Paul Millsap has never been “the man”. The seven-year NBA veteran has never been the first option on any team in the NBA, he has never been the guy you go to at the end of a shot clock or with the game on the line, he has never led his team in scoring, and in his first six seasons in Utah. he was never even the teams featured big man. After signing as a free agent with the Atlanta Hawks this summer, however, Millsap is an all-star for the first time in his NBA career
Occasionally classified as a garbage player, or an undersized big man; sometimes known more for his motor, rather than any sort of skill. Millsap was more known for being a hard worker, than a skilled big man. Constantly overshadowed by the Carlos Boozer’s and Al Jefferson’s of the world, and considered a placeholder before Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter were ready to be NBA starters, it would not be crazy to suggest that Millsap was incredibly underrated and under-used in Utah. His first season in Atlanta could have gone along the same lines; he was brought in alongside Elton Brand and Gustavo Ayon, to join Pero Antic and Mike Scott in an attempt to replace Josh Smith. Al Horford was the Hawks best player and big man, and Millsap found himself in a comfortable role early in the season, a contributor. But this time it was different, after Horford suffered a season ending torn pectoral on December 26th, Millsap, perhaps out of necessity, became Atlanta’s number one option.
As stated previously, Millsap has never led an NBA team in scoring, but this season, his career high 17.6 points per game is best amongst Hawks players (not counting the injured Horford). Millsap also leads the 25-25 Hawks in steals (1.8) and rebounds (8.2) per game. The All-star selection for Millsap could have very well been based on those old-school stats, and the fact that Millsap has seemingly become a leader for the Hawks both on and off the court in the absence of Horford, but Millsap’s first season with the Hawks has been unlike any season he has had.
Millsap’s usage rate, which is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor, is by far the highest it has ever been in his career. Although Millsap’s 25.5% usage rate wouldn’t rank him in the top 20 in the NBA, he is still being used far more often then he ever was in Utah, where his previous career best was just above 23. In theory, Millsap being used more often on offense and scoring more points makes sense, but it goes even deeper than that, as Millsap has been statistically better all over the court without seeing a spike in minutes played. The veteran power forward has also posted career bests in assist percentage (15.4%) and block shot percentage (4.2%).
All this to say Millsap has been extremely effective when on the floor for the Hawks, luckily for you there are more stats to support that theory. Millsap’s team-leading PER, which basically evaluates how effective you are when you are on the court is at 20.
Outside of being used more often in the course of the offense, there has been one major change to Millsap’s game this season, and that has been the money ball.
The first shot chart is 2012-2013 for Millsap with the Utah Jazz, the second image is the 2013-2014 campaign with the Atlanta Hawks. The striking difference is from beyond the arc. Millsap was 13-39 from three point range last season, and this season, at the all-star break, Millsap is shooting 50-136 from 3. In both attempts and conversions, Paul destroys his past experience from downtown, and in fact, Millsap had only made 31 regular season three pointers coming into this season, so 50 made through the all-star game is astronomical. The 136 total three-point attempts in 2013-2014 are also more than his career total of 113. Millsap’s voyage outside of the key and to the arc has been a pleasant one for the Hawks.
Despite shooting more threes, Millsap has also gotten better at knocking them down. Shooting 36.8% is extremely respectable from a big man, and although any season percentage before this year would be lacking in sample size, it would be his second best three-point percentage in his career.
Millsap’s ability to maintain the things that had become his calling card, while adding new dimentions to his game in his seventh season in the league, has left many Hawks fans surprised. Although it had seemed like Millsap’s career year had gone largely unnoticed on a national level, his All-Star selection has put that to rest. The Hawks are right where many people predicted them to be, dance partners with a .500 record, but despite being ravaged by injuries, they have had someone step up and become an All-Star, and I would even say that they have had someone become “the man”, for the first time in his NBA career.