With James Harden’s Return, Where Does Shake Milton Stand?

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Shake Milton
Philadelphia 76ers’ Shake Milton, left, goes up for a shot against Charlotte Hornets’ Nick Richards during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Shake Milton stepped up in a major way in the absence of James Harden, but with Harden back, where does Milton stand with the Sixers?

At the beginning of the season, it seemed like nearly every guard in the Sixers rotation had some buzz around them. Between the team bringing back Harden on a new deal, acquiring standout two-way guard De’Anthony Melton, and of course, the hopes for a breakout season for Tyrese Maxey, the team’s President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey was widely praised for building the guard depth. 

But one person who wasn’t garnering much attention was fifth-year shooting guard Shake Milton. Despite last season’s lack of guard depth, Milton played just 55 games for an average of 21.4 minutes per contest – both lower than in the 2020-21 season. And to that end, he averaged 45% from the field while contributing just 8.2 points per game – both the lowest since his rookie year. And while he still shot 32% from deep, he made a whopping 70 fewer attempts than in 2020-21. With this shaky consistency, adding Melton as both a more reliable scorer and defender held great promise for improving the team’s bench depth.

But with the Sixers’ guard depth once again depleted due to injuries this season, the 26-year-old has once again had the opportunity to prove himself. And he’s not letting this one go – he’s averaged 14.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 4.2 assists in 14 games in November while shooting 54% from the field and 21% from deep. It may not be the 39-points, Sixth Man Of The Year contender of days of yore, but his positive impact has been impressively consistent in a season that is absolutely anything but.

So with Harden’s return, where does that leave Shake? In the four games since Harden’s been back, Shake Milton has averaged 10.5 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists; he scored 11 points in two of those games and most recently 14 against the Sacramento Kings. He was a key contributor in giving the Sixers their first lead towards the end of the first quarter in Sunday’s home win against the Charlotte Hornets, putting up 5 points, a rebound, and an assist in 4 minutes

Yet Shake Milton has also found himself in foul trouble, committing 16 personal fouls in those last four games. While that alone may not be that big of an issue, it becomes especially important when considering how breakdowns in transition defense during non-Embiid minutes can often quickly narrow a Sixers’ lead. In those situations, the bench simply can’t afford to be giving up easy points from the line.

Shake Milton has earned the right to continued minutes as the first man off the bench in the wake of Harden’s return, though he may come in shortly behind Melton once Tyrese Maxey comes back. And it’s worth getting as much out of his quick style of play as possible for the remainder of this season, especially as this is his last before hitting the free-agent market.

It’s unlikely he’d be part of a trade unless it’s either part of a larger deal to make the money work or a borderline playoff team somehow decided at the deadline that he’s their missing piece. In the meantime, though, it may not be time to count out Shake Milton just yet.