MEMPHIS — Shake Milton, it’s turning out, was made for this role.
Including the playoffs, the 76ers guard started the final 32 games of last season. Milton played well, but it appears that his attacking style is put to better use coming off the bench.
Instead of having to run an offense and defer to Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Seth Curry, the third-year veteran’s purpose is to bring instant offense off the bench.
Thursday was a prime example.
Milton scored a season-high 31 points on 11-for-15 shooting in 27 minutes, 21 seconds off the bench. It was Milton’s first game back after missing three due to contact tracing in the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
“I just want to do whatever is best for the team,” he said Saturday morning of his role. “Whatever helps the team win, it really doesn’t matter if I’m starting or not. It’s an opportunity. I have a really good opportunity coming off the bench right now.”
Milton was averaging 15.8 points and 26.1 minutes heading into Saturday night’s game against the Grizzlies in Memphis. He did start in place of a sidelined Seth Curry (ankle soreness) at the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 7 and was the Sixers’ leading scorer with 24 points.
Yet, he and the team appear to be in a better groove with him coming off the bench.
“If Coach [Doc Rivers] asks me to move to starting, then I’ll start,” Milton said. “I have no problem with it. But if he asks me to come off the bench, I’m going to continue to do what I do.”
Homecoming for Joerger
Saturday’s contest was a homecoming of sorts for Sixers assistant coach Dave Joerger.
He was a Grizzlies assistant coach from 2007 to 2013 before becoming the head coach from 2013 to 2016.
He went to Memphis as an assistant coach before the start of the 2007-08 season. He was promoted to top assistant under then-head coach Lionel Hollins after four seasons. Joerger was credited with helping the Grizzlies’ defense, which led the league in steals and forced turnovers during the 2010-11 campaign.
He was elevated to Grizzlies head coach after Hollins, a former Sixers player, was granted permission to look for another head-coaching job following a successful 2012-13 season. The Grizzlies had posted a 56-16 regular-season mark before being swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals.
Joerger led the Grizzlies to regular-season records of 50-32 and 55-27 in his first two seasons. His team went 42-40 and got swept in the first round of the playoffs in his final season in Memphis.