The Utah Jazz’s 2013-14 frontcourt should unquestionably revolve around their two 21-year old former #3 picks – Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Nevertheless, with Jeremy Evans and rookie Rudy Gobert representing the only other bigs on Utah’s roster, that leaves a significant opening for a third bigman in their rotation.
Paul Millsap has filled that role in the past, and remains the most ideal candidate to do so again.
What He’s Done:
Following the departure of all-star Carlos Boozer in 2010, Millsap assumed the starting power forward position for the Jazz and has maintained it for the past 3 seasons. During that time, he’s had solid production featuring moments of brilliance and also games where his limitations (such as lack of size and getting worn-down as the season progresses) were on full display. During his 3 seasons as a starter Millsap averaged 16.1 pts, 7.8 reb, 2.5 ast, 1.5 stl, 0.9 blk in 32.5 minutes of play while shooting an efficient 51% from the field, 76% from the foul line and making 31% of the 93 three-pointers he attempted. Although his minutes have mildly declined in each of the past two seasons, his production has remained remarkably consistent on a per minute basis.
What He Brings:
Millsap came into the league as a high-energy rebounder and – although his rebounding rate has gone down as his range has extended – he remains a versatile 4 who can score both inside and out. He’s become a consistent mid-range jump shooter from all spots on the floor extending out to about 20-feet. Although he doesn’t possess a versatile back-to-the-basket game, he can post up smaller players by quickly sealing them on his back for easy baskets. A pseudo go-to move has become part of his face-up game with Millsap stepping off the right block where he likes to jab-step then shoot the step-back jumper. He’s especially adept at slipping off-ball screens and scoring on the move with a variety of runners and off-balance shots. He’s a solid passer and ball-handler who can even play SF in short stretches. He’s shown he can step out and make threes although he’s never been a consistent pick&pop 3pt-threat. He’s a capable pick&roll big who can finish well on the move. He won’t overpower at the rim but he uses his body well to shield defenders to get his shot off where he has a nice touch off the glass.
Defensively Millsap’s lack of size causes him problems against size in the paint but for the most part he competes hard and can frustrate opponents with his aggressiveness. He’s not an interior presence but he can block some shots in help situations, move his feet well defending screen-roll and has excellent hands that result in an extremely high steal-rate for a big.
How He Fits:
Millsap would solidify Utah’s frontcourt depth and most importantly maximize their versatility. 96 minutes is a lot when you only have a 3-big man rotation (as opposed to 4 like last season). A realistic rotation could resemble Favors and Kanter both starting and averaging approximately 32-34 minutes per game with Millsap coming off the bench to play 28-32 mpg – averages which could fluctuate on a game-by-game basis based on matchups, foul trouble and quality of play. It also prevents Favors from being pigeonholed as solely a PF and allows him to play some center as well, where it could be argued he is actually more effective than at the 4.
The key to this rotation is versatility. Defensively Kanter is really close to a pure center, Favors can play either center or power forward, and Millsap is a pure power forward (who can also play small forward in a pinch). As a result, a starting pair of Favors&Kanter provides Utah with a traditional big, physical frontline similar to what the Grizzlies, Pacers and Spurs used last season. What made the Spurs’ frontcourt effective was that they could play big (with Duncan and Splitter) and small (with Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw at PF). A Favors&Millsap pairing provides Utah with the mobility to cover the perimeter as well as defend screen-roll against opponents who go small. Kanter&Millsap are also capable of playing together – giving Utah three bigs who can play together in any combination.
That is the ultimate deal-breaker to re-signing Jefferson. Al is a pure 5. As a result, the following formula from 2012-13 would continue:
Kanter’s P.T. = 48 – Jefferson’s P.T.
Millsap doesn’t create the same playing time constraints.
Perhaps the most attractive aspect to re-signing Millsap is the fact that he offers production but doesn’t dictate an identity. Sap is versatile enough to play “Jazzbasketball” in either a slow or up-tempo environment, and unlike Al Jefferson – doesn’t need dominate the ball on offense to contribute. Therefore, he’s capable of taking a complimentary role to Favors/Kanter to allow them to blossom, but also can step up and play a major role if the situation demands it.
Additionally, Millsap has proven to be a much more productive player playing without Al Jefferson than playing with him.
|Millsap 2010-13 Without Jefferson|
|Millsap 2010-13 With Jefferson|
One of the biggest counters to re-signing Millsap from Jazz fans is the notion that “Paul will never be willing to come off the bench.” However, history doesn’t support that assumption. Millsap not only came off the bench for the first four seasons of his career, he willingly came off the bench to start the 2011-12 season before it became apparent that Derrick Favors wasn’t ready to be an NBA starter at that time (Favors was unable to stay on the court due to early foul trouble).
The only real pressing question to bringing Millsap back is “Won’t Ty Corbin over-play him since he’s a veteran?” which is certainly a valid concern but if a team chooses to pass on quality talent because the head coach isn’t capable of properly utilizing it – the problem is the coach and not the player.
The overriding reality is that playing 30-32 minutes per game, Millsap will help you win a lot of games so if the Jazz had no intention of re-signing him they should have at least secured a future asset rather than allow him walk for nothing.
What He’s Worth:
A year ago, Millsap turned down a 3-year extension worth approximately $25 million. While I think the $8-9 million range is close fair market value under the new CBA, it’s certainly understandable why Millsap would want a long-term deal. By passing on the extension, he is eligible to sign a 4-year contract with a new team or a 5-year deal with the Jazz. Even if he’s on let’s say a 4-year $40 million deal – because of his age (he’s only 28), durability (has played in 588/606 – 97% – career games) and production – he’s remains a tradable asset that the Jazz can still potentially move down the road. Even with Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors eligible to sign extensions this summer, $9-10 million per year for Millsap won’t compromise Utah’s long-term financial flexibility.
There’s a strong possibility Millsap could get an offer north of $10 million per elsewhere, or he could find a team that views him as a bonafide 2nd-option. Until that happens, his versatility and skillset make him an ideal 3rd big to bridge the gap for Utah as they transition to a Favors&Kanter frontcourt. There are many reasons the Jazz should look to move-on from the past three seasons of Al Jefferson – but those reasons don’t apply to Millsap. He’s an entirely different player who can fill a different role. A self-made NBA player, there are many reasons beyond sentimentality to keep Paul Millsap in Utah.