The Philadelphia 76ers traded for Shake Milton during the 2018 NBA draft Thursday. The No. 54 overall pick was selected by the Dallas Mavericks.
Milton has long been on the NBA's radar because of his size and potential to play point guard. There was probably some evaluation fatigue with him after he spent three years under the microscope. He didn't help himself at the NBA combine scrimmages, either, as he went 0-of-12 from the field with four assists and five turnovers in 41 minutes. Plus, he wasn't helped by playing on a mediocre team this past season and missing the final 11 games because of a hand injury.
However, three years of data tells us Milton is a dependable shooter—he shot better than 42 percent from three-point range every season. Looking at SMU's productivity when Milton was on the floor compared to when he was off shows his value.
According to data from hooplens.com, the Mustangs scored 1.15 points per possession and held opponents to 0.94 points per possession with Milton on the floor. When he was on the bench, they scored 0.97 points per possession and allowed 1.08 points per possession. The Mustangs were 15-7 with him and went 2-9 down the stretch after his injury.
Milton also played a key role on a team that went 30-5 as a sophomore, and once again the Mustangs were much better with him (1.20 offense/0.9 defense) than without (0.94 offense/1.00 defense).
Size: 6'5 ½"
Weight: 207.2 pounds
Wingspan: 7'0 ¾"
Reach: 8'3 ½"
Pro-player comparison: Denzel Valentine
Milton could be ready to contribute right away because of his shooting. He improved as a free-throw shooter every year—he made 84.7 percent this past season—and he's also been a dependable spot-up shooter, knocking down 43.4 percent of his threes as a junior. He was particularly heating up before his injury, as he went 51.1 percent from deep in conference play. It's fair to wonder whether certain players will be able to adjust to the longer NBA line, but Milton looked comfortable shooting deep threes.
While Milton could fill in as a spot-duty point guard, he's probably better cast as a wing player and secondary ball-handler. He lacks some explosion, but NBA offense these days is so much about finding spot-up shooters who either knock down a shot or make a play off a closeout. Milton has a solid pull-up jumper, and he usually makes the simply play. His size allows him to make passes that would be difficult for shorter players look easy, which made him one of the best lob throwers in the country.
Milton also hits teammates in the shooting pocket whether it's a kickout, out of the pick-and-roll or throwing skip passes.
Milton tested as only a so-so athlete at the combine, including one of the worst max verticals (33 inches). He's a smooth athlete, but he lacks the burst to turn the corner on drives. Because he can't easily blow by his defender, he can get eaten up by more aggressive defenders who apply a lot of ball pressure. That's why he makes less sense as a point guard than as a wing.
Milton's lack of explosion also impacts his ability to finish at the basket. He shot only 48.3 percent at the rim as a junior, according to Hoop-Math.com, although playing off the ball may help him in that regard. When he spent most of his time playing on the wing as a freshman, he made a career-best 53 percent of his twos and shot 70.4 percent at the rim, per Hoop-Math.com. He did improve at seeking out contact and getting to the free-throw line as a junior. He had a 40.5 free-throw rate, per KenPom.com, up from 26.1 as a sophomore.
Milton should be able to guard multiple positions because of his length. He is effective using that length to contest shots, and the hooplens.com data speaks volumes about his value on the defensive end, where the Mustangs were 14 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor. He was well-coached at SMU under Larry Brown and Tim Jankovich, and he improved every year using his instincts and length to create more havoc. He averaged 0.8 steals as a freshman, 1.3 as a sophomore and 1.4 as a junior.
Because of his size, he seems to fit in a switch-heavy system where he guards multiple spots. Just like on offense, he can get bullied sometimes and isn't a super physical player. That's perhaps his biggest concern at the next level.
Projected role: Second-unit wing
Milton is going to get minutes as long as his ability to make spot-up jumpers translates, and it should. The pace-and-space NBA game is ideal for his skill set, and his passing ability provides real value, especially if he's allowed to play off the ball and isn't forced to play point guard. It'll be tempting to try to play him at the point, but he's better suited in a secondary playmaking role.
While he's probably a career bench player, Milton could eventually evolve into a starter if he's surrounded by the right personnel. That could also depend on whether he evolves into a plus wing defender or is only an average one. For now, his ability to make shots and smart plays should give him a chance to get on the floor and contribute as a rookie.