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The Free Shake Movement

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With the Sixers bench thinner than a toothpick gone through a paper shredder, the Sixers could look to one of their two way contract players to light a spark.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers-Media Day Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The movement has been seen throughout twitter over the last couple weeks.

The shallow Sixers bench has grown stale and rather unproductive in this semi youthful NBA season and the screams from the void to unleash Shake Milton are growing louder and louder.

It’s no secret that the Sixers bench is lacking any sorts of depth. It ranks 22nd in the league in bench points with 35 PPG and we are now waiting to hear the news on if/how long Jimmy Butler will be out with his groin injury. With Markelle Fultz, Zhaire Smith, and Justin Patton already out indefinitely, the Sixers bench is now thinned to: Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet, TJ McConnell, Furkan Korkmaz, and the twilight minutes of Amir Johnson. Note that if Butler does miss time, one of these soldiers will have to take his place in the starting lineup, probably Muscala.

As of late, Muscala has answered the nationally redundant and obnoxious question of “what will the Sixers do without Ersan Ilyasova?” as of now, Landry Shamet looks to be what we all thought Nik Stauskas and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot were supposed to be and Furkan Korkmaz just gave us a bittersweet taste of what might be walking away next summer, as he dropped a career high 18 points. TJ McConnell has been a minus in 14 out of his 22 games played so far this season. He showed a very solid performance Monday night against the Pistons, but continues to be a target on defensive as teams catch him in switch situations. In the 2017-18 season, McConnell defended 1.1 possessions per game less than six feet from the basket, and opponents shot 59.5% in those situations. This year, those numbers are up to 1.6 and 74.3%. Overall, opponents are shooting 2.8% better when guarded by TJ. This isn’t to say TJ doesn’t bring positives to the team, he is just a victim of his size and the switch everything defense that Brett Brown and company employ night to night. With his increased minutes in lieu of the Markelle Fultz news, opponents see baby food when they can get a big of a sizable wing going at McConnell on a switch.

All of that, paired with the whispers of rumors that TJ might be involved in a trade with the Phoenix Suns, shows that it might be an optimal time to start the Shake Milton experiment. The team desperately needs another shooting spark off the bench that won’t hinder the spacing necessary for Simmons, Embiid, or Butler to operate.

Before the draft this past summer, I broke down Shake’s game play and potential fit with the team. After he was selected 54th overall, Liberty Ballers Jackson Frank went deeper into a video breakdown of Milton at SMU.

So far this NBA season, Milton has racked up 14 total garbage time minutes, but has yet to see any rotational run. In the G League, he is averaging 22 points, five rebounds, three assists, and a steal per night. In his three years at SMU, Milton shot 42.7% from long range. but as history shows, often times even great college shooters need some time to adjust to the four foot change in distance.

The counter to the FreeShake movement is when you look at his shooting splits in the G League. 46/32/87 is a bit shaky, but one could make an argument that his 32% three-point percentage comes form the fact that he’s chucking seven a game. As we’ve seen with Robert Covington, who attempted 6.6 per game in his tenure with Philadelphia, those percentages can tilt back and forth drastically.

Defensively, he is a long, gangly defender who has the potential to be a nightmare for guards on the perimeter. However he is a bit slow, and is by no means an explosive athlete, which limits his ability to keep up with twitchy guards. But his 6’11 wingspan gives him a unique advantage when recovering after he’s been beat.

A young 6’6 guard with defensive potential and a reputation as a floor spacer/ball handler could be what this team needs coming off the bench. This season, fellow two way contract player Allonzo Trier has broken on to the scene for the New York Knicks, giving them a solid 11/3/2 off the bench. The Knicks and the Sixers are obviously on different timelines here, and the Sixers can’y take as many liberties as the Knicks when it comes to experimenting with lineups, but for the sake of the article, let’s act like they can.

The Sixers currently sit at 19-9 and are third in the Eastern Conference, so every game is meaningful in the long run in terms of seeding and home court advantage come playoff time. However, four of the next five games for the Sixers come against bottom feeding defenses. In their next contest they play host to the Brooklyn Nets, who rank 21st in DefRtg, giving up 109.5 points a night (although they tend to matchup and play very, very well against the Sixers). After that, they stay home for the Pacers, who are the one defensively sound team in the next five, ranking 3rd in DefRtg (ALTHOUGH they are without star guard and All Defensive First Teamer Victor Oladipo). The Sixers then head on the road to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers (114.8 DefRtf, 30th) and the San Antonio Spurs (112.9 DefRtg, 29th) before returning home again to play the New York Knicks (112.3 DefRtg, 27th).

If the Sixers don’t fall into their usual habit of playing down to the opponents, this next handful of games could be a golden opportunity to attempt to integrate Shake Milton into the rotation and see how he fares adjusting to the speed and physicality of the NBA.

One lineup that I’d be interested in seeing would be Simmons, Milton, Korkmaz, Chandler, and Embiid. Two and a half shooters to space the floor for Embiid to operate in the post, while Simmons can aggressively attack open spaces in the half court. Defensively this lineup could work with the auto switch defense the Sixers run, as there would be no drastic mismatches unless Furkan or Milton got switched on the a center.

One other dynamic to look for is the backcourt pairing of Landry Shamet and Shake Milton. No real reason other than the fact they used to be AAC rivals and Wichita State and SMU, now paired together in an NBA backcourt.

Even if this article was written for nothing and we don’t see Shake and his long dangly arms take the court, he can still capture the hearts of Philadelphians from the bench, as, in wake of the Robert Covington trade, TJ McConnell has appointed Milton the new Head of the Frosty Freeze Out Cheer Section.