Shake Milton could be the odd man out in Sixers playoff rotation

NBA: MAR 01 76ers at Clippers
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)

There have been few guys ascend into the spotlight as quickly as Shake Milton. Just midway through last season Shake Milton was told he had no place in the rotation. Fast forward a few weeks and a couple of injuries later, and Milton was the Sixers starting point guard and producing at an extremely high level in this role on the team.

The five-game stretch in which the former second-round pick averaged 20.4 points per game as a starter drastically grew the narrative surrounding Shake. This included making 12 three-pointers in a row and a 39 point performance against the Clippers against his current head coach, Doc Rivers. With the injury to Ben Simmons, which kept him out of the playoffs, Shake took over the starting role as the primary ball-handler and averaged 31.5 minutes per game.

Hopes were sky-high for Shake Milton heading into year three and Doc Rivers continued to stroke this fire with praise heading into the season. With Doc having coached 5 out of the last 7 Sixth Man of the Year winners, Shake seemed primed to fill this role.

It is relevant to note that Milton still had a fairly productive year as he averaged 13 points, 3.1 assists, and 2.3 rebounds this season. This was the fourth-highest scoring total on the Sixers this season despite playing the sixth-most minutes on the team. For a guy that had played just 60 games in his NBA career prior to the season, this is still a decent jump and he brought his three-point percentage up to 35% by the end of the season.

The recent struggles of Shake Milton

While the fit in the offense has not been as smooth as expected throughout the whole season, it has been especially noticeable of late. In the Game Two victory over the Wizards, it felt as if every member of the Sixers had a great game. The one exception to this was Shake Milton, as he ended with 0 points in 14 minutes of play while shooting 0-6 from the field. He failed to ever find his rhythm and looked to be pressing out there in the blowout victory.

Shake did not look as out rhythm in Game One, but he still did not perform nearly up to the level he is capable of. Milton was the fourth man off the bench and scored 5 points in 10 minutes of play in this matchup. Sixers fans should be more than aware that points don’t always tell the story for how well a guy is playing, but Milton is looked at for instant offense when he steps in the game and he has failed in this role of late.

Sixers Other Options:

The Sixers once starved for capable ball-handlers with the ability to shoot the ball. The lack of these types of players was a major cause of spacing issues the Sixers faced last year. This is no longer the case as Daryl Morey has done a great job re-tooling the roster and adding guys like Seth Curry, George Hill, and Tyrese Maxey. This added depth no longer makes Shake integral to the rotation of guys off the bench.

Milton was the fourth sub off the bench in Game One and came in at the same time as Dwight Howard in Game Two, making them the third and fourth subs. The clearest competition for the minutes that Milton occupies can be seen in George Hill and Tyrese Maxey.

When the George Hill trade was initially made, this was looked at as a way to unlock Shake’s scoring ability and take away the need to for him to create for his teammates. This duo was somewhat successful as they created 1.7 more points per 100 possessions than their opponents when on the court together. The Sixers also generate 4.1 more assists and 3.2 more field-goal attempts per 100 possessions when Milton and Hill are on the floor.

These numbers are solid but not quite the “unlocking” of Milton’s skillset that was hoped. Doc Rivers has still mixed in the controversial all-bench lineup but one would think (and hope) that the rotation begins to be squeezed as the playoff progress.

George Hill is a better passer than Milton and has a vast amount of playoff experience on his resume. The Sixers did not trade for him at the deadline for him to sit on the bench, so it appears likely Hill will have a spot cemented in the rotation. The crafty vet has now played in 129 career playoff games, and his veteran presence will be looked to throughout the remainder of this playoff run.

The lack of experience is the biggest criticism on Tyrese Maxey, but the Sixers have kept him buried in the depth chart for far too long. With game-changing pace and confidence well beyond his years, the rookie could successfully fill the role of a spark off the bench. Maxey dropped in an and-one bucket after crossing up his defender in his first run in the game in Game One:

In Game Two, Maxey was even more impressive and ended with 10 points, 2 assists, and 2 rebounds, in 14 minutes of play. While Doc Rivers is not known to play rookies in the playoffs, similar to most coaches in the NBA, Maxey should be looked at as the exception to this. The 20-year-old has stepped up in every opportunity that he has been given and under different circumstances, with more available minutes, he likely would be a Rookie of the Year Candidate.

If Shake is able to find his form and play up to his potential, there is no doubt he helps the Sixers out. But given his current streak of performances and the need for the Sixers to put their best performers on the court for every minute, it is best to look in another direction. There should be no criticism for the third-year guard given extended minutes in garbage time with the intent for him to play his way out of a funk. However, as the playoffs progress the rotation may not shake out the way Milton and many Sixers fans once expected.

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire