Shake Milton continues to be an X-Factor for the Sixers

Philadelphia 76ers
LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 01: Philadelphia 76ers Guard Shake Milton (18) looks on during a NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers on March 1, 2020 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

After taking the league by storm last season, Shake Milton has grown into one of the most pleasant surprises in recent Sixers history. The former 54th overall pick has played just 71 total NBA games in his career, yet he has already established himself as a key part of the future of the team.

Milton, along with Joel Embiid, even earned the honor of being nominated for Eastern Conference Player of the Week last week following two 28+ point performances. In his 24 games as a starter last season, Shake averaged 16.9 points per game along with 4.7 assists and 3.9 rebounds. He also shot 43% from behind the 3-point arc on 6 attempts per game.

Despite a slow start to the season, Shake’s stats already look eerily similar to last year. He is averaging 16.9 points per game and 3.7 assists so far this season.

I have previously written about how Shake Milton was the X-Factor to last year’s Orlando playoffs. With Ben Simmons sidelined and the overall failed construction of the roster showing face, the Sixers were sent home from the Orlando bubble after being swept by the Celtics in the opening playoff round. Milton was very much the silver-lining in a very dark sky and his momentum has done anything but slow down since.

This season Shake Milton is surrounded by new teammates, new coaching, better spacing, and an overall new team identity. While all these changes have occurred, Malik “Shake” Milton remains the X-factor who will play a major role in helping this Sixers team to reach its ceiling.

Today’s NBA

The NBA is an ever-changing beast in which coaches and players are constantly adjusting to the evolution of the game. This is perhaps most obvious in the increased emphasis on shooting, particularly behind the three-point line. The type of pull-up 3 that would once have coaches sending players immediately to the bench has now become the norm.

While it no doubt is related to the emphasis on shooting, perimeter scorers have become increasingly important in today’s NBA. The NBA will always be a star-driven league and one of the biggest parts of being a “star” is the ability to get a basket for their team with the game on the line. It can be sugar-coated or danced around in many different ways, but every team needs at least one guy who can beat his man one-on-one and score a basket when all else offense fails. Joel Embiid has certainly proved capable of this and should be looked at as the unquestioned “closer” on the team. However, with teams doubling, and even tripling, down on Embiid in the post it would be a huge asset to the team if Shake could grow into the role of the pure “bucket-getter” that this team needs.

In the modernized NBA that is currently seen, having a legitimate perimeter scorer is essential to the success of the team. Guards are no longer looked at as guys that just need to set up their teammates, but rather players that shoulder the majority of the offensive load. Of the 28 players who averaged over 20 points per game last season, Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis are the only two looked at as traditional big men. The remainder of names on this list is flooded with guards and wings who can handle the ball, clear out space, and when all else fails- find a way to get their shot off by winning their one-on-one matchup. James Harden led the league in this category last season generating 45.8% of his offense in isolation.

Shake Milton is finding his feet

Shake Milton is currently 4th on the team in scoring, and it will not be a surprise if he climbs up this list as the season progresses. Joel Embiid rightfully sits at the top of this list averaging 25 points per game. His MVP caliber season has been nothing short of spectacular so far as he has ascended to true NBA stardom. After this comes Tobias Harris and Seth Curry. Both players are having career years and have been instrumental to the Sixers 9-5 start. However, both also serve best off the catch-and-shoot rather than creating their own look. Curry has shown promise in the pick-and-roll early on in this season, but the decisiveness that Harris has played with and cutting out the excess dribbling in his game has done wonders to his productivity.

As far as Shake Milton goes, he is quickly finding his footing as Doc Rivers’ next great 6th man. Just as was seen with guys like Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams, Shake has the freedom to come into the game as the starters begin to rest and play his own style. This ability to create his own shot is one that is a need on the Sixers’ current roster which is indicated by Milton scoring 56.9% of his buckets unassisted this year. Even with the increased passing and free-flowing offense this season, this number is up over the 40.3% rate of his baskets that he scored unassisted on last season.

He has already been impressive early on, but the best of Shake Milton is yet to be seen. The 14 pounds he claimed to have put on this offseason are visible and he has looked much more aggressive attacking the rim. Shake has flashed his ability to finish with both hands and he has seen a 20% increase in overall FG percentage this season, even despite his 3-point percentage being just 32.7%. In Saturday’s matchup against the Grizzlies, Shake led all scorers with 28 points and made some extremely key plays down the stretch. In the previous game against the Heat, Milton once again led all scorers with a season-high 31 points and shot 3 of 4 from the perimeter in the Sixers victory.

At 24 years old and on one of the cheapest contracts in the NBA, any extra expectations are a lot to throw on Shake’s plate. However, having a legitimate perimeter scorer is essential to postseason success in today’s NBA, and Milton is currently the best player on the roster in this area. Shake has already grown into a greater player than nearly everyone could have imagined. If he can continue progressing and sculpt his game into the legitimate isolation scoring threat that he is capable of, Shake Milton could be the key to postseason success for this team.

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire