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

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

Shake Milton has improved a lot in the absence of James Harden, but with Harden back where does Milton stand in the Sixers?

At the start of the season, it seemed like just about every guard in the Sixers rotation had caused a bit of a stir. Between the team that brought Harden back to a new deal, the acquisition of standout two-way guard De’Anthony Melton, and of course hopes of a breakout season for Tyrese Maxey, the team’s president of basketball operations Daryl Morey was widely endorsed the construction praised wake depth.

But one person who didn’t draw much attention was fifth-year shooting guard Shake Milton. Despite last season’s lack of depth of coverage, Milton only played 55 games for an average of 21.4 minutes per competition – both fewer than the 2020-21 season. And to that end, he averaged 45% of the field and contributed just 8.2 points per game — both his lowest since his rookie year. And while he was still shooting 32% from deep, he made a whopping 70 fewer attempts than in 2020-21. Given that shaky consistency, the addition of Melton as a more reliable goalscorer and defender showed promise to improve the team’s bench depth.

But with the Sixers’ depth of cover once again depleted by injury this season, the 26-year-old had yet another opportunity to prove himself. And he’s not letting go — he’s averaging 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-point contender for sixth man of the year of days gone by, but its positive impact has been impressively consistent in a season that is absolutely anything but.

So where’s Shake with Harden’s return? In the four games since Harden’s return, Shake Milton has averaged 10.5 points, 2.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists; In two of those games he had 11 points and most recently 14 against the Sacramento Kings. He was instrumental in giving the Sixers their first lead late in the first quarter in Sunday’s home win over the Charlotte Hornets by recording 5 points, a rebound and an assist in 4 minutes.

But Shake Milton has also found himself in trouble, committing 16 personal fouls in the last four games. While that might not be such a big problem on its own, it becomes especially important when you consider how breakdowns in transition defense during non-embiid minutes can often quickly reduce the Sixers’ lead. In such situations, the bank simply cannot afford to give up easy points from the line.

Shake Milton has earned the right to more minutes as the first man off the bench following Harden’s return, although he could step in just behind Melton once Tyrese Maxey returns. And it’s worth making the most of his fast-paced playstyle for the rest of this season, especially since this will be his last before hitting the free-agent market.

He’s unlikely to be part of a deal unless it’s either part of a larger deal to make the money work or a borderline playoff team somehow decided by the deadline that he missed their part is. In the meantime, however, it may not be time to count Shake Milton off.

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