Larry Brown couldn’t be prouder of the recent development of 76ers guard Shake Milton, the Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year who Brown recruited to play at SMU and coached during his college freshman year.
After Milton’s 39-point performance during Sunday’s 136-130 loss to the host Los Angeles Clippers, Brown immediately got in touch with Milton.
“I texted Shake and I said, 'I didn’t let you shoot and you get 39 (points) tonight and 19 (points) the game before and 20 the game before that, and you should be mad that you committed to me," Brown said in a phone interview with The Inquirer.
Brown, who coached the Sixers for six seasons and guided them to the 2001 NBA Finals, says he keeps up with a lot of his former players and Milton is one of them.
“He is a pretty special kid,” Brown said. “He was projected as a first-rounder and then got hurt in the middle of the year."
That was Milton’s junior season at SMU, where a wrist injury limited him to 22 games. Milton applied for the NBA draft and was selected 54th overall by Dallas. The Sixers acquired him in a draft-night deal.
As a freshman playing for Brown, Milton averaged 10.6 points and 2.3 assists in 32 minutes per game. The Mustangs went 25-5 that season but were banned from the NCAA tournament due to NCAA sanctions.
Brown said that getting Milton, who starred at Owasso, Oklahoma High School, was a coup.
“He was a big recruit for us, we beat Indiana and Oklahoma for Shake,” Brown recalled. “Every time I saw him play AAU or for his high school, he had such a good feel for the game and was starting to grow into his body. Now you see him and he had gotten a lot stronger.”
During the last four games for the Sixers, Milton has averaged 21.4 points while starting in place on Ben Simmons, who is out with a pinched nerve in his back. Over a three-game stretch, ending with the Clippers game, Milton tied an NBA record with 13 consecutive three-pointers made.
“If you would have told me he would make 13 straight threes and score 39 against the Clippers, I might not have believed it, but I really believed he was an NBA player," Brown said. "He is an unbelievably hard worker and he has an unbelievably high IQ.”
Brown says he has heard all the speculation about the Sixers possibly trading Simmons or Joel Embiid, and he said letting go of either would be a major mistake.
“If they ever think of trading Embiid or Simmons, I would die,” Brown said. “They are two of the best players in the league.”
Brown is not in the camp that feels Simmons has to develop a three-point shot to be even more effective.
“I used to get mad when Allen (Iverson) shot threes because I would rather him get a layup or get fouled,” Brown said. “Ben is spectacular, he handles it so well and is so long and sees things other players don’t. And he is such a threat to make other people better and he is really special on defense."
Brown acknowledges that if Simmons hit more medium-range jumpers, it would keep defenses from sagging off of him, but says he is still a dominant player.
Brown says he likes the Sixers team, but feels there is an outside shooting component that they miss since not re-signing JJ Redick, now with New Orleans.