Shake Milton is the 76ers’ X-Factor in the playoffs
The Philadelphia 76ers will start their journey to the NBA Finals on Saturday at 6 PM against the Toronto Raptors at the Wells Fargo Center.
The bench unit for the 76ers drew reasonable concern throughout the 2022 regular season. Now, while playing in Canada, the Sixers will be without Matisse Thybulle during road games for the first round of the NBA playoffs due to vaccine mandates.
Losing Thybulle is a concern for the Sixers for obvious reasons. His defensive ability along the perimeter is elite, and now Doc Rivers and the Sixers will likely turn to Danny Green in the starting lineup, shaking up the bench rotation for at least the first round.
Many people have questioned Milton’s ability this season, and the doubt is warranted, but he has been in and out of the rotation with injuries and hasn’t had a chance to establish himself in a role. There may have been some overreactions to Milton’s play in the past; between his 39-point game against the Clippers when Doc Rivers was in Los Angeles and his performance in the Hawks series, a lot of people had high expectations.
Most infamously, Rivers was quoted saying that “the league hasn’t caught up to Shake Milton,” which is unfortunately not true, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t be an important contributor on this playoff team.
Milton missed time at the beginning of the season in two different stretches with an ankle injury. He was sidelined with that injury to start the season, and then just a few weeks later, he was ruled out due to COVID, which held him out for four games in late December. Following those two mishaps, in just his second game back from the virus, he endured a pretty scary back injury, which led to him missing 18 games over the course of an entire month before the All-Star Game.
So, while he hasn’t been putting up the numbers that some people may have expected, his season has been grueling, and most of his time has been spent trying to get back to full speed from injuries. He described his rehab from the back injury as “moving in slow motion.” With a smooth, crafty game such as Shake’s, it makes sense that it has taken time for him to get back to form.
Encouraging Recent Play
Shake’s averages have taken a dip this season, with his scoring down nearly two points per game and his shooting splits have taken a dip as well. With the way this season has gone for Milton, it’s been a rollercoaster, and I believe that there’s a chance that he can ramp it up going into the playoffs. He’s no stranger to playoff performances, and with the opportunity, he could bring on the energy that he brought in Game 2 against Atlanta in the postseason last year.
Since his breakout game against Miami, he has averaged a little over 20 minutes per game which is a significant increase from the games coming off the back injury. He’s had a few solid games during this stretch, but more importantly, he is starting to carve out a role with the bench. With more consistent minutes, he has produced at a higher rate. Milton’s scoring has seemed to come easily, and he had a smooth 30-point performance to end the regular season. When given the opportunity and the minutes, Shake has found a way to contribute and deserves to be in the playoff rotation.
Philadelphia has been yearning for help outside of the starting five. Players have come and gone from the rotation, and even guys like Korkmaz have seen their way to consecutive DNP’s due to their struggles. He has become the only guard who can handle the ball off the bench, and it has been tricky to navigate this pseudo-point guard position that he’s been forced into, but he seems to be figuring it out. This bench has been the weakest link for the 76ers, and Shake Milton may be able to remedy some of those issues if he steps up in the coming weeks.
The talent is there, and with other options falling out, Milton has a clear window to prove himself as a reliable threat off the bench. It seems frivolous to weigh Philadelphia’s chances by the performance of a reserve, and while Shake may not make or break a series, he can definitely help swing it in the right direction. He’s proven that he can do it before, and this can be where he turns the corner this season and help the 76ers make some noise.
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Mandatory Credit: VCP Hoops