Amidst the past few weeks of gross Sixers basketball, hardly anything has gone right for the team.
Ben Simmons withstood a nerve impingement in his back after the team played him in Milwaukee, despite the fact that in order for the guard to play, he would have needed treatment in the locker room each time he exited the game. Much ink has been spilled taking the organization to task for the bungled handling of (another) star player’s injury, but suffice it to say that if his back was in bad enough shape to require medical attention periodically throughout a February road game, maybe it would be best if the player did not play in said game. Simmons is out for an undetermined amount of time.
Next, following a spirited 49-point outing versus the Atlanta Hawks, Joel Embiid writhed in pain after becoming tangled with Cavaliers big man Ante Zizic. What initially appeared to the naked eye to be some sort of clavicle injury or shoulder dislocation turned out to be merely a shoulder sprain with no structural damage. Embiid will be re-evaluated this week, and is likely to rejoin the squad after the current West Coast road trip ends.
Although *it appears* like the team luckily avoided catastrophe in Embiid’s case, for the time being, the Sixers must find a way to tread water without either of its stars. Since there’s little redemption to be found in Al Horford clapping after missed 3s, Sixers fans are searching for some saving grace at this time.
Look no further than the team’s interim starting point guard Shake Milton.
The second-year combo guard out of SMU has shown an impressive level of poise and consistency in his starts this season. A “jack of all trades, master of none,” Milton’s smooth, deliberate ball-handling and steadily improving 3-point shot have made coach Brett Brown’s decision as to who should fill in for Simmons in the starting lineup rather easy. Prior to Sunday’s matinee versus the Clippers in LA, Milton’s season percentages were up to 47 percent from the field, 43 percent from 3, and 80 percent from the line.
[A little inside baseball here: 90% of this piece was written before the Sixers-Clippers game on Sunday. I figured I would wait to submit it to my editors until after the game ended, merely to update Shake’s percentages, maybe to toss in a quip about how we ought to ignore Pat Beverley eating Shake’s lunch all day. Well! Milton went supernova against LA. He tallied 26 first half points, and not only did he refuse to cower to Beverley, he scored so well that the Clippers guard had to give way to superstars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in an effort to cool off Shake. They were throwing Harden-esque double teams at him when he crossed half court. I mean, my god:
This was a strong drive and finish from Shake Milton against Kawhi.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) March 1, 2020
What a first half for Shake. 26 points on 10/11 FG and 4/4 3PT pic.twitter.com/UU2nDzTwlx
The Clippers predictably clamped down on and limited Shake in the second half, but the guard finished with a remarkable line of 39 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds on 14-of-20 from the field and 7-of-9 from 3. He was a flamethrower. Another fun note about this game is that Al Horford looked so bad that I googled whether or not Calvin Booth was unsigned.]
Sixers GM Elton Brand and
Bryan Colangelo’s his staff have painfully and consistently mismanaged the team’s assets and money over the past few years. The team has nearly $300 million committed to Tobias Harris and Al Horford — two players who both seem grossly overpaid and especially overextended without Simmons and Embiid. The Sixers have sold second-round pick after second-round pick in an effort to pad Josh Harris’s wallet and make it easier for his helicopter jaunt to visit his pal Jared Kushner. Last season, they overpaid the Clippers with assets to acquire Harris — so they could more easily overpay him with dollars in the offseason.
But in Shake Milton, they may have done something right.
The team drafted ‘Shake’ with the 54th overall pick in the second round of the 2018 draft. He spent last year on a two-way contract, splitting his playing time between games with the Sixers and their G-League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats. He only played 20 games with the big club, but Milton impressed the Sixers’ brass enough to garner a long-term offseason contract from the team, as they signed him to a four-year deal over the summer. While he may not possess an incredibly high ceiling with star potential [ignore this], what Milton has shown in his time with the team is a level of consistency and calmness befitting a longtime NBA contributor.
Top-to-bottom changes are likely on the horizon for the Sixers this summer. Front office, coaching staff, players — you name it. Despite the impending reshuffling of the team’s ancillary players, the Sixers’ cap constraints are likely here to stay. Expensive, contending teams need to make shrewd moves around the margins in order to reach their ceilings. For a Sixers organization that has time and again failed at doing just that, drafting, developing and locking in a young contributor like Shake Milton is a small but heartening victory for all those involved.