Atlanta Hawks Free Agent Wish List: Paul Millsap/Al Jefferson


Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson (25) and Paul Millsap (24) during the second half of game one in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs.

As the Hawks “wish list” develops, it’s time to take a bit of a detour. As you may note, the title of this post includes two players from the Utah Jazz, and at first glance, that may cause some level of confusion, so we’ll head that off immediately.

The Utah Jazz are not going to sign both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. 

How do I know this? Simply, it is the power of deductive reasoning. Utah currently has a logjam in the frontcourt, as they own the rights to the #3 overall pick in the 2010 draft in Derrick Favors and the #3 overall pick in the 2011 draft in Enes Kanter. Both players will be 22 years old when the 2013-2014 season begins, and each of them have established NBA skills and talent. In addition, both players are still on cheap, rookie contracts, and frankly, there is no need to crowd the frontcourt by signing both of their high-level free agents.

As a result, it is easy to assume that Jefferson and/or Millsap will be available, but because we don’t know which one (if either) will remain in Utah, we’ll take a look at both players.


Al Jefferson has been one of the most prolific centers in the NBA for the past several seasons. He has posted a PER (player efficiency rating) of 19-or-more for seven straight years, has averaged 16+ points in all of those seasons, and averaged 9+ rebounds each and every year. On top of that, Jefferson has never shot less than 49% in a season, and has a career field goal percentage of 50% while being a 71.7% free throw shooter.

On the surface, it would seem like Jefferson would be the no-brainer choice for the Hawks, even ahead of players that we’ve previously covered like Nikola Pekovic and Tiago Splitter. With that said, there is a glaring weakness in Jefferson’s game that the rest of this list don’t possess. He is a below-average defender (to be extremely kind), and if anything, this issue has been growing instead of minimizing.

One side of the argument would be that pairing Jefferson with an elite defender in the front-court (Al Horford) would be the best possible thing for him. Effectively, the Hawks could hide him on defense in most situations, and the pure size of Horford/Jefferson on offense would be enough to override the defensive issues.

The opposite viewpoint would be that Jefferson’s presence up front wouldn’t be the best thing for Al Horford, and thus, wouldn’t be a net-positive for the Hawks. There is no question that Al Horford is an elite option at the center position, but if placed at power forward, there is some measure of question about whether he maintains that elite level against similar-sized competition.

There is zero question that Jefferson would be an upgrade over some of the other non-Josh Smith front-court partners for Horford, but the price tag will be stiff (he currently makes $15 million per season), and the debate will continue to rage concerning his age/miles and his defensive issues.


Paul Millsap has been one of the most perpetually underrated players in the NBA. He’s never made more than $7.2 million in an NBA season, and when you look at the numbers, that is a bargain above all bargains.

From his entrance into the league, Millsap has been a per-minute monster, and once he grabbed a full-time opportunity in Utah, the results were tremendous. In the last three seasons, Millsap has posted PERs of 19 or more, averaged 19+ points per 40 minutes, and nearly 10 rebounds per 40 minutes. While his 2012-2013 numbers (19.89 PER, 14.6 points, 7.1 rebounds per game) weren’t quite as stellar as his 2011-2012 numbers (21.85 PER, 16.6 points, 8.8 rebounds), he was a tremendous asset to the Jazz last season.

Much of his dip in pure production came from a drop-off in minutes (from 33 to 30 per game), but that was more of a result of the aforementioned young front-court depth than Millsap’s play. He is a tremendous “motor” guy who really rebounds the ball, and despite being undersized at 6’8, is able to score effectively and efficiently.

The complete list of power forwards with a higher PER than Millsap this season was the following:

Tim Duncan, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis (wow), Lamarcus Aldridge, David West

Frankly, that’s a pretty strong list, and when you factor in that Millsap is four years younger than the only non-“star” on the list (David West), it makes him a pretty interesting option.

One dissenting issue with Millsap coming to Atlanta would be the lack of size. On one hand, the Hawks have been functioning with Horford and Josh Smith at the 4 and 5 for a couple of years with tremendous success, but Smith’s ability to protect the rim with weak-side shot blocking is something that Millsap wouldn’t provide. This is really the only area in which Millsap’s size questions really shine through, but I’m also confident that if Atlanta brought in a legitimate backup center (i.e. Zaza Pachulia, etc.), it wouldn’t be a tremendous problem.


In the end, I would be very, very interested in either player if they became available. The reason that I would prioritize Tiago Splitter and Nikola Pekovic above either guy is really one of cost, as I believe that either of them would come cheaper than Jefferson/Millsap, but with all things equal, both guys are certainly in that class. A lot of the focus in free agency will be with the current team that holds the rights to each player, and Utah is holding big-time cards with both guys. Stay tuned.