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Shake Milton Is Cementing His Role In The Sixers’ Rotation


During the Philadelphia 76ers’ first five games of the 2022-23 NBA season, fifth-year guard Shake Milton played a grand total of six minutes, all of which came against the Indiana Pacers. He received four DNPs during that stretch, and he played sparingly over the Sixers’ next three games as well.

Milton began receiving regular playing time when starting guard James Harden suffered a right foot tendon strain in early November, although he was still averaging only 15-20 minutes off the bench. That changed when Tyrese Maxey went down with a small fracture in his left foot against the Milwaukee Bucks in mid-November.

Milton has started in each of the Sixers’ seven games since then and has averaged 21.9 points on 56.3 percent shooting, 6.1 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 2.0 triples on 48.3 percent shooting from deep. Four of those games also came without star center Joel Embiid, but Milton and the rest of the Sixers’ supporting cast helped the team go 3-1 over that stretch.

Milton figures to head back to the bench when Maxey and Harden return—the latter could be back Monday, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. But even when the Sixers are back at full strength, Milton’s hot play as of late should help him keep a rotation spot.

Point guard play was among the Sixers’ biggest questions heading into this season. Harden is one of the league’s best facilitators, but Maxey’s strength is primarily scoring. The Sixers needed another ball-handler to lead the way in the non-Harden minutes, whether it was Maxey, Milton or offseason addition De’Anthony Melton.

Milton has demonstrated in recent days that he’s up to the task. He had seven or more assists in four straight games, including a career-high 10 in the Sixers’ 107-99 win over the Orlando Magic this past Friday (along with 24 points on 7-of-13 shooting and nine rebounds). Prior to that, he had only six games with seven or more assists across his first four seasons combined.

“He’s been great,” forward Tobias Harris said of Milton after Friday’s win. “He’s out there, he’s finding his flow, running the team. He’s always been a very good scorer on the floor, but over these last however many games has been, he’s just really showing his whole arsenal on the offensive end and really how he can get to his spots and raise up and shoot and create plays.”

This recent stretch has seemingly emboldened Milton to take on a larger offensive role, knowing the Sixers don’t have Maxey or Harden to lean on. He’s been pushing the tempo in transition and isn’t afraid to aggressively attack the basket rather than defer to a teammate.

During his first 11 appearances this season, Milton had 52 total drives to the basket in 155 minutes. He shot 9-of-20 on those plays and racked up five assists and six turnovers on 21 passes. Prior to Wednesday’s blowout loss against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Milton had shot 20-of-38 on his 84 drives and has 10 assists and only two turnovers on his 37 passes over the Sixers’ last six games.

“I think just seeing the game and, honestly, with having the ball a little more,” Milton said after Friday’s win over Orlando, when asked what’s fueled his strong play recently. “Having more time, not feeling like I have to force it. So just reading the game and taking what the defense is giving me, and then on top of that, even when I’m make mistakes, guys are patting me on the back, telling me to keep going, keep being aggressive, keep trying to see the floor. So you just really build confidence doing something like that.”

He put his full array of tricks on display against Orlando on Sunday, racking up a season-high 29 points on 10-of-13 shooting (including 3-of-6 from deep) to go with seven assists, five rebounds and a steal in the 133-103 blowout victory.

After that game, he spoke about his mindset while the Sixers are so short-handed.

“I feel like just being aggressive, picking my spots,” Milton told reporters. “My teammates do a really good job of telling me to go, telling me to be aggressive. Just having people down, it gives the opportunity for others to step up. And I think everybody on the team has looked at it as something that we can do. We can come together, play hard and have some opportunities to make some things happen and hopefully get a few wins.”

Although Embiid returned Monday against the Atlanta Hawks, Milton didn’t recede into the background. He racked up 21 points on 9-of-20 shooting to go with seven assists and five rebounds in the 104-101 victory, including this pull-up three-point attempt that helped the Sixers claw back into the game after falling into an early double-digit deficit.

After Monday’s win, head coach Doc Rivers discussed the balance between Milton and the Sixers’ supporting cast staying aggressive and feeding the big fella.

“I thought we saw Joel tonight instead of playing,” Rivers said.” So we’ve gotta get back to playing too at our speed. I thought Shake had two or three times tonight where he’s gotta go, but instead, he picks it up and throws it [to Embiid]. And that’s what happens. [Embiid’s] pretty good, you want to give him the ball. But the guys have to keep playing as well. Joel saw it. Joel was trying to get the ball to guys. So we have some work to do, but it’s easy work. It’s very fixable.”

When Harden and Maxey return, Milton will inevitably play fewer minutes. But the flashes he’s shown leading the team in their absence should embolden Rivers to hand the keys of the offense over to him at times. The more rest that the Sixers can buy their three stars throughout the 82-game grind of the regular season, the better equipped they’ll be for the playoffs.

Milton is in the final season of his three-year, $5.0 million contract. If he continues playing as well as he has lately, he’ll be setting himself up for a hefty raise when he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer, too.


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