For somebody who didn’t make his first career start until Jan. 25, 76ers second-year guard Shake Milton continues to be the talk of training camp during the NBA’s 22-team restart at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla.
The Sixers, who had their first practice on Saturday, have had Milton as the starting point guard while two-time All-Star Ben Simmons has been playing “all over the place,” according to coach Brett Brown.
Brown wouldn’t have made the move unless he had confidence that somebody would play the point at a high level and Milton, who turns 24 in September, has earned his trust.
“There is a poise that he has as a person ... and I think that can help him navigate through a pressure situation of the NBA playoffs. I do believe how he is wired from a human perspective can help him deal with that environment, I think, in a more calm way,” Brown said in a media call.
After practicing four straight days, the Sixers had Wednesday off. The Sixers have their first of three scrimmages on July 24 and open their eight seeding games Aug. 1 against the Indiana Pacers.
Simmons, who turns 24 Monday but seems so much older because of what he has already accomplished, also had high praise for Milton.
“He plays really well, he can shoot the ball and has a high IQ, gets to the rim, can finish,” Simmons said. “He is just somebody you can play with and can say something to him and he will put it in play and try it out. And that’s what you need, somebody like Shake or players like that.”
Milton was traded to the Sixers on draft night in 2018 after being a second-round pick out of SMU by the Dallas Mavericks.
“His development, he has come a long way since the first day I saw him play,” Simmons said. “He is only getting better.”
Milton got his chance due to injuries and flourished after Simmons suffered a pinched nerve in his lower back early in a loss at Milwaukee on Feb. 22. Counting that game and the final eight before the NBA suspended the season March 11 because of the coronavirus outbreak, Milton averaged 17.8 points, 4.1 assists and 1.6 turnovers in 29.9 minutes. More impressively, he shot 60.4% from three-point range.
Nobody expects that type of shooting to continue. But Larry Brown, the former Sixers coach and Milton’s coach at SMU, feels that he is capable of producing in the NBA.
“Shake always could shoot the ball, and when you play with Joel [Embiid], Ben, Al Horford, and Tobias [Harris] you will be open,” he said in a phone interview. “He is the kind of kid who will make an open shot.”
One area that he says will be a challenge is defense, but he feels that Milton can handle it.
“Shake is 6-5 and long and it will be hard for him sometimes to guard point guards,” said the coach who led the Sixers to the 2001 NBA Finals. “That is an element a lot of people may question, but he is so smart and willing to do what you ask, and he will be able to do what you ask.”
Then again, with Josh Richardson in the backcourt, Milton might not have to guard point guards as much.
Larry Brown says that one of Milton’s great qualities is carrying out a game plan.
“He is not looking to do it on his own, and he is really inclined to do exactly what the coach expects of him,” he said.
Before leaving for Florida, Milton talked about how the nine games leading up to the NBA’s hiatus gave him a major shot of confidence.
“Playing those last nine games or whatever with all those guys out, it gave me the opportunity to kind of go out there and test things and see what could work, and really explore [my] game,” Milton said. “I feel, for any player, when they’re given an opportunity to do something like that -- to explore their game and kind of see what works and kind of have freedoms -- I feel like you’re going to see growth. ... I definitely feel good, I feel confident, and I’m excited.”
And apparently so are his teammates and coaching staff.