Millsap looks like an All-Star lock
After a hot start to the season by Jeff Teague and a scorching December, I was fascinated by the possibility that Teague could be named an All-Star in his first year without Josh Smith, whose All-Star window appears to have slammed shut. This possibility presented such delicious ironies, and seemed so far-fetched, that I was utterly consumed by it.
Then January 1st happened and Teague’s season fell off a cliff. Meanwhile, Paul Millsap kept plugging away, producing, putting up monster numbers. Using ESPN.com’s positional designations, Millsap currently leads all Eastern Conference power forwards with 17.7 points per game, is 3rd with 8.2 rebounds per game, is 2nd to David West with 2.9 assists per game, is 2nd to Thaddeus Young with 1.7 steals per game, is 2nd to Taj Gibson with 1.2 blocks per game and is 3rd with 16 double-doubles. Long lists of accomplishments beget massive run-on sentences. Oh, he’s also the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
And here I must give a shout-out to Kris Willis over at Peachtree Hoops for championing Millsap’s All-Star candidacy all season while I was carried away with Teague’s. After Teague averaged 16.6 points and 8.2 assists in December, including 40% from 3-point range, Teague had a dismal January. In 10 games this month, Teague averaged 13.8 points on 38% shooting from the field and 17% shooting from 3-point range, along with 4.3 assists. Teague has only five made threes this month.
Is Gustavo Ayon on a minutes restriction?
This is the question that Bo Churney posed on Twitter last night after Ayon sat the final seven minutes against OKC. The Thunder closed on an 18-10 run for a 111-109 victory as both Ayon and Elton Brand sat and Mike Budenholzer opted for an ultra-small lineup featuring the 6-7 Millsap at center. I had the audacity to lay the 2-point loss at Budenholzer’s feet on Twitter and all hell broke loose. As such, here’s the play-by-pay for Ayon’s final stint on a night in which the Hawks were plus-15 with Ayon on the floor and minus-17 with Ayon on the bench, a THIRTY-TWO POINT differential.
With 11:15 to play in the 4th quarter, Elton Brand picked up his 5th foul. The Hawks led 87-83 as Ayon checked in for Brand. Shelvin Mack missed a wild layup attempt. Lou Williams bricked a three-point attempt but Ayon deflected the rebound to DeMarre Carrol, who got it to Mike Scott for a layup. Ayon deflected Kevin Durant’s pass, leading to a dunk by Scott and a 91-83 lead for the Hawks with 9:55 to play.
Nick Collison beat Ayon to a rebound and tipped it to Durant for a made three. Ayon was unlucky as the rebound sailed long while he held inside rebounding position on Collison. Mike Scott answered with a three. Jeremy Lamb hit a two from the right corner as Ayon stepped out after Williams was erased by a pick. Ayon made a layup on a nice feed from Mack for a 96-88 Hawks lead with 8:50 to play.
Derek Fisher hit a three after Mack collapsed into the lane to help on Durant. Williams missed a floater then got a steal. OKC was called for a foul on an inbounds play and Kyle Korver checked in for Williams. The Hawks led 97-91 with 7:40 to play after Carroll made one of two free throws.
Fisher, the 2nd-oldest player in the NBA behind Steve Nash at 39, blew by Korver and fed Serge Ibaka for a dunk as Ayon stepped up to stop the ball. Scott hit a pair of free throws as Millsap checked in for Ayon with seven minutes to play and a 99-93 Hawks lead.
So, um, what happened there? Is Ayon injured? If he needed a rest, why not play Brand until he picked up his 6th foul? As OKC’s defense tightened in crunch time and the Hawks struggled to squeeze points out of possessions, a couple extra possessions via rebound, steal or deflection might have come in handy.