On September 30th, less than than two months before the 2015-16 season was set to begin, the fate of the SMU Mustangs was already set in stone. Because on that day, the NCAA banned their men’s basketball team from competing in post-season play while suspending head coach Larry Brown for nine games. SMU’s harsh punishment was due to academic fraud and unethical conduct that surrounded their recruitment of guard Keith Frazier.
Despite their banishment from post-season play, the SMU Mustangs still played their hearts out during the regular season. That statement is exemplified by SMU starting their season on an incredible eighteen game winning streak, which saw them defeat several NCAA Tournament teams that included: Cincinnati, Yale, Michigan and Tulsa. Although that streak eventually ended in a tough defeat against Temple, SMU still finished the season 25-5 which allowed to be the 24th ranked team in the country.
SMU’s regular-season success was mainly due to how dominating their offense was. According to KenPom, SMU maintained a 55.3% EFG (Effective Field Goal Percentage), which was the 12th best percentage in college basketball. Alongside that, SMU shot 42% from beyond the arc, a percentage that was only eclipsed by Michigan State and Oklahoma. That superb perimeter play was led by the duo of Nic Moore and Shake Milton, who shot 41% and 43% respectively.
That fantastic perimeter pairing was short-lived as Moore graduated after that 2015-16 season. With Moore’s graduation, Shake Milton will have to claim that role as SMU’s dominating perimeter shooter. Despite how solid Milton is from beyond the arc, that great shooting is only the tip of the iceberg when you look at his overall game.
Although that fantastic perimeter jumper is a huge part of his offensive game, Milton is pretty versatile on that end of the court. Alongside that fantastic perimeter stroke, Milton showed himself to be a pretty proficient on-ball cutter and facilitator.
In regards to those two skills, Milton might be best as a facilitator. Despite having the prototypical shooting guard frame, as he stands 6’6 with a 6’11 wingspan, Milton is a very unselfish player while having solid court vision. That frame actually helps his prowess as a facilitator, as Milton can overlook the court and make the necessary decision. Milton is able to make that decision whether he’s driving towards the paint or working on the perimeter.
Outside of that singular play, Milton’s work as a facilitator is evident through his stats. During his freshman season, Milton had 3.3 assists per 40 minutes with a 1.8 Ast/TO ratio. That solid Ast/TO placed Milton fifth among American Athletic Conference (AAC) guards.
Transitioning over to his work as an on-ball cutter, Milton shows a ton of promise. Although nobody would consider Milton as the flashiest ball-handler, he’s able to get an advantage over the opposition due to a quick first-step. After that initial first-step, Milton continues to shine as he’s incredibly smooth in his process of driving towards the rim. Milton can change directions on the dime which allows him to easily work around the opposition. If he isn’t able to do that, Milton can throw up a pretty floater.
Although he’s displayed himself to be a solid facilitator and on-ball cutter, a lot of Milton’s offensive game is centered around that smooth perimeter stroke. On 5 attempts per 40 minutes, Milton shot 43% from beyond the arc, which allowed him to be more efficient than NBA lottery picks Jamal Murray and Brandon Ingram. That terrific efficiency is more impressive when you consider that he can shoot both off-the-dribble and through catch-and-shoots.
As a defensive player, Milton is more of a mixed bag. Although Milton has a frame that many teams look for in a modern-day shooting guard, his defensive fundamentals leave a lot to be desired. On most defensive possessions, Milton doesn’t get into your typical defensive stands, as he doesn’t really bend his knees. That has a negative effect on his ability to comfortably work around off-ball screens. Alongside that, Milton’s lackadaisical defensive stance allows opponents to drive right past him.
Due to only being a 19-year-old sophomore, Milton has plenty of time where he can fix those simple but important defensive issues. If he does put in that work to become more fundamentally sound, Milton has the physical tools to be a great defender. Standing 6’6, 185 pounds with a 6’11 wingspan, Milton definitely has the frame that would allow him to guard multiple positions, from point guards to small forwards.
As he heads into that sophomore season, Shake Milton will have plenty of pressure placed on his shoulders. With SMU losing two of their highest scorers (Nic Moore and Jordan Tolbert), the team will need a player to step up and take on the role as the team’s leading scorer. Milton is definitely the best option to take that role due to the combination of versatility and efficiency, as he had a solid 61% True Shooting Percentage as a freshman.
If Milton is able to maintain that efficiency while becoming a bigger part of SMU’s offense, then sky’s might be the limit for the young guard. Because if Milton establishes himself as an efficient offensive threat that can lead a viable top-25 team, then there’s a good chance that we’ll be hearing his name in the 2017 NBA Draft.