The long-awaited debut of Shake Milton taking the reigns at point guard was finally put on display yesterday in the Sixers’ first scrimmage, and it did not disappoint. While it was a small sample size, the change greatly helped solve the spacing issue on offense and helped highlight the skills of all 5 starters. Shake looked confident in his new role and is ready to prove that he is the real deal. Limited minutes were seen with this lineup as Brett Brown gave all 15 players some time on the court but regardless there are still some extremely positive takeaways that can be seen.
The first quarter was the only time the starting 5 played together due to Brown getting the subs in, so those are the minutes that should be looked at the closest. Simmons and Shake played the first 5 minutes and 27 seconds of the game together before Shake was subbed out. In these 5 and a half minutes, Shake brought the ball up and ran the offense for 7 possessions. Ben took the reigns for 3 possessions and Tobias brought the ball up twice. Embiid also turned the ball over on an outlet pass costing for one possession.
While Shake may serve as the primary ball-handler, it is clear that Ben Simmons is still the guy that will run the offense. Simmons touched the ball on 10 out of these first 13 possessions and caught the ball at the elbow on 4 of them. The idea behind this is that Ben can be a threat to penetrate while still being able to distribute from this spot. Ben looked comfortable running the offense at the elbow and these 4 possessions resulted in an assist on a Tobias mid-range jump shot, an assist on an Embiid 3-pointer, and assist on a Shake Milton 3-pointer, and a missed lay-in from Ben after a 2 man game with Shake. In his postgame interview, Simmons talked about his comfortability in this role of running the offense like this saying, “I love having the ball at the elbow where I’m able to create shots for my guys and get to the rim. There are endless possibilities with what we are doing right now, so that felt very comfortable.” This role was also seen with Embiid who caught the ball at the elbow twice.
Ben looked free in this new role and still flashed his ability to run the break. He was able to help out on the boards and start the offense right away with the ball in his hands. All 3 possessions that Simmons took the ball up started with him snatching a rebound and the same goes for Tobias in that regard. Despite playing power forward Simmons still racked up 9 assists and had just 1 turnover. It is even more exciting to see Simmons’s willingness to shoot the 3. We have heard this criticism for so long and felt the frustrations ourselves.
Ben went 1 for 2 from deep and what should be most notable is how confidently he shot the ball. In both attempts, the ball came to him with an open look and he didn’t think twice before letting it fly. While it is fair to want to scream to the heavens and celebrate the made 3, this must be considered to new normal for Ben Simmons and it is no understatement to say he can be a legitimate MVP candidate if he can hit shots like this on a regular basis.
Shake also impressed greatly in his debut with this lineup. Despite playing just 223 minutes with Simmons this year and 0 minutes total with the starting lineup that was seen tonight, Shake looked comfortable. He played 17 minutes and had 6 points and 3 assists and the Sixers had a +12 difference when he was on the court. He flashed his smooth stroke by knocking down a 3 and showed his effectiveness in the 2 man game with both Embiid and Simmons. Shake also endeared himself to the city even more by showing his willingness to put his body on the line by taking a charge. His 7-foot wingspan was put on display on the defensive end and he will make more of difference on that end than people will expect.
In addition to the excitement from Simmons and Shake, the team as a whole was very impressive. Tobias quietly had 15 points and 10 rebounds in under 25 minutes, Embiid looked to be in great shape, and nearly all of the bench players looked to be in great form. The Sixers are finally developing into the team that they were expected to be at the beginning of the season. While there should not be too much weight put on this game as it was just a scrimmage that will not count in the books, it is certainly exciting to see the impact that this lineup change has made. With seeding games and playoffs right around the corner look for the Sixers to continue this momentum and establish themselves as a dark horse candidate to make a deep playoff run.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Lifelong Philly Sports fan and current college student at Alvernia University. Writes about Sixers and Phillies and Co-Host of Pick Swap Podcast
Twitter: @Sean_Barnard1 and @PickSwapPod