As Sixers aim to fire from deep, rotation spot is up for grabs


Shake Milton has seen close to every side imaginable of the NBA’s internal competition spectrum.

Even under head coach Doc Rivers, he’s experienced big fluctuations. After starting the final game of Brett Brown’s tenure, Milton began the 2020-21 season as the Sixers’ sixth man, played a mere 38 seconds in the team’s playoff series opener against the Hawks, and scored a critical 14 second-half points the next game. After getting nothing besides garbage time in Game 2 against the Heat last postseason, Milton racked up 15 post-intermission points in Game 6. 

He’s developed his own philosophy about approaching situations when his role isn’t steady.

“You can look at it two ways,” Milton told NBC Sports Philadelphia on Monday night following the Sixers’ 120-106 home win over the Pacers. “Some guys might look at it like when your time comes, weight it that much more. If you go out there and you make mistakes, you’ve got a short leash. Or some guys just look at it as an opportunity. You go in there, you make something happen, and then you grow and expand from there.

“I think you should go out swinging. So whenever I get an opportunity, I’m going to try to make the most out of it.”

Again, it appears Milton will have a chance to seize something more than quality time with his teammates on the bench. Rivers expanded the Sixers’ rotation in the team’s first victory, giving Milton his first action of the season early in the second quarter. With Joel Embiid in foul trouble, Paul Reed also played in both halves.

Rivers confirmed the Milton minutes weren’t fluky.

“Yeah, we want to add another guy to the rotation,” Rivers said. “Tonight, it was Shake.”

At the moment, Rivers seems to think Milton has a slight advantage. 

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I really don’t. Between Matisse (Thybulle) and Shake, (Furkan Korkmaz) … we’re just going to feel it out. We really are. Going by camp and things, Shake is probably the guy ahead, because I thought he played the best. But that doesn’t mean (for) the games that works out the same way."

The Sixers thought a lot about leaning less on one-dimensional players after being eliminated by Miami. While Milton doesn’t have a standout skill like Georges Niang’s shooting or De’Anthony Melton’s chaos-causing defense, perhaps he can supplement the Sixers’ bench by being solid on both ends of the court.

“I just want him to be Shake,” Rivers said on Oct. 16. “Do it all. We use him as a utility player. Score, run the team. We want him to be a better defensive player, which he can be. He did a great job in camp picking the ball up full court and turning it. That’s something he can do and we need him to do.”

As far as the Sixers with more stable roles, everyone chipped in to an improved second-unit performance that helped snap a three-game skid to begin the season. 

Montrezl Harrell gave an especially enthusiastic fan of his tons of time to yell, “Let’s go, Trez!" late in the first quarter by drawing six free throws in under a minute. Melton and Niang combined for 24 points and five long-distance makes. Danuel House Jr. made a corner three-pointer seven seconds after checking in and gave the Sixers 20 good minutes. 

“Georges just knows how to play,” Rivers said. “Him and D-House, as far as playing with James (Harden) in particular … they are really good at playing with James. They know how to slip out picks. D-House sets these flip picks. And that helps. And then the fact that they both can shoot.”

Speaking of shooting, Embiid wants just about everyone around him to do it. The Sixers’ 43 three-point attempts tied their high from last season. Tobias Harris’ 10 were his most since Jan. 22, 2020. 

“Yeah, he should shoot more — mainly him and Tyrese (Maxey),” Embiid said. “Mainly Tyrese; I think Tyrese should be taking 10 a game. … They’re going to be wide open. Every single night, I get doubled, tripled every single possession. James is creating wide-open shots. All of them; P.J. (Tucker), guys coming off the bench. 

“I don’t think we’re taking enough threes, and we just need to let it fly. Tonight we shot 43, which is better. That’s how you’re going to go on runs and that’s how you’re going to put teams away. And if teams are going to guard either me or James that way, you can’t think about it, you can’t pump fake. You’ve got to let it fly.”

To his credit, Harris has been aligned with Embiid thus far in both words and actions. 

At media day last month, the 30-year-old Harris talked about aiming for a higher volume, a quicker release, and “not worrying about the results.” He’s appeared to be committed to that. 

“There’s a lot of tweaks that I’ve been making,” Harris said. “The rhythm is just being ready to catch and shoot. In those positions, when I do have the space, letting it fly — raising right up. And if I feel somebody’s running me off the line, get in the paint and make the right play from there. Endless amounts of shots in the offseason for taking those looks and making them.”

Of course, Milton does not look like he’ll have the chance to take double-digit threes in a game anytime soon.

If there’s a commonality with his situation and Harris’, it’s that there’s no use fretting about outcomes.

“I’m not really sure (where I stand in the rotation), other than come in every day, do the work, stay locked in to the game plan, know my offensive and defensive assignments, and just be ready,” Milton said. “That’s controlling what I can control.”

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