The biggest talking point surrounding the Philadelphia 76ers’ practices in Orlando has been their new starting lineup. Shake Milton is running point guard, Ben Simmons is at power forward, and Al Horford has consequently moved to the bench. From more shooting and space for the starters to operate with, to Milton’s two-man game and pick-and-roll potential with Simmons, there are plenty of benefits.
When discussing some of the team’s adjustments with reporters at Thursday’s practice, Brett Brown explained that he thinks they’ll start running more pick-and-rolls now as Milton and Simmons spend more time together. After ranking 29th in pick-and-roll usage this season, running just 14.5 per game, that will be a welcome change to add a little more diversity to the Sixers’ offense.
When I asked Milton about how he’s found it playing off Simmons now that they’re in the starting lineup together and running more pick-and-rolls, he continued to reiterate what he’s said before: just how easy it is playing with him.
It’s clear Milton appreciates Simmons’ athleticism when it comes to connecting on lobs, too.
“I mean, I keep saying it, but playing with somebody like Ben is super easy because he’s so unselfish,” Milton said. “You know, we can feed off each other because we both can pass and it makes it easy, because you throw it up anywhere around the rim and he’s gonna go get it. So, it’s easy and I feel like our relationship on the court is constantly growing.”
Milton was also asked about the importance of his jump shot and forcing defenders over screens as the Sixers look to increase their pick-and-roll usage.
“I think the fact that I’m willing to shoot the shot if they go under [the screen] is gonna make people chase, and once people start having to chase then it opens everything up for the pocket pass or over the top to some of the bigs. And, you know, Jo [Embiid], Al, and Ben is shooting too, so it’s going to be a lot to deal with for the defense.”
Milton’s 45.3 percent three-point shooting this season may be unsustainably hot, but his range, confidence, quick trigger, and ability to shoot a bit off the bounce are all evident. He also shot 42.7 percent from deep during his three years at college, so there’s a long track record of him being a quality shooter. He can fire off the dribble when coming around a screen, and won’t hesitate to shoot if defenders go under screens and leave him space at the arc.
On the subject of shooting, Brett Brown also provided another piece of encouraging insight. He mentioned that Simmons has probably taken more three-pointers over just the last few days than he might have before in half a season of practice. Yes, this is only the very beginning of Simmons potentially increasing his three-point attempts, and a practice environment is awfully different to a real game, but it’s a promising start nonetheless.
While Milton said the Sixers haven’t been working on Simmons’ short roll play in particular, he did say that there are a lot of chances for Simmons to use his short-roll finishing and passing with the way they’re playing. “Just through our sets that we run there’s a lot of opportunities for [Simmons] to short roll and for us to hit him and for him to make plays in an area where he can be very effective.”
When Simmons spoke with the media a few days ago, he spoke incredibly highly of Milton, mentioning how adaptable he is as well.
“[Milton] plays really well,” Simmons said. “He can shoot the ball, he has a high IQ, can get to the rim, he can finish. He’s just somebody you can play with, and you can say something to him and he’ll put it into play and try it out. And that’s what you need in somebody like Shake or players like that. He’s developing still and he’s come a long way since the first day I’ve seen him play. He’s only getting better.”
It’s early days for Milton and Simmons playing together in the starting lineup, and we’re yet to see the new potential starting five play even one minute together in a real game (read more on that from our Sean Kennedy here). It’s good that Brown is investing in working with this new grouping, though. There’s plenty more to be unlocked with this duo to help the offense become more fluid, from Milton’s shooting to Simmons’ screening, rolling, and short-roll passing (I wrote about this recently in more detail here).
The Sixers’ rotations and offense should look different when play returns. And Milton’s developing chemistry with Simmons will be an interesting part of it.