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July 02, 2019

Sixers will sign guard Shake Milton to four-year contract; James Ennis returns to hunt for title

Two-way player Shake Milton is signing a four-year contract with the Sixers, a source told PhillyVoice on Tuesday evening.

Milton's contract will fit within the $2.2 million of cap space the Sixers had left to them in free agency, a source said, though exact terms of the deal are still unknown at this time.

While his most prominent role for the big club was leading the charge during the "Frosty Freeze-Out," Milton was arguably the best player on the team's G-League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats, for most of last season. Translating G-League stats to the NBA is far from an exact science, but he was an above-average shooter from deep (36.7 percent) on high volume (5.9 attempts per game) and finished the season as Delaware's leading scorer with 24.9 per game.

Milton was decidedly a mixed bag at the pro level during his first NBA season, but he showed enough flashes to inspire confidence in him moving forward. The primary question surrounding Milton at this time is what sort of guard he's going to be at this level, and that has really been the question for him since he left SMU.

The current roster situation might force him into backup point guard duties, and handing the keys — even a spare set — to a second-year player with minimal experience would be an interesting decision on Philadelphia's behalf. One saving grace for Milton is that he'll be part of a ball-sharing offense here in Philly, and he'll often be flanked with high-level passers at other positions, so that may be able to offset any deficiencies he has as a lead ballhandler.

Internally, the Sixers have been speaking highly of Milton over the summer, and his coach with the Blue Coats, Connor Johnson, has been vocal about Milton taking a leadership role for their Summer League team that will compete in Las Vegas over the next couple weeks.

"I think he's going to be one of the leaders of this [Summer League] team," Johnson said. "He's been around, understands our program, understands our system, looks confident out there, it's good to see him embrace that role as a leader...the best thing I think we can do for the Sixers is to show his versatility. Show he can play in multiple ways, he can play off of the ball and he can play with the ball."

Milton has a long way to go defensively, though he does have some tools to help him out there if his reads improve with experience. He's a shade under 6'6" in shoes, but Milton has a seven-foot wingspan, which should allow him to guard several positions as his fitness improves and his core strength helps him hang in against bigger wings.

(Perhaps this explains why the Sixers opted not to bring in any young guards in the draft process. If they already liked Milton enough to invest in him, it stands to reason they'd look for veteran options if they wanted to upgrade elsewhere.)

In a semi-related move, veteran wing James Ennis is returning to the Sixers on a two-year deal, as Shams Charania of The Athletic first reported on Tuesday evening. Ennis will be on a two-year minimum contract with Philadelphia, and the second year is a player option, a source told PhillyVoice.

A league source insisted that Ennis had more lucrative offers elsewhere, but he had a strong desire to compete for a championship and was willing to sacrifice in order to be part of a team he thought could win a title this year. To fill out their bench without a lot of cap maneuverability to work with, the Sixers were going to need someone, internally or externally, to take a hit on the bottom line. Ennis turned out to be willing to absorb that.

And it should be noted that he's a great fit within this program both on and off of the floor. Ennis has a real bond with starting point guard Ben Simmons away from the court, and on the court he was the quintessential glue guy for Philadelphia's bench last season. It's not as flashy as a new pickup, but Ennis is reliable and can do two things the Sixers need desperately — knock down open shots and switch on the perimeter.

Roster spots are drying up fast in Philadelphia, and the team is slowly beginning to take shape, even though we are only two days into free agency. The NBA moves fast.

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