[Editor's note: With the recent acquisition of D. Favors, the Jazz are suddenly flush with big men. Guest writer Nick Smith asks where Paul Millsap fits into the rebuilding Utah Jazz... or if he fits in at all.]
In 2006, the Jazz took a second round gamble with their 47th pick and selected an undersized PF in Paul Millsap. Millsap had been, for the third consecutive year, the nation’s leading rebounder, but outside of his rebounding skills and high motor, Millsap came into the league with much to work on. However, in his 5 years with the Jazz, Millsap has done everything the organization has asked him to do and has been a complete pro. Paul made strides in his game every single year and has become one of the more offensively skilled bigs in the NBA. He possesses great guard skills, a nose for the ball, and has a Kevin-Garnett-smooth jumper that he can hit from virtually anywhere on the floor. But there is one thing Paul Millsap does not have and that’s size. You can’t stop the heart of a lion, but you can stop a power forward who stands only 6 feet 7 inches tall.
Millsap waited patiently for Carlos Boozer’s departure for his chance to be a starter, and this year he got that chance. Paul has missed only 6 games all year, and has played extremely hard. Still, evaluating the quality of this season for Paul is very difficult. Was this actually a good year for Millsap? Looking at the stats, this season looks like a staggering success. By most measures he had the type of production that nearly all teams hope for from their starting power forward. In 72 games, Paul averaged 34.3 MPG, 17.4 PPG, 7.7 RPG, and 2.4 APG while shooting a very effective 53.1% from the field 33.3% from three. Still, Millsap’s lack of size was exposed on a nightly basis (see Demarcus Cousins’ performance from Sunday), and despite his significant increase in minutes, Paul still needs 5 additional offensive rebounds in Utah’s last three games to avoid his all-time career season low for that statistic. That’s a stunning fact for a man who’s mantra has always been to out-work anyone who stepped inside the paint.
Considering that Paul has been playing against the biggest and the best big men in the NBA, he has done a nice job (especially when you remember the lack of help from forever-ailing Mehmet Okur), but on February 23rd everything changed for the Jazz. Jazz General Manager Kevin O’Connor shocked the NBA by silently pulling the trigger and dealing one of the league’s premier point guards from the Jazz and changing the entire face of the roster. O’Connor and the rest of the Jazz brass decided that they would not let their best player walk for no return. The Jazz had a generalist “big man” in Paul Millsap but with Williams departure, they suddenly had a specialist power forward in Derrick Favors. Standing at a legit 6’10 with a wingspan and vertical leap that puts even Bill Walton at a loss for words, Derrick Favors became the future of this organization. Just a few nights ago he stood toe to toe with the length of the Lakers, and for the first time in years, the Jazz could challenge LA in the paint. So, if Derrick is the future for this team, what do the Jazz do with Paul Millsap? That’s the (multi)million dollar question.
It’s no secret that the Jazz have already realized they have a logjam. The team has started talking about and playing Millsap at the small forward position. This seems to be a perfect scenario to make room for Derrick Favors while keeping Millsap’s production on the floor, but sorry Jazz fans, I just don’t see it happening. When I think of a small forward, I think of a shooter with range, a quick release on his shot, and an ability to beat other guards off the dribble. When I think of Paul Millsap’s game, I don’t think of any of these things. Why spend time trying to fit a round peg into a square hole if there are other options for Paul? Here are the options that face the Jazz:
Option 1: Express to Millsap that he is a leader of the team and the intangibles he brings are greatly needed, but he needs to go back to coming off of the bench. The Jazz need Millsap to be the third big, the Lamar Odom, the guy who comes in and dominates against other teams’ bench players inside the paint lines like he used to. Paul Millsap is an average starting power forward in this league, but he is one of the best, if not the best third big man in the NBA.
Option 2: If Millsap is not pleased with option one, the Jazz owe it to him to move him to a place where he will get what he wants. His trade value has never been higher and the Jazz could use this value to address other issues on their roster by building a deal centered on Millsap. Millsap, coupled with one or two of the many draft picks and young players the Jazz have, would likely be enough to reel in a dynamic wing player that the Jazz desperately need. Imagine a frontline of Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors that is complemented with a tantalizing wing player like Danny Granger, Andre Igoudala, or Jamal Crawford. Utah could then use one of their remaining future picks for a guy like Kenneth Faried or Tristan Thompson to replace (I hate that word) Millsap’s rebounding and energy in the paint to become the new third big. And for the really optimistic Jazz fan, one could even make an argument that between Memo’s return and the Jazz’s rights to the 7’2 Croatian Ante Tomic, the Jazz could have a high supply of serviceable bigs, even without Paul.
Paul Millsap embodies everything that’s good about the NBA. Off the court he’s a class act, and on the court he’s very tough, plays through injuries, and leaves it all on the table every night. Even though Coach Sloan isn’t with the team anymore, I still love to use the following term when describing players like Millsap; he’s a Jerry Sloan type guy. It’s no secret why the fans love him, why the organization loves him, and why the only Jazz jersey I own is #24. Hopefully the Jazz can manage this issue with a simple rotation change, but depending on how well that goes over with Paul, I’m here to warn you Jazz fans: Millsap’s days here in Utah may be numbered.
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