Doc Rivers appears to have the utmost confidence in Shake Milton.
Shortly after Rivers was named the 76ers coach on Oct. 1, he praised the player who scored a career-high 39 points against his Los Angeles Clippers team last season.
Those acknowledgments to the media have turned into bi-weekly occurrences and increased Milton’s comfort level, knowing that his coach has confidence in him. Milton doesn’t want to make mistakes, of course, but he’s not as afraid to make them with Rivers in his corner.
“Just him putting the ball in my hands and challenging me, offensively and defensively, to be aggressive and be out there playing loose and playing free, it definitely feels good,” Milton said. “It feels like there’s a weight off your shoulder. You are able to go out there and play loose and not be afraid.”
Milton had his coach looking like a wise man Tuesday in the Sixers’ preseason opener. The third-year guard looked like he could be the bench scorer and facilitator the Sixers would need to be a contender in the Eastern Conference.
Milton displayed an ability to drive the lane and score or find open teammates, and he had the hot hand from three-point land while running the offense as the backup point guard. In the third quarter, Milton scored 15 of the Sixers’ 32 points and made 3-of-5 three-point attempts in the quarter en route to a game-high 19 points. He finished with four rebounds and three assists while shooting 8-for-14 in 23 minutes.
“I tell him literally every day to be Shake. Be Shake,” Rivers said. “I probably have said that 15 times already. And I thought tonight he did that. He was very comfortable, under control, didn’t force a lot of shots. He was fantastic.”
Rivers learned of Milton’s potential on March 1, when filling in for an injured Ben Simmons, the combo guard had a career game with 39 points -- his pro best -- keeping the Sixers in the game before they eventually lost to the Clippers, 136-130.
In the process, Milton tied the NBA record for the most consecutive made three-pointers with 13 over three games. He started the Clippers game by making his first five attempts and finished 7-for-9 on threes, along with five assists. By doing so, he joined Dana Barros as the only player in team history with at least 39 points, 7 threes and 5 assists in one game. Barros did it twice during the 1994-95 season.
But now, the Sixers have a starting lineup of Simmons, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and newcomers Seth Curry and Danny Green.
While most NBA players desire to start, Milton realizes he could have an impact as a sixth man.
“First of all, I just – I want to win,” he said. “Whether that be me coming off the bench or me starting, it doesn’t really matter. I just like to play a part in winning.
“Coming off the bench definitely has its perks. Obviously, everyone wants to start, but coming off the bench can definitely be a good thing.”