Can the young guard rebound from an uneven 2020-21 campaign?
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be profiling every player currently on the Sixers’ roster ahead of training camp, which begins on September 28.
Age: 24 (turns 25 on September 26)
Contract status: Shake is entering the second year of the three-year, $4.9 million contract extension he signed with the Sixers prior to the 2019-20 season. The final year in the contract is a team option.
Background info: After two impactful seasons at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, Milton was drafted by the Sixers with the 54th overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft. Despite what, to the naked eye, was an unremarkable rookie season (Milton appeared in only 20 games with the Sixers, while spending the lion’s share of his time in the G League) the Sixers liked what they saw enough to extend Shake with a cheap three-year deal. This proved to be a shrewd move for then-Sixers General Manager Elton Brand, as Milton crept into the rotation in 2019-20 campaign. Punctuated by an eruption for 39 points in LA versus the Clippers for a shorthanded Sixers squad, the guard worked his way from roster obscurity to being a regular contributor as his display of ball-skills, shooting prowess and ability to find his teammates befitted the Sixers with a skill set it sorely needed. Milton played so well (particularly from beyond the arc, where he shot a blistering 43 percent) that then-head coach Brett Brown elevated Milton to the starting unit when play resumed in the Orlando Bubble following the league shutdown due to COVID-19. Then, of course, the injury-riddled Sixers petered out in unspectacular fashion in a first-round sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics.
Entering last season, Milton entered the year as the incumbent first guard off the bench for the Sixers — and a sleeper pick for Sixth Man of the Year by some. What followed was a maddeningly uneven campaign from Shake. In 63 games, he averaged 13 points and three assists per game on .450/.350/.830 shooting splits. The biggest precipitant for Shake’s relative decrease in effectiveness was how often his touch from 3-point range would wane, as it fell eight percentage points compared to the previous season.
As a viewer, Shake’s body language was often an indicator of whether or not his shot was falling. Far too often, Shake spent an inordinate amount of time arguing with officials over foul calls.
His inconsistency was on full display in the playoffs. Here are Milton’s scoring totals for each of the seven games between the Sixers and the Hawks: 0, 14, 6, 8, 5, 0, 2. Just as his productivity rose and fell, so did his minutes. He played as few as 38 seconds in Game 1 and as many as 21 minutes in Game 3. As such, head coach Doc Rivers would often vacillate between handing the off-the-bench keys to Milton or teammate Tyrese Maxey.
Season outlook: The Sixers’ minutes at guard are at least, somewhat, hanging in the balance because of the uncertain immediate future of a notable Australian non-shooter who shall not be named. But regardless of what or whom heads to Philadelphia when the ever-elusive trade ultimately happens, odds are that Shake will inherit a similarly medium-size role off the bench for the Sixers. Milton’s particular expertise will be valuable to the Sixers regardless of who else is on the team. He has the ability to play both on and off ball, has improved as a defender, and — even when he’s erratic — still provides the Sixers with tons of value, given the cost-controlled nature of his contract.
Personally, I’m an optimist on Milton and his game. We’ve seen enough flashes, we’ve seen who he can be and how well he fits with the rest of the roster. I’d bet that the issues Shake encountered last year with attitude and inconsistency are nothing more than what one might expect from a 24-year-old second-round pick adjusting to a full-time role in the NBA. This year, I’ll be looking for a substantial uptick in Shake’s consistency as he solidifies his foothold on minutes in the Sixers’ regular rotation.