Following their underwhelming start to the season, many feared the Philadelphia 76ers would further spiral amid the injury struggles. Joel Embiid, James Harden, and Tyrese Maxey each have missed time recovering from their foot injuries. However, the team has not missed a beat going 3-1 over the past week without any of the three stars on the court and winning six of their last eight games overall. The Sixers now sit at 11-9 on the season and have climbed up to 6th place in the Eastern Conference. Their matchup with the Hawks will give them a chance to climb to 5th as Atlanta also has an 11-9 record.
The biggest reason for the team staying afloat has been Shake Milton, Tobias Harris, and several other members of the bench stepping up. These strong performances have been recognized nationally as both Milton and Harris received votes for Eastern Conference Player of the Week. The award was ultimately handed to Giannis Antetokounmpo after averaging 35.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 5.8 assists while leading the Bucks to a 3-1 record.
Milton’s Strong Play
It has been an uneasy career arc for Milton. After being drafted with the 54th overall pick in the 2018 draft, Milton paid his dues in the G League before being given a chance with the Sixers. The SMU product ascended to the sixth-man role in past years but has seen his minutes cut this season.
Doc Rivers elected to keep Milton on the bench for the entirety of four of the first five games this season. He looked to be on the outside looking in of the rotation but remained ready when the chance arose. With the Sixers extremely lacking at guard, Milton was moved to the starting lineup and stepped up in a major way.
Over the last five games, Milton has averaged 23.6 points, 6.6 assists, and 6.6 rebounds. He also connected on 52% of his three-pointers while launching five attempts per game as well as shooting 60.6% from the field overall. He has flashed a much more well-rounded game and tallied his first career double-double against the Magic while falling just one rebound short of a triple-double.
Harris’ Increased Role
Few players are willing to make the type of sacrifice that Harris has to fill his role with the Sixers this season. He has become a much more willing three-point shooter and has looked more comfortable off the catch-and-shoot which has not been seen of him throughout his career. Harris has shrunk down to fourth on the offensive pecking order when the team is fully healthy, but he has not allowed this to impact his mentality or willingness to help the team.
Without the three stars in the lineup, Harris was asked to step back into the spotlight and has answered the call. After returning from a two-game absence himself, Harris has averaged 22.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists over the past four games. His most notable performance came in the shorthanded victory over the Nets. The veteran tallied 24 points and six rebounds in the victory while battling through a painful injury ankle roll during the matchup.
As the reinforcements are on the way and the Sixers begin to get closer to full strength, this duo deserves a ton of credit for their strong play. Milton has especially impressed and could see long-term rotational repercussions as a result of his play. It is great to see the duo receiving recognition for their effort and hopefully they can continue this type of production alongside the stars when they do return to the court.