Bench-warmer to National Sensation: The Rise of Shake Milton

The date is March 1st, 2020 and the Philadelphia 76ers have a much anticipated match-up against the Los Angeles Clippers. The afternoon game would ultimately live up to the hype, finishing with a score of 136-130 in LA’s favor. However, it would not be Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons who led the way for Philly, it wouldn’t even be Tobias Harris or Al Horford.

It would be Malik “Shake” Milton.

Shake would go on to drop 39 points against the Clippers. He would be guarded by Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and would even see some double teams. It didn’t matter, the 23 year old guard scored at-will while the national commentators rambled on about how they didn’t even know who he was.

Shake has quickly become a fan favorite in Philadelphia, but how exactly did we all get to this point?


College Years

After dominating the Oklahoma basketball scene in high school, Shake would go on to attend the small D1 school of Southern Methodist University (SMU). While not necessarily being with a program that’s known for pumping out NBA-level prospects, Shake ultimately had a good enough career with SMU to be considered a professional talent.

Shake saw his points per game rise from 10.5 to 18.0 by his final year, and shot an impressive 42.7% from three across all three seasons. He was named to the AAC All-Rookie team in 2016 and was selected to the All-AAC second team twice.

Despite the success at first, Shake’s college career ultimately ended in somewhat of a disaster. He broke his hand just 22 games into his Junior year. An injury that would no doubt affect his position as he declared for the NBA draft.


Rookie Year

Shake was selected in the second round of the 2018 draft by the Dallas Mavericks (54th ovr. pick). However, he wouldn’t play a second for the Mavs, as he was quickly traded to Philly for the rights of Ray Spalding and Kostas Antetokounmpo (yes that is in fact Giannis’ younger brother).

Milton was signed to a two-way contract by the Sixers and was quickly shipped off to the team’s G-League affiliate: the Delaware Blue Coats.

Shake would go on to absolutely dominate the G-League scene in his first year. He was one of the top scorers in the league, averaging 24.9 points-per-game on over 48% shooting. An important note on Shake’s success with the Blue Coats, he primarily played as a point guard, his natural college position.

Milton would see just 20 games of actual NBA action in his first year with Philadelphia. Games in which he would almost exclusively make appearances in garbage time and/or blowouts.


2019/2020 Offseason

This past off-season was a big one for Milton. After a postseason run in which the backup PG position became a glaring weakness for the Sixers, it was lining up to be the perfect opportunity for Shake to prove his worth.

It seemed the front office had faith in him as well, proving it by handing Milton a 4 year contract extension worth just under $8 million. 

With the extension being handed out in early July and the NBA Summer League just around the corner, it appeared the backup PG job was Shake’s to lose.


Injuries

Just a few days after he signed that brand new extension, Shake would go on to sprain his ankle. This injury would keep Shake out of the entire Summer League. A pretty crushing blow to a player who was no doubt looking forward to proving his worth.

Between the injury and Milton shooting just 4 of 29 in the first two Summer League games, this most likely prompted the Sixers to invest in veteran guards Raul Neto and Trey Burke, effectively pinning Milton as the fourth string PG.

Shake obviously recovered from his ankle injury, and was ready to go at the start of the season. Despite seemingly being buried in the depth chart, the 23 year old was itching to fight for minutes. However, in yet another string of unfortunate events, in just the third game of the season Milton would land awkwardly on his knee and sprain it.

Milton not only missed a significant amount of time due to this new injury, but he would even be forced to spend some time back down in the G-League. When he was finally 100% healthy it was almost too late. The team had gone out and acquired two new players and Brett Brown even informed Milton that he was “not in the rotation”.


Against All Odds

Second round pick, G-League player, multiple injuries, buried in the depth chart. The case for Shake one day emerging as a legit NBA player was almost nonexistent. Once the Sixers went and traded for Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks, it almost seemed likely Milton would never get another shot with the Sixers again.

However, with Ben Simmons injuring his back, a slight opening appeared for Milton. Some extra minutes were available, and most importantly, at the point guard position.

Playing in his natural position, Shake grabbed those extra minutes and ran with them. Over the last five games, Shake is averaging 20.4 points. That hot stretch includes a record-tying 12 consecutive threes made in a row.


Looking Ahead

This is only the start for Milton. Not only do the Sixers desperately need a consistent backup PG, but they may just be in the market for a new starting SG. Josh Richardson has been a questionable fit at times and Milton has proven to be an elite threat from behind the arc.

At 6’ 6” with a seven-foot wingspan, Shake could very easily guard some of the league’s more physical two-guards. His above average ball-handling and ability to space the floor would fit perfectly next to a guy like Ben Simmons.

Nicknamed “little milkshake” after his father, Malik Milton is one of those feel-good success stories in the NBA. A second round pick turned fan favorite, Milton’s future career with the 76ers is nothing but bright.

Mandatory Credit – © Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

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