One year to the day he was called up from the D-League, guard Elijah Millsap was waived by the Utah Jazz, a few days shy of the date nonguaranteed players are secured for the rest of the season.
Even if it was short-lived with the Jazz, the Millsap story was a good one. The younger brother of one of the most respected, beloved players in franchise history, finally getting his chance after battling and scrapping for years. Millsap had toiled for nearly five years in exotic locales likes the Philippines, Israel and China. After going undrafted out of Louisiana-Lafayette, he also played summer league for or attended training camp with five different NBA teams1 and spent several years in the D-League. Finally, after all the hard work and effort, Millsap made his NBA debut as a 27-year old rookie.
And not only did he finally make it to the big stage, but he due to injuries and rotating players at the end of the bench, Millsap was given a prominent role. He averaged 19.7 MPG and chipped in 5.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG and 1.2 SPG, while playing excellent, stout defense.
It was the type of story that people love. Kind of like Rudy meets Rocky meets Hoosiers. Or something like that.
Everyone rightfully raved about his hawking defense. Millsap was physical, quick and long. He anticipated opponents’ movements and played the passing lanes without gambling too often. He was about to get around screens and defended the pick-and-roll well. Millsap had an elite skill as a top flight defender. Think Tony Allen, Thabo Sefolosha or Bruce Bowen lite.
Unfortunately, the rest of his game was immensely inferior. Millsap’s shooting was abysmal. As a rookie, he only shot 48 percent up close. Chances are, if you are unable to finish inside, the rest of your shooting stats will mirror that. Sure enough, Millsap only shot 27.5 percent 3-10 feet out, 18.8 percent on 10-16 feet, and just 21.1 percent on long twos. Not good. His 31.1 percent 3-point marksmanship was tough to swallow for a shooting guard. Sure, he crashed the boards and flashed some slick passing ability at times. But he also fouled at a high clip2 and turned the ball over way too much3. All these things add up.
The defense simply was not enough to compensate for his offensive shortcomings. When he was in the game, defenses could sag off him, thus allowing double-teams and other schemes to be thrown at Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward. Allen proved to be a decent offensive player, shooting 47.5 percent for his career. Bowen was a deadly corner 3-point sniper. Millsap is a long way toward developing respectability on offense, and at 28, what you see may be what you get.
Despite being in the system over the offseason, Millsap seemingly digressed. Joe Ingles was understandably ahead of him for that fourth wing spot. But as injuries once again reared their ugly heads, Chris Johnson was given the nod. After all, not only does Johnson play scrappy defense, but he can hit the long ball much more consistently. Unfortunately for him, the writing was on the wall for Millsap.
But when one considers again Millsap’s background as an undrafted rookie, minimum-salaried player added mid-season, he was a success. He worked hard, was well liked in the locker room and was a consummate professional. Here was his classy response to being cut:
Thank You Jazz organization for the opportunity. Really appreciate my teammates and all the Jazz fans for your love &support #AlltheBest
— Elijah Millsap (@Elijah_Millsap) January 5, 2016
According to some reports, there are some teams that may be interested in his services. Jazz fans undoubtedly hope he gets another chance, and perhaps like Ian Clark has done with the Golden State Warriors, is able to carve out a niche. Millsap deserves any success that comes his way from here.
Now, Dennis Lindsey and company have a roster spot with which to play. They could use it like they have the past few seasons, giving different D-League prospects an on-the-job tryout. The Jazz could broker a trade, absorbing a player without having to send one out. Or they could do a 1-for-2 swap. It will be interesting to see how things play out.