There’s always a first for everything. And most NBA players could likely recall many moments from their first-ever start in the league. Philadelphia 76ers second-year guard Shake Milton had his first start this season, and it was a game he surely won’t forget.
On January 25th, 2020, Milton was implemented into the Sixers’ starting lineup in a primetime matchup against the West’s best, Los Angeles Lakers. While it was far from his first taste of NBA minutes, the second-year guard was practically being gifted a second chance at making his case to remain in the team’s rotation.
76ers head coach Brett Brown shocked many by throwing Milton into the starting lineup as the Sixers were shorthanded without Joel Embiid and Josh Richardson. And in 25 minutes of playing time, Milton had a quietly impressive night by scoring seven points, picking up three assists, and collecting nine rebounds.
As Milton looks back at that night during the NBA’s hiatus, the former G League standout recently recalled the moment he was running out onto the floor during pregame introductions just minutes before tip-off.
“Man, it’s kind of surreal, you know?” Milton said as he viewed the still of himself running out of the tunnel and onto the court. “Just thinking about all of the work you put in. Not only getting to play but getting the start of your first NBA game, it puts things into perspective. Of course [you feel] excitement, nerves, shaking, but you know as soon as the lights go on you’ll be OK. You just kind of take it step by step, enjoy the moment and be grateful for the position that you’re in, honestly.”
Since that night against the Lakers, Milton started to quickly develop into a reliable player as the Sixers’ starting point guard, Ben Simmons, went out with a back injury. By the time March came around, the second-year Sixer was averaging 30 minutes-per-game, and contributing to nearly 20 PPG, while shooting an exceptional 51-percent from long-range. It’s unfortunate the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down Milton’s growth, but his progress before the suspension proved to Brett Brown that Milton is deserving of a role if and when the NBA returns to action this year.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_