Sixers Guard Credits James Harden For Helping His Growth

James Harden, Sixers

Getty James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts during the first quarter against the Charlotte Hornets at Wells Fargo Center on October 12, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

One of the silver linings of the string of injuries that have struck the Philadelphia 76ers is the opportunity it has provided some of the bench members. The player who has taken advantage of this the most has been Shake Milton. In his four games as a starter, Milton is averaging 22.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.5 assists while shooting an efficient 57% from the field. The 26-year-old has found his rhythm and playing at a higher level than has been seen from him in quite some time.

Following the previous victory over the Magic, Milton gave credit to learning from James Harden as part of his development. As he put it,“[I learn] just from watching him, honestly. Anytime you’re able to sit there and watch a great player play basketball, you’re just like a sponge trying to take up any type of information.” The SMU product also went into detail about the types of things he is taking in and stated, “As much as a threat as he is to score the ball, he’s always making plays for the team. Getting people on the rolls, seeing the backside defense, and you can definitely take a lot from watching his game,” per Justin Grasso of Sports Illustrated.

Milton’s Role on Sixers

In Harden’s absence, Milton has been putting up some Harden-like stat lines which have helped to keep the team afloat. His growth as a passer is extremely notable considering the lack of playmakers the Sixers have on the roster.

Doc Rivers also emphasized this following the victory over the Magic in which Milton notched a career-high 10 assists and was one rebound short of a triple-double. As Rivers put it “He was great. Good decision-making, solid, best I’ve seen him pass. Ever. He’s always been a scorer, but right now, Shake’s doing more. He made two defensive plays, got his hands in, and got a steal, a tie-up. Rebounding the ball and making the right decisions. It’s really great to see,” per Ky Carlin of SixersWire.

Milton did not receive any playing time in four of the first five games of the season and looked to be on the outside looking in of the Sixers’ rotation. The growth he has shown and his high level of play in recent games could be enough to change this. It will be interesting to see if Rivers makes some alterations to the rotation when the Sixers return to full health, but the former sixth man has done his best to prove why he is ready for a greater role.

When Will James Harden Return?

As great as the backcourt of Milton and De’Anthony Melton has been, it is clear the Sixers are still missing the 10-time all-star typically tasked with running the offense. James Harden has been out since November 2nd after suffering a right foot tendon sprain which he suffered in a matchup with the Wizards. It was revealed that both Harden and Joel Embiid have made some progress in their pathways back to the court. Harden returned to practice last week in a limited capacity but Rivers made it clear he is still a ways away from fully returning to play.

Heavy Sports Sean Deveney spoke with an Eastern Conference Executive who believes the Sixers are eyeing a return date in the future. As the executive put it, “They have a long homestand (starting December 9) and from what it sounds like, that is about when he will be back. Maybe he gets back out there on the road before that but it sounds like by the end of that first week in December will be it.”

In his absence, the Sixers have embraced the defensive side of the ball which has been vital to staying afloat. They boast the NBA’s best defensive rating in November which is especially noteworthy considering this was an area of weakness to start the season. This type of effort must continue when Harden, Embiid, and Tyrese Maxey return, but there are intriguing signs of life within the Sixers of late.

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