the break. 

He said last Tuesday that success before play shut down elevated his confidence, a quality he’s never appeared to lack. 

“I feel like for any player, when they’re given an opportunity to do something like that, to see what works and have freedoms, I feel like you’re going to see growth anywhere,” he said. “I definitely feel good, I feel confident, and I’m excited.”

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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons reportedly had clean MRI on left knee

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons reportedly had clean MRI on left knee

When Ben Simmons flexed his left leg after lobbing a pass for Al Horford and immediately headed off the floor Wednesday during the Sixers’ win over the Wizards, it was logical to be concerned. But, according to a report, Simmons’ knee injury is not as severe as one might have feared watching him walk toward the locker room. 

An MRI on Simmons’ knee was clean and he’s expected to be day-to-day, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. It's worth noting this is not an official update from the Sixers, who Brett Brown said postgame he expected to issue an announcement soon about Simmons' status. 

The 24-year-old recovered from a nerve impingement in his lower back over the NBA’s hiatus, and he felt strong and explosive heading into the league’s restart. He’s now serving as the Sixers’ starting point forward, an adjustment Brown thinks he’s approached well.

“I do feel like Ben has been amazing,” Brown said before Wednesday’s game, “in regards to just being mature on ‘Put me wherever you think I can best help the team.’ At times maybe he hasn’t gotten a touch the way he needs to get a touch, sometimes — which was easier when he was always the primary ball carrier. And so I applaud him tremendously on being a great teammate, trying to accept a new type of ecosystem that we’re trying to use him in.”

Simmons looked for his shot often in Wednesday’s game, though with little success. He missed an open corner three-pointer in the first quarter, his first legitimate regular-season try from long distance since Dec. 7, and made 2 of 10 field goals overall in 23 minutes. 

If Simmons misses any games, Brown will have a few options for reshuffling his starting lineup. There’s a case to be made for just about every member of the current rotation, which Brown cut down to nine players on Wednesday. Al Horford could slide into the frontcourt if Brown wants to work on the Horford-Joel Embiid pairing, which has a plus-15.6 net rating in 40 minutes together at Disney World after being the Sixers’ worst regular duo pre-hiatus.

Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz and Glenn Robinson III have all started games this year, though Robinson is dealing with an injury himself, having missed the team's first three seeding games with a left hip pointer. Perhaps Brown could go with Alec Burks if he’s looking for an extra ball handler and more time to evaluate his potential backup point guard in the playoffs.

The main takeaway here, however, is not the potential ripple effects on the Sixers' seeding game rotation. Rather, it's that a player the team will surely need to have available in order to make a deep playoff run reportedly has avoided a serious injury.

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Sixers squeak by Wizards after Ben Simmons exits early with left knee injury

Sixers squeak by Wizards after Ben Simmons exits early with left knee injury

Updated: 10:12 p.m. 

The importance of the Sixers’ 107-98 win over the Wizards on Wednesday pales in comparison to Ben Simmons’ status. 

The two-time All-Star suffered a left knee injury in the third quarter and did not return. Joel Embiid (30 points, 11 rebounds) led the way for the Sixers, who improved to 41-27 and next face the Magic on Friday night. His dunk with 19.3 seconds to go finally sealed the victory over the 24-44 Wizards. 

Here are observations on the game: 

Simmons’ early exit 

Simmons (eight points on 2 for 10 shooting, six rebounds, four assists) headed to the locker room in the middle of the third period. He flexed his left leg after throwing a pass for Al Horford and immediately headed off the floor. 

That injury clearly casts a shadow on the game for the Sixers given Simmons’ obvious, immense value as a versatile offensive piece and excellent defender. 

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Simmons has no swelling or pain in his left knee and that “early indications … are encouraging.”

"I’m sure the club will make some announcement about Ben’s departure from the floor soon," Brett Brown said after the game. "But as far as knowing more than that, I really don’t. I’m obviously very curious to hear what that news is.”

Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported Wednesday night that an MRI on Simmons' knee came back clean and he's expected to be day-to-day. 

Inconsistent (but better) defense 

As far as Brown is concerned, the explanation for most of the Sixers’ defensive issues in their first two seeding games is simple. 

“When we choose to play defense on a more repetitive, regular basis — not (just) the third period and don’t pay attention to the first half, as an example — when we get that disposition, that physicality, I think things are going to connect,” he said before the game.

The collective effort and focus was solid in the first quarter against the Wizards but lapsed at times afterwards. Shake Milton was beaten off the dribble on several occasions in the first half. Tobias Harris ceded an offensive rebound to Troy Brown Jr. early in the third quarter, and Brown laid it in to tie the game at 58 apiece during a 23-11 Wizards run to begin the third period. Overall, the Sixers are playing below their potential defensively and will pay in the playoffs if they don’t elevate their level. 

Simmons, of course, is a main reason why the team’s defensive ceiling seemed so high entering this season. 

Trimming the rotation 

Brown decided to cut his rotation from 10 players to nine against the Wizards, leaving Raul Neto out. Mike Scott (right knee soreness) and Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) remained sidelined. 

The Sixers’ head coach acknowledged there are still rotation-related questions he’s assessing ahead of the playoffs. 

“I think the desire to play 10 initially, I don’t regret,” he said pregame. “I’ve admitted I’m trying to learn stuff and keep the team’s spirit at a place that I think ends up important. I do think that it has been difficult to find real minutes for 10 players — it’s just so much that can go around. … Ultimately, you get to the playoffs, it’s certainly going to be nine.” 

Alec Burks was the sole backup point guard and also played on the wing in a lineup alongside Simmons, Harris, Horford and Josh Richardson. He had nine points, two assists and no turnovers in 19:34, with his playing time extended because of Simmons’ injury.

He knows what’s coming 

All of the double teams Embiid is encountering come as no surprise to the big man.

“I’ve just gotta keep on getting better because I know that every single game I’m going to get doubled,” he said Monday night, “so I’ve gotta just figure that out … and create shots for my teammates. If I’m open and I’ve got a duck-in, just go out and do it. But other than that, just try to make sure defenders attract a lot of attention, just for my teammates.”

Washington’s double teams were predictably frequent and aggressive, and Embiid again handled them reasonably well. With the exception of one first-quarter play where he turned toward the baseline on a fadeaway jumper attempt straight into Isaac Bonga, he took what the defense presented to him. 

And, when the Wizards couldn’t send an extra body, he recognized his advantage and went straight to work. 

Milton (14 points, four assists) and Richardson (15 points, three assists) helped Embiid out by hitting a couple of jumpers down the stretch. 

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