76ers

On a circus-like night vs. Lakers, Shake Milton 'keeps it cool'

On a circus-like night vs. Lakers, Shake Milton 'keeps it cool'

The Sixers didn’t have regular starters Joel Embiid or Josh Richardson available Saturday night, turned the ball over 23 times and beat the Lakers by 17 points.

Through three quarters, their leading rebounder was second-year guard Shake Milton, who was making his first start of the season. 

The juicy story Saturday night was the matchup between LeBron James and his mentee Ben Simmons (see story). Milton slid into a supporting role without much trouble and looked like he belonged. Outside of an early bobble when Simmons found him on a backdoor cut, his pregame nerves weren’t evident.

“Big primetime game, everything like that,” Milton said. “But once the ball is tipped, you get up and down the floor one time, you’re good — it’s just basketball.”

In 25 minutes, he finished with seven points (3 of 5 shooting), three assists, a steal and nine rebounds — more than James, Anthony Davis or any Laker. What was more striking than the stats was Milton’s disposition. It was what we’ve seen when he’s had huge scoring games in the G League and when he’s been stuck on the Sixers’ bench. He stays composed and keeps things simple. 

“There is sort of like a poise, an inner peace — he plays at a non-rattled level,” Brett Brown said. “He really doesn't, to me, get rattled. He doesn't get [shaken] up.”

Milton said he’s always been like this — polished, poised, under control. 

“I think just growing up and playing through AAU and all my basketball experience, I’ve kind of always kept it cool," he said. "When you’re around guys like Ben, Tobias [Harris], Al [Horford], it gives you a lot of confidence to go out there and do what you have to do.”

The SMU product has said, fairly enough, that he thinks he has “one of the coolest names,” so that might help explain the origin story, or at least spice it up a bit.  

Regardless, he was effective Saturday night both on and off the ball, running dribble handoff actions with Simmons, getting the Australian the ball at the elbows, and setting up shop in the corners. He didn't do anything exceptional — perhaps outside of trying to stand his ground on a few occasions when James barreled toward the rim, including on the basket that put the Lakers’ star over Kobe Bryant on the all-time scoring list. He did a little bit of everything, though. 

With Richardson scheduled to be reevaluated in approximately two weeks, Harris thinks Milton is capable of showing more of what he can do now that he’s back in Brown’s rotation. 

“He’s a kid who comes in and works every single day and now he’s getting presented with an opportunity, and he did a great job at that,” Harris said. “There’s a lot more that he can do, too, that he’ll continue to build his confidence and go forward with that.”

The early stages of Milton’s NBA career have been marred by injuries. He missed summer league his rookie season because of a stress fracture in his back, broke his finger last February, sprained his ankle in summer league this year and suffered a left knee injury on Oct. 28.

It remains to be seen whether he’ll have a spot when Richardson returns, but it’s encouraging for Milton to see his work behind the scenes being rewarded. Milton’s time with the Delaware Blue Coats, his rehab and his individual workouts with player development coach Tyler Lashbrook all contributed to Brown being able to throw someone into his starting lineup who was far from overwhelmed or embarrassed in front of a national audience. 

“It’s definitely hard,” Milton said. “Everybody wants to play. You gotta take it as an opportunity to just lock in and make sure you’re on top of your stuff so that when your number is called you’re able to perform.”

He probably won’t outrebound one of the best players in NBA history again, but it seems safe to bank on Milton’s steadiness.  

On a night that sometimes felt like an evening at the circus — with swarms of media members waiting around every corner, eager to chronicle James’ every move, and a loud, passionate Wells Fargo Center crowd urging on Simmons’ aggression — a 23-year-old kept a level head. 

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Ben Simmons not-so-subtly hinted at a Sixers trade target over the weekend

Ben Simmons not-so-subtly hinted at a Sixers trade target over the weekend

We've reached the second calendar month of the NBA's hiatus, and Sixers star Ben Simmons is still chatting basketball while streaming his Call of Duty matches on Twitch.

In March, Simmons talked about his views on the best defenders in the league - a list, I'll note, which should include Simmons himself. Over the first weekend of April, Simmons was reading the chat on his stream when he decided to choose a very... interesting comment to read aloud:

Hmm. 

I wonder why Simmons decided to read that comment, out of the hundreds he sees during a stream, and then remind us that he's just reading the comments.

At least one commenter in the chat called out "tampering!", but it's not tampering if you're just reading ideas from other people!

In reality, of course, this is just Simmons joking around with the basketball world. He knows fans (and writers) are glued to things like Twitch streams and Instagram feeds without actual basketball to talk about, so he peppered in a little wink-wink, nudge-nudge joke for us to get fired up about.

Still, it makes you wonder...

Booker would probably be a great fit on today's Sixers team. He's a two-guard who can shoot from anywhere on the floor and create his own shot at will, and he's played point guard in the past, which would help keep the offense running when Simmons checks out. Booker's defense being an afterthought isn't much a problem, considering the Sixers are loaded with great defenders.

The real problem for the Sixers would be acquiring, and affording, Booker. He's in the first year of a five-year max contract with the Suns, so waiting for his contract to end isn't viable. And his deal brings a cap hit of $27 million this year, and climbs each year, all the way up to $36 million by the last year of his contract in 2023-24, when Joel Embiid turns 30.

If the Sixers were somehow able to convince the Suns to take one of Al Horford or Tobias Harris off their hands in exchange for Booker - along with other valuable assets headed to Phoenix, of course - it might be possible to balance a payroll with minimum contract players and young, affordable talent around a core of Embiid, Simmons, and Booker.

But I can't imagine the Suns would jettison their only superstar, who is somehow still just 23 years old, unless they decide to blow it up in the next year or two. So instead we're left dreaming, and making trades in NBA 2K20, and waiting for Simmons' next dispatch.

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2020 NBA draft profile: Tre Jones is a stellar defender who could fit well on the Sixers

2020 NBA draft profile: Tre Jones is a stellar defender who could fit well on the Sixers

Tre Jones

Position: Point guard
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 185 pounds 
School: Duke

Looking at the 2020 NBA draft prospects, there might not be a player that has been more closely scrutinized than Tre Jones. Such is life when you’re the point guard at Duke.

A look at Jones’ two years in Durham is a study in contrasts. In his first season, he played Ringo in a Fab Four freshman class that included Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. (Apologies to Joey Baker for not being included in that group.) Oftentimes, Jones would defer to his more prominent teammates to the point of disappearing offensively in games.

Jones was the lone member of that unit to return to school for a sophomore season. The Minnesota native emerged as the team’s leader and most complete player en route to earning ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors. Only Shane Battier and Malcolm Brogdon have accomplished that double this century.

But how does Jones’ game translate to the NBA? Let’s examine his strengths and weaknesses:

Strengths 

Excellent defender: Jones earned that Defensive Player of the Tear award on merit. The best example of his prowess on defense came in his last college game, a 13-point win over rival North Carolina. In that contest, Jones placed the clamps on likely lottery pick Cole Anthony. The UNC star scored just 9 points on 4 of 14 shooting while adding only three assists in 39 minutes. 

You can count the number of on-ball defenders who were better than Jones in the NCAA last season on one hand. That said, the 6-foot-3 guard will have to continue to develop strength if he’s going to disrupt NBA-caliber point guards on a consistent basis.

Embraces the moment: As mentioned above, the affable Jones willingly played facilitator in his freshman season. But in his second season, Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils counted on Jones to take the team’s big shots. Obviously, one could point to the game-tying buzzer beater in Duke’s other game with North Carolina last season as evidence of that. But there were countless times in 2020 when Jones read the moment and made a play when his team needed it.

Jones will not be a primary offensive option in the NBA, but his defense has the opportunity to keep him on the floor at the end of games. He won’t be afraid to take and make big shots in those instances.

Weaknesses 

Shooting: Tre is actually the second Jones to make his way through Duke in recent years. His brother Tyus, you may recall, starred for the 2015 national champions alongside Jahlil Okafor. Tyus displayed a great deal of offensive weapons in his lone season at Duke. The younger Jones is slightly more limited on the offensive side of the ball, specifically when comparing the two as shooters.

Tre shot over 42 percent from the field as a sophomore, a tick up from his freshman campaign. But where he really improved was as a three-point shooter, going from 26.2 point to 36.1 percent. Jones will need to continue to improve that part of his game, because NBA coaches are going to help off him initially and force him to hit open shots.

To his credit, Jones is a good free throw shooter (over 75 percent from the foul line in both seasons at Duke), and he gets better in that department late in games.

Ball handling:  A willing passer and good decision maker, Jones is the type of player you want to play alongside. But he’s not a point guard that can get anywhere he wants off the dribble. He’ll need screens in order to consistently get into the paint as an NBA player. 

His handle is also a little loose for a player of his size. That didn’t cost him much in college, but it will be a different story next season.

Fit 

Chances are that Jones will likely fall to the bottom part of the draft’s first round, and that might be a blessing in disguise for the 20-year old. He’ll never be the type of player that can change a franchise. But Jones has the potential to be a fit for a good team like the Sixers, initially as an eighth or ninth man. One could see Jones providing capable defense while taking some minutes as a lead ball handler when Ben Simmons needs a rest. He’d also provide the potential for giving the Sixers a ridiculous shutdown lineup of Jones, Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, Joel Embiid and any other player you’d like.

In a best-case scenario, the Duke star becomes Kyle Lowry, a tenacious defender that runs his team and does enough offensively to be a factor. But if he doesn’t become a better offensive player, he might be relegated to NBA journeyman. I’d bet Jones ends up as a solid contributor to playoff teams for the better part of the next decade.

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