In the Philadelphia 76ers 132-130 win over the San Antonio Spurs, Shake Milton offered a bounce back performance (from his poor outing against the Indiana Pacers) en route to 16 points, 3 assists, and a game-winning three pointer. One of the more encouraging aspects of Milton’s performance was the compatibility of his play with that of Ben Simmons.
Simmons got himself into foul trouble early against the Spurs, so his 25 minutes of playing time limited the amount of opportunities Shake and Simmons shared on the court (it didn’t help that Shake also only played 25 minutes). But even in that limited amount of playing time, Simmons and Milton displayed a willingness to play off of each other, specifically in the pick and roll. By my count, the duo dialed up a pick and roll on four occasions against San Antonio.
In the first play, Milton takes Simmons’ screen and drives the basket as Ben rolls. Milton delivers a perfect pass to Ben, who shows good hands on the catch. Unfortunately, Simmons’ shot is a bit long. But that was because Ben’s threat as a roller pulled Drew Eubanks away from Embiid, forcing Simmons to release a bit early. As a result, the Sixers gain the positioning advantage and Shake follows up Ben’s miss with a tip in.
Shake and Simmons went back to the pick and roll in the 2nd quarter, and although the play resulted in a bucket, their execution could have been better.
The setup on the play above is very similar to our first clip. However, Simmons stops his roll early despite having a significant size advantage to receive a lob. I think he was considering setting another screen, but it’s not clear. Regardless, Shake ends up with a mismatch thanks to the screen, drawing the 34-year-old (on Aug. 17) Rudy Gay, and is able to take advantage with a quick step back jumper that Gay is unable to contest due to fear of fouling.
Simmons’ foul trouble meant that we did not get to see the pair go back to the pick and roll again until late in the 4th quarter. For two critical possessions though, Simmons set the screen for Milton. In the first 4th quarter play just below, the two execute their purest pick and roll of the evening.
Milton shows great recognition in noticing that Eubanks is dropping and in response Milton feeds Simmons early with the bounce pass.
The Sixers would go back to the duo one last time but by then, Eubanks had learned his lesson. As Milton gets downhill off the screen, Eubanks steps up and Milton has to make a move before he’s ready.
I don’t take much issue with Milton’s decision to try to finish — it just wasn’t a great finishing attempt. But Simmons did want the lob and I think Milton could have dropped it over Eubanks. The good news is that as Simmons and Shake continue to test out their two-man game, they’ll develop better anticipation for each other and maybe those plays start becoming electrifying lob dunks.
In any event, the Sixers have to be encouraged by Ben’s willingness as a screener. His rare combination of size, speed, and strength have made him an enticing option as a roller since draft day. Unfortunately, the team’s lack of another initiator outside of Ben has often kept that vision as simply that — a vision. But Shake Milton’s arrival is beginning to open up possibilities for Simmons off-ball.