Brett Brown likes Shake Milton’s game.
The Sixers’ rookie came into camp with a back issue, earned a two-way contract, showed well in the G-League, got some NBA run in December, then broke his hand in February. He healed up, rejoined the Blue Coats, and finished the season averaging 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists, leading Delaware in scoring this year.
It’s been a wonky road for the SMU product, who now finds himself on the Sixers bench with eight games left to play.
“The game comes easy,” Brown said of Milton. “He doesn’t force-feed stuff on the game. He takes what the game gives him, and plays with an ease. There’s just a pace and smoothness, a fluidity to his game that enables him to look very much under control. The fact that he can shoot adds to that in significant ways. What he did in Delaware, what he did the other night (against Orlando), and what he has done with us time to time, we take notice of.”
But don’t expect Milton to factor in to the playoffs. He’s still on a two-way contract, which makes him ineligible to appear in the postseason, if the first round began today. The Sixers could certainly convert his contract before then, but they would have to free up a roster spot, and that seems unlikely as they hit the home stretch. Zhaire Smith is eligible since he is not on a two-way, but finds himself in a similar position.
“I don’t see those guys (Milton and Smith) factoring into postseason play,” Brown said Wednesday. “I don’t. It’s no disrespect to them. What we have is what we have and playoff rotations historically don’t increase, they decrease. So I’m always trying to find eight and a half, nine players that you can spin around based on what the game tells you to do. There’s always an outlier, you go to 10 from time to time, somebody makes a few key baskets or Jonah (Bolden) comes in and has a few blocks, whatever it is. But in general I think it’s going to be tough for those two young guys, who really haven’t been with us, to have a say in the playoffs is quite ambitious.”
This is what the Sixers’ playofff rotation currently looks like:
- Ben Simmons –> T.J. McConnell
- JJ Redick –> (various staggered lineups)
- Jimmy Butler –> James Ennis
- Tobias Harris –> Mike Scott
- Joel Embiid –> Boban Marjanovic
Those are the nine guys who will factor in, or the 8.5 if you look to stagger Ben and Jimmy’s minutes to limit the amount of time T.J. will be on the floor. Boban is going to be a second-round defensive liability, so you’re looking at a lot of Mike Scott small-ball if the Sixers advance to face Toronto or Milwaukee.
That was Brett’s pattern last year. He played a core group of about nine guys against Miami, with Amir Johnson logging extra minutes to cover for Joel Embiid’s injury, which kept Joel out of games one and two:
T.J. only played 8.2 minutes per game despite seeing the floor in all five matchups. Justin Anderson came in as a defensive pest, tangled with Dwyane Wade, and only saw 24 total minutes. Markelle Fultz sat on the bench.
It was even more constricted in the Celtics series, when the guys outside of the top-eight were limited to just 30 total minutes in the entire five-game series:
The real question is whether or not you think the Sixers can get anything out of the following guys in the playoffs:
- Jonah Bolden
- Jonathon Simmons
- Amir Johnson
- Justin Patton
- Furkan Korkmaz (injured)
- Zhaire Smith
- Shake Milton (two-way)
- Haywood Highsmith (two-way)
Milton and Highsmith are currently ineligible to play. Korkmaz is injured. Bolden could give you some energy off the bench, but he commits a lot of fouls. Amir is Amir and Patton has played about five seconds this year. There are so few sure bets on the Sixers’ bench. For me, Ennis and Scott are the only second unit guys that don’t have glaring and exploitable weaknesses. This team is about seven players deep, and then it gets really iffy.
That considered, I honestly don’t know how much of a dropoff or variation you’re getting when you go beyond that nine-man rotation and into the territory of Bolden/J. Simmons/Milton/Smith. If Zhaire and Shake show well enough down the stretch here, I think you can do worse in the first round. Shake is a solid backcourt player who can shoot. He’s not ready to run an offense at this level, and he’s not ready for the defensive level of playoff basketball, but is he honestly any less of a defensive liability than JJ?
It’s something to keep an eye on. Worst case scenario, Shake Milton is kept on his two-way, he’s listed as inactive during the playoffs, and he simply travels and practices with the team while getting more experience under his belt.