Millsap’s Versatility means everything to Hawks

Eric Yeboah —  January 8, 2016

Over the past decade, the power forward position has been in a constant state of flux; evolving from bruising rebounders with the hint of a midrange jumper, to floor spacing 3-point threats, and on to today’s playmaking variety.

Paul Millsap, through different points in his career, has fit each description — adapting to meet the position’s demands:

With the proliferation of specialized 3-and-D wings, the power forward position has become an important source of secondary playmaking — attacking the brief 4-on-3 advantages created by defensive reactions to a pick and roll.

Once limited behind Carlos Boozer on the bench in Utah, Millsap has worked himself into one of the most notable playmaking power forwards in the NBA. He has developed similar ability to pass and make plays in open space to counterparts Draymond Green, Boris Diaw and Blake Griffin. Each is with the right coach, in the right system and surrounded by the right talent to show off their inner point guard.

Millsap’s demeanor is quiet and workman-like, so at times his impact may get lost in the flash of a Jeff Teague crossover or the intricate off-ball choreography that frees Kyle Korver up for an open 30-foot 3-pointer. But make no mistake, Millsap is the concrete, glue and stick that holds this team together.

Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer’s motion-heavy system has maximized Millsap’s talents, taking full advantage of his versatility, toughness and high basketball IQ. The offense forces defenses to switch and rotate, creating fluid match-ups. Millsap’s ability to score in a variety of ways — and consistently make the right reads — allows him to force defensive rotations as the primary creator, further distort defenses by attacking closeouts or work as the finisher

Millsap treats no defender the same, showing unique counters for every type of defender with the ability to quickly read, adjust and react to whatever the defense provides him.

The ability to quickly process information is what makes him special, even before he added so many layers to his game. Off the ball, Millsap is constantly in motion, looking for the seam to slip in and convert an easy basket. He knows the exact moment when to break to the basket once the defense shifts and loses contact with him:

He’s shown the ability to score in the post against mediocre post defenders:

And his shooting range makes him a nightmare for opposing big men. Once a reluctant 3-point shooter in Utah, Millsap has worked diligently to expand his range, finishing in the top 15 among power forwards the past two years at 36% from three:

Just as important as his shooting range is his shooting versatility — the ability to hit shots off a variety of different actions, like this off-the-dribble pull-up:

The array of different shots he has is what makes him one of the most unique players we have in today’s game. Millsap is currently fifth in points per game at his position and eighth in field goal percentage at 48 percent. He has the ability to post-up with a hook shot or fadeaway jumper; then the very next play he’ll pull that same defender out of their comfort zone, blowing past them for a layup or floater. His release is quick, decisive and unforgiving.

The ability to exert pressure on the defense from different spots on the court opens up all sorts of passing actions. Atlanta’s’ offense involves a lot of movement, screens and cuts, but cannot work if its front court players lack quick decision making and a deft passing touch. Budenholzer can trust Millsap to make the correct decisions by either kicking the ball out to Korver for three on a fade or a bounce pass to a cutting Bazemore for an easy bucket.

Millsap currently averages 3.4 assists per game, third among power forwards, with an assist-to-turnover ratio that ranks third at his position at 1.51 — behind only Green and Griffin.

Here you can see Millsap’s ability to thread the Needle

Milsap’s ability to handle the ball full court is shown here.

Milsap also has the sense and feel for the game to know where his teammates are, like here where he read that the defense caved in therefore leaving Korver open in the corner.

For all the sophistication and growth Millsap has shown on the offensive end, he’s never lost touch with the blue collar work ethic on defense.

The 10-year veteran has the ability to impact the defensive side of the floor like very few can dream of. Despite being overshadowed by bigger names in the league, Millsap’s heart and tenacity make up for his lack of size. If you ever tune into a Hawks game, you’ll see Millsap sacrificing his body to take charges, swiping the ball away from opponents for a steal or out-battling bigger opponents for a rebound. 

Millsap shows his ability to move his feet by cutting off Rudy gay and swiping the ball from him for a steal.

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Even though Budenholzer’s defensive scheme is very effective, Teague and Korver are not — by any stretch of the imagination — elite defenders individually. This puts pressure on Millsap and Al Horford to communicate the right reads and adjust when there is a breakdown. Millsap thrives in that type of setting, knowing he has the ability to switch onto a guard and bother the penetration or contest a jump shot. The duo displays great chemistry when switching defensive assignments, alternating between blowing up schemes at the point of attack and operating as the last line of defense.

Amazing play here as Millsap guards the perimeter, cuts off a backdoor pass and finally slides over to block a shot attempt from Dwight Howard.

Millsap reads Manu’s attempt to pass to Duncan, which he cuts off, then switches over to Boris Diaw .

 

As you can see, Millsap possesses a high motor on the defense side of the ball. But more importantly, his high basketball IQ merges — to borrow from the great John Wooden — activity and achievement. More times than not, Millsap is in the right place at the right time, changing the outcome of many games.

Millsap’s 2.53 defensive real plus minus (ranked 10th among power forwards) and 1.7 defensive win shares (ranked 10th overall) are clear indicators of his effectiveness. Currently, Millsap is ranked 15th in steals per game with 1.78 (first among Power Forward) and tied for seventh in rebounds per game at his position with 8.8.

As the league has grown more specialized to maximize efficiency, malleable power forwards have become as important as ever. In Atlanta, Millsap is now allowed to do what he does best — which is, well, everything.

Eric Yeboah

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