A lot has changed in the Philadelphia 76ers backup point guard role from last season to right now. Ben Simmons is still the obvious starter and will be playing most of the minutes. TJ McConnell signed with the Indiana Pacers in free agency and the team traded Markelle Fultz to the Orlando Magic mid-season.
As for the point guard rotation behind Simmons heading into this season, it begins with Shake Milton: a young, developing player who had his contract converted from a two-way deal to a four-year NBA contract. After that, it's a battle between two veterans who both provide different skills to the roster, Trey Burke and Raul Neto.
Shake Milton's Role in the 76ers Rotation
Milton is a player who has been working his way up to earn a roster spot, beginning as a two-way player last season. He averaged 24.9 points, shooting 48.4 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from 3-point range, and 5.3 assists in 34.7 minutes per game through 27 games for the Delaware Blue Coats last season.
The 76ers drafted Milton with the 54th overall pick in last year's NBA Draft. Everyone in the organization knew that he would eventually earn a full-time spot on the team's roster. After proving his scoring abilities in the G League, the 76ers gave him that full-time roster spot when they converted his contract and extended him for four years earlier this offseason.
It looked like Milton was set to be the first point guard off the bench for the 76ers this season. However, he had one of the worst Summer League performances that you could imagine. He shot a meager 17 percent from the field and could not buy a bucket throughout the 76ers' slate of Summer-League games.
His poor performance in the Summer League most likely played a part in the team making sure to have some other options in case that Milton's struggles continue into the regular season. Worst case scenario, and I doubt that this happens, is that his terrible shooting continues and the team chooses to send him down the G League to get more consistent playing time in an effort to iron out his shot. If they went that option, he would still be counting against the team's 15-man roster and his contract would still be guaranteed. However, NBA teams can only dress up to 12-13 players for each game, so they could elect to use Milton's roster spot as the 15th, undressed player during games.
The more likely scenario with Milton is that he rebounds from his poor Summer-League performance and earns a consistent spot in the 76ers' rotation this season.
Trey Burke vs. Raul Neto: The Battle Between the Veterans
The 76ers signed both Trey Burke and Raul Neto this offseason with the goal of using them to provide a veteran presence and some outside shooting off the bench. Neto, who was signed earlier in the offseason, has struggled to stay healthy, playing more than 41 games only once in his four-year career. When healthy, he provides an above average 3-point shooting ability (37.7 percent in his career) as well as experience running an NBA offense.
Burke, who was signed on Thursday night by the 76ers to a one-year, partially guaranteed contract for the veteran minimum, would add the ability to create his own shot, as well as being a decent 3-point shooter throughout his career, to the 76ers bench. Burke is a career 34.0 percent shooter from outside, and is known to be a streaky player who, when his game is going well, can drop 20 points on any given night.
Burke has the advantage over Neto in both passing (career 2.74 assist-to-turnover ratio compared to 1.93) and scoring. Neto is more of a complimentary scorer, averaging 4.8 points in 14.2 minutes per game throughout his career. Burke can use his pick-and-roll ability as well as his outside shot to be able to take over games and score points when needed. He averages 10.9 points in 23.6 minutes per game throughout his career.
Both players have experience playing in multiple roles, from starting to coming off the bench and playing only around 10 minutes per game. Neto has a distinct advantage over Burke on the defensive end of the floor, which bodes well for him since head coach Brett Brown highly values defense.
As NBC Sports Philadelphia's Noah Levick pointed out on twitter, this is not going to be the first time that these two players have battled each other for a position on a team's roster.
I had not realized this — as a rookie, Neto beat out Burke for the Jazz's starting point guard spot to begin the 2015-16 season.— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) July 26, 2019
Looks like we'll be in for another battle, and another one of Brett Brown's "quiet tournaments." https://t.co/ZY7eyBtLVC
This should be interesting to see who wins the battle throughout training camp, preseason and perhaps even the beginning of the regular season.
Overall: My Thoughts on How the Backup Point Guard Rotation will Play Out
As written above, Milton is most likely to rebound from his terrible performance in the Summer League and be the team's main option to back up Simmons on most nights. He should end up averaging around 15-18 minutes per game this season, enough time for him to make an impact on the game with his outside shooting and to hype up the crowd during the Frosty Freezeout promotion during the opposing team's free throws.
Behind Milton will be Trey Burke, who I believe will win the "quiet tournament" between himself and Raul Neto in training camp and the preseason. Burke's scoring abilities off the bench are just something that the 76ers are in desperate need of. There could be some intriguing lineup combinations involving Burke, anything from him playing the point while Milton (who stands at 6-foot-6) plays shooting guard to Burke running the offense while having Simmons play as the power forward out of the post.
Even if Burke wins the position over Neto, that does not necessarily mean the end of Neto's 76ers career. He provides better defense than Burke, and could be kept on the roster to allow Brett Brown to mix and match depending on the opposing team's point guards.