Buy or Sell 3 trends from Sixers’ shorthanded success

Shake Milton, Sixers (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Shake Milton, Sixers (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The Sixers looked dead in the water last week when it was announced that Joel Embiid would miss time with a right foot sprain. That announcement came on the heels of disheartening injury news regarding James Harden and Tyrese Maxey, both of whom are still in the middle of extended absences.

Philadelphia has a foot problem (not the first time). Since the Embiid news, however… the team has won three of four to advance to two games above .500 on the season, 11-9. How the heck has that happened?

Well, credit is due pretty much up and down the roster. Guys have stepped up. Shake Milton is playing the best ball of his career, De’Anthony Melton looks every bit the two-way stud we were promised, and Tobias Harris continues to grind away in whatever role is demanded of him. And, dare I say… Doc Rivers has coached well?

A pleasantly surprising stretch of successful basketball is nothing new in Philadelphia, but it’s also less common than the fandom might like. So, let’s reflect upon it and decide what’s real and what isn’t. Which trends might suggest something about the future, and which are mere flashes in the pan?

Buy or Sell Sixers trends: Shake Milton’s emergence

Shake Milton‘s sudden star turn is undoubtedly real. He looks perfectly comfortable as the team’s lead ball-handler and primary creator, patiently working the mid-range game, aggressively seeking pull-up jumpers, and weaponizing his strength as a finisher inside. Over the last five games (all starts), Milton has averaged 23.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 6.6 assists on 60.6 percent shooting.

The question is, how does Shake look once Harden and Maxey are back? We have seen stretches similar to this from Milton in the past. When he’s given a clear runway — when the offense is tailored to his unique tempo — he’s capable of impressive numbers. But, can he find that same groove in a complementary role? To be frank, I’m not terribly confident.

There’s no denying that Milton has earned more minutes off the bench once everyone gets back. He has earned the chance to be a rotational staple moving forward. But time and time again, we have seen Milton fade into the background when asked to play off of James Harden or Joel Embiid. He’s less aggressive facing up. He doesn’t take enough 3s. The onus is not on the Sixers to get Shake more involved — the onus is on Shake to involve himself in different ways. The offense won’t be tailored to him when the team is healthy, nor should it be. Shake has to prove that he can thrive as a role player. He has to find ways to translate his recent success to more productive minutes as a spot-up shooter and connective passer, rather than only showing out when he’s “the guy,” so to speak.

Milton was big for the Sixers last postseason and if anything, this stretch should instill more confidence in the 26-year-old moving forward. But I’m willing to bet Milton melts quickly into the background once everyone’s back. That’s not necessarily bad, but I’m not 100 percent convinced this recent stretch means anything with respect to Milton’s role player abilities.

Final verdict: SELL