Last night marked Paul Millsap’s first game in Utah since signing with the Atlanta Hawks in the offseason. Millsap was my favorite Jazz man for years, and I’m still not used to seeing him in the Atlanta jersey (seeing him in a red Atlanta jersey earlier in the year was similarly strange). There were articles and tweets using his quotes from shootaround, with some comment in there about how he thought he’d get booed by the fans.
Now, I know Jazz fans don’t always have the best reputation when it comes to booing former players, but seeing those words in virtual print made me sad. Here was a 47th pick who worked his tail off to become a very good player, hustling, rebounding, leading the team in steals, all while being an overlooked, undersized power forward from Louisiana Tech. He was the epitome of a Jazz man during his tenure in Utah: he quietly went about his work, doing whatever it took to help the team win. Some pointed to a less-than-stellar final year in Utah, but he expanded his game every offseason while extending his range each year. We all remember the Miracle in Miami, one of the most spectacular offensive displays in the last minute of a game by a Jazz player, ever.
Then I saw that the Jazz were planning a video tribute to thank Millsap for his time in Utah, and that put me at ease a bit, hoping that the possible booing wouldn’t actually happen.
Luckily, it didn’t, and he was greeted warmly by Jazz fans. Well done, folks.
As Andy Larsen pointed out, the three former Jazzmen—Millsap, Kyle Korver, and DeMarre Carroll—had more than half of the Hawks’ points (60 of the 112 points), on 19-33 shooting, 9-13 from behind the arc, and 13-14 from the free-throw line. Korver led the way with 26 points (on 12 FTGA), while Millsap was close behind with a very efficient 23 points (on 7-14 from the field, 2-4 from the three-point line, and 7-8 from the line).
As Andy mentioned in his Triple Team, Mike Budenholzer had some very complimentary things to say about Paul’s expanded game, discussing his all-around game. Millsap has discussed this year how Budenholzer has given him the freedom to shoot the three, and DeMarre Carroll confirmed that in his comments to Aaron Falk in the Salt Lake Tribune.
What have Millsap’s numbers been showing this year on a new team, in a new system, and with a new coach?
Statistically, he’s having one of the best seasons of his career. With Al Horford having been injured most of the year, Millsap has taken on much of the scoring load and is averaging 13.9 FGA per game, the most in his career. Since his game has expanded and he takes more shots away from the basket than he did earlier in his career, his FG percentage has dropped to 45.8%. Part of the drop in FG% can be explained because he’s taking—and making—more threes than he ever has (making 1.0 on 2.8 three-point attempts per game, up from a previous high of 0.5 three-point attempts per game). His eFG% is .494, just a hair below his career-low of .498 last year, and his TS% is a very respectable .542. Not bad for a power forward who only attempted 20 threes his first four years in the league; he’s made 56 so far this year on 159 attempts.
Interestingly, despite moving to the perimeter, Millsap is also going to the line a pretty good deal: 5.1 FTA per game, a career high. He’s averaging a career-high 3.1 assists per game, a career-high 1.9 steals per game, and continues to grab a respectable number of rebounds, at 8.2 per game. With all the talk of the necessity of having a stretch four (despite Karl Malone’s protests), along with Marvin Williams’ time playing the stretch four this season, who knew we had someone with the skillset to play that role all this time?
Which begs the questions, is it the coach? Is it the system? Is it the personnel? Korver has also been having a fantastic season, and DeMarre Carroll has also been playing very well, with an also-expanding game.
Whatever the case, I’m thrilled that Paul Millsap is having a fantastic season, that he made the All-Star team, and that Jazz fans showed class and grace by giving him a warm reception. It was well deserved.