Philadelphia 76ers

Shake Milton has shown enough to have his contract converted, help Sixers in playoffs

Shake Milton has shown enough to have his contract converted, help Sixers in playoffs

The Sixers appear to have done pretty well for themselves in the 2018 draft.

After some wheeling and dealing, the Sixers ultimately ended up with Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet in the first round.

While Smith may have been the more highly-touted prospect and Shamet earned his way into the team’s rotation before being traded, the guy they drafted in the second round may be the one that can help them in the postseason.

On Monday night, Shake Milton saw his first NBA action since Feb. 2, and showed exactly why the Sixers should convert his two-way deal to a standard NBA contract.

Milton was outstanding during his time in the G-League with the Blue Coats. Drafted 54th overall out of SMU, he averaged 24.9 points per game in 27 games with Delaware, but will need his contract converted before the end of the regular season to be eligible for the playoffs.

During the Sixers’ loss to the Kings back in February, Brett Brown rolled with Milton for over 20 minutes and in some crucial moments as the team was making a comeback. It appeared Milton was set to get more minutes going forward with veteran Wilson Chandler out. Three days later with the Blue Coats, Milton suffered a broke bone in his finger on his shooting hand that required surgery and kept him out for a month.

He didn’t ease himself back into the lineup, pouring in 31 points in his return to action. In the last 10 games of Delaware’s season, he averaged 27 points a game.

It would be fine if all Milton could do is score, but he actually has a lot more to offer. You saw a little of that in his 13-point performance Monday.

He made a nice cut off a Jimmy Butler drive. When Butler finds him, he’s open but in kind of an awkward spot on the floor and on the move. Milton gathers himself, squares up and hits a short jumper.

A couple possessions later, Tobias Harris was dribbling toward the wing with Milton in the corner. With Milton’s reputation as a shooter, his defender is overplaying him and trying to do deny him the ball for the corner three. Milton recognizes and makes a backdoor cut and Harris hits him for an easy basket.

Later in the first half, he takes a wayward pass that moves him off his spot off another Butler drive, calmly takes one dribble to his left, and nails the three.

All of these plays illustrate Milton’s incredible poise for a rookie and how he just understands the game of basketball. He was a four-year player at SMU and is 22 years old, so unlike the 19-year-old Smith, he can be trusted more in a playoff-like atmosphere.

You can also see just how pure his shooting stroke is. Even on the move, he always seems to be able to gather himself, get square to the basket and the shot itself just looks effortless. He shot just under 43 percent from three for his college career and it appears to be translating to the NBA.

What’s stood out most during Milton’s brief NBA stint is he’s not a bad defender. He’s not the most athletic — probably a big reason he slipped into the second round — but he has decent feet, long arms and, again, just excellent instincts and feel for a player his age.

The Sixers have absolutely nothing to lose by converting Milton’s deal. Even if he doesn’t help them this season, he’s shown enough to warrant a long look to be part of next season’s rotation. If you re-sign both Butler and Harris, you need good, cheap, young players to fill out your bench.

The Sixers’ starting five is elite, but their bench is bad. There’s no way around it. They have no one that can score consistently and no true lockdown defender.

Just give the kid a shot.

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Sixers can apparently turn it on and off but should probably leave it on

Sixers can apparently turn it on and off but should probably leave it on

The better NBA teams seem like they can turn it on and off during the course of an 82-game season.

The defending champion Warriors are a perfect example. They got blown out by the lowly Mavericks Saturday — granted, without Stephen Curry — and then went out and beat a hot Pistons team Sunday.

The Sixers appear to have that gift — the ability to turn it on and off on a given night.

After watching the poor effort the Sixers gave in a 119-98 loss to the Magic at Amway Center Monday night (see observations) and with just eight games remaining in the regular season, it would probably behoove them to turn it on.

After big wins over the Bucks and Celtics, you can excuse away a disappointing loss to a young and feisty Hawks team that the Sixers clearly overlooked. But the effort they showed Monday night in Orlando was putrid.

They were sloppy early, committing eight turnovers in the first half. Their defensive was porous throughout, allowing the Magic to shoot 51.7 percent from the field and still having trouble defending the pick-and-roll. Ben Simmons was out with an illness, but there’s no excuse for the Sixers to go nearly an entire quarter without a field goal at one point in the second half.

Joel Embiid reportedly refused to talk to reporters postgame. Hard to blame him after this one.

You can blame Brett Brown. You can blame Embiid getting in foul trouble. You can blame the quiet Tobias Harris and JJ Redick. You can blame Simmons’ absence. 

Whatever you decide is the culprit for this one, it boils down to effort. The Magic looked like a desperate team. The Sixers looked like a team desperate to get home from a two-game road trip.

When they do return to the Wells Fargo Center, a tall task awaits them. They take on the Nets, a team that's fighting to secure its first playoff berth since 2015 and that's had the Sixers' number through three games this season. The only reason Brooklyn didn't take all three contests is because of a Herculean effort by Jimmy Butler in the Sixers' lone win back on Nov. 25.

The sky certainly isn’t falling. The Sixers are still in the driver’s seat for the East’s third seed and once they get to the playoffs, games like these will be a distant memory.

But with just eight games left and plenty to sort out with a new-look team, the Sixers should probably turn it on ... and keep it on.

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Magic 119, Sixers 98: Sixers with terrible effort vs. playoff-hungry Magic

Magic 119, Sixers 98: Sixers with terrible effort vs. playoff-hungry Magic

BOX SCORE

You can brush off a loss on the road to a feisty young Atlanta team, especially coming off two big wins.

But not showing up two nights later against an Orlando team fighting for its playoff life? Yikes.

The Sixers were physically in Orlando, but their effort was nowhere to be found in a 119-98 loss to the Magic at Amway Center Monday night.

The loss drops them to 47-27 on the season. Ben Simmons missed the game with an illness.

Here are observations from the game.

• The Sixers were sloppy early, turning the ball over eight times in the first half, leading to 10 Magic points. Because they couldn’t take care of the basketball, they were up by just three going into the locker room.

Much like in Atlanta, their defense was not tight. There were plenty of miscommunication issues, especially in the pick-and-roll. They allowed Orlando to shoot 37.9 percent from three.

At one point in the second half, the Sixers went 11:50 without a basket. The Magic are a good defensive team, but not that good. Missing Simmons hurts, but the Sixers still had plenty of offensive firepower on the floor Monday.

Their effort was lacking as the Magic looked like a team fighting for a playoff spot while the Sixers looked like a team playing out the string. It was truly a disappointing effort, especially coming off a disappointing loss.

• It was a weird first half for Joel Embiid, who nearly recorded a double-double but also turned the ball over four times and picked up two early fouls.

To start the second half, he decided to play straight bully ball, beating up on former Sixer Nikola Vucevic on multiple plays.

But the double teams became more aggressive after this basket and the Sixers' perimeter shooters were unable to make Orlando pay. The team went just 6 of 23 from three.

I'm not sure if it was him picking up his fourth or what, but Embiid didn't look right late in the game. He wasn't challenging anything at the rim and looked a step slow. He finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

• With Simmons out of the lineup, there was no doubt we’d be seeing Jimmy Butler used more as a point guard. Butler continues to look more than comfortable in that role as Brett Brown puts him in more situations that make him comfortable.

This pick-and-roll with Butler and Embiid was a thing of beauty.

I’d like to see Embiid roll to the rim more often. He and Butler can be an incredibly dangerous duo.

Butler was one of the few bright spots for the Sixers tonight, finishing with 13 points, seven assists and six rebounds. He was also one of the few players that actually showed anything defensively.

• With no Ben Simmons or James Ennis, T.J. McConnell got the start and Shake Milton and Jonathon Simmons got some run.

McConnell struggled, going 1 of 4 from the field with just two assists and two turnovers. He continues to be a liability when asked to defend bigger and more athletic players.

Milton, playing in his first NBA game since Feb. 2, was part of the first wave of subs. The rookie out of SMU has starred for the Blue Coats and gave a glimpse of what he brings to the table.

He made another nice cut to the basket on a Harris drive. Harris hit Milton backdoor, and he finished at the rim. Milton also nailed a three off the dribble. He just really has a feel for the game and can hit shots. He shows a ton of poise for a first-year player as well. He can also keep opposing guards in front of him.

The Sixers would have to convert Milton’s contract from a two-way deal to a standard NBA deal — which they can do at any time before the regular season ends with a corresponding move —  for him to be eligible for the playoffs, but if he keeps showing out like this, he’s going to give the team plenty to think about.

He finished with 13 points on 6 of 8 shooting from the field.

• The only benefit of the Sixers getting their doors blown off in the second half was we got to see first-round pick Zhaire Smith make his NBA debut. Smith actually ended the team's scoring drought with his first NBA basket, a three from the top of the key.

• The Sixers were abused by two of their former players, Vucevic and Michael Carter-Williams. Vucevic put up 28 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. Carter-Williams, the recent recipient of a second 10-day contract, put up 15 points, six rebounds and three assists. It just adds a little more salt to the wound.

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