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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