Analysis: What Can Paul Millsap Bring to the Table? A Statistical Study

If there was ever a word to summarize Paul Millsap, it would have to be “unassuming”. As the middle brother between John Millsap, who is currently on the Atlanta Hawks Summer League team, and Elijah Millsap, who has spent 3 seasons in the NBA Development League, he has had a humbling upbringing as a forgotten member in whatever endeavor he pursues.

Millsap played at Louisiana Tech University in the Conference USA, a vastly different experience than a blue blood program like Duke or Kansas. He was drafted late in the second round by the Utah Jazz. Safe to say, he’s been an after thought for much of his basketball career.

His rise from the ashes like a phoenix has been rather amazing to watch unfold throughout his career.

The Atlanta Hawks press release tells us that Paul Millsap was one of only 5 players to average at least 14.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.0 block and 1.0 steals, along with Kevin Durant, Marc Gasol, former Atlanta Hawk Josh Smith and current Hawk Al Horford. He has averaged at least 14 points and 7 rebounds for the last three seasons. It’s clear he will be a stable of this Hawks team going forward.

He will never be confused for an NBA diva. “Questionable motor” has never been a description in his scouting report. He’ll never cause a ruckus in the locker room nor will make inflammatory remarks to the media.

He will, however, share the frontcourt with two-time All-Star Al Horford as probably the most underrated post duo in the NBA, but that has been nothing new for the Hawks. Despite Josh Smith’s downfalls, it is entirely possible he never received the recognition he deserved. What will life be like with Josh Smith? Let’s take a look.

His consistency is unparalleled in today’s NBA. For the last five seasons, Millsap has compiled no less than 7.2 win shares and no more than 7.7 in ever season. Take a look at his advanced metric table from Basketball-Reference. Pay special attention to the consistency of his Offensive Rating (ORtg), Win Shares (WS), and Win Shares per 48 minutes (WS/48).

There’s a pretty clear correlation in Millsap’s decline in offensive rebounding percentage and the presence of Mehmet Okur in the Utah frontcourt versus Al Jefferson. Okur has grabbed only 7.8 of available offensive rebounds whereas Jefferson is the owner of a career 9.8 offensive rebounding percentage. Both pale in comparison to Millsap’s 10.5 ORB%. For reference, league average for that mark is about 11% per season for centers and 9% for power forwards, according to hoopdata.com.

A quick look at his Synergy stats helps reveals the areas in which he excels. His most common offensive play last season was also his least effective. He scored only .85 points per play (PPP) in simple post ups. Should Mike Budenholzer try to institute a style of play similar to recent San Antonio Spurs incarnations from whence he came, the new coaching staff might try to involve Millsap in fewer post up and more motion plays, such as interior pick and rolls to basket or the high low play that Horford and Smith darn near mastered. Unfortunately, Al Horford would have to be the “high man” in that situation as Paul Millsap has never shown the ability to pass that Josh Smith possesses. As a receiver from a cut to the basket, Millsap scored 1.09 points per play, his second most frequent play as complied by Synergy. His highest marks are in transition (1.22 PPP) and on a shot after an offensive rebound (1.26 PPP). That energy will fit into what figures to be an uptempo Hawks offense.

Defensively, he grades exceptionally well. Overall, he gave up .87 PPP in 2012-13, comparable to but not surpassing Josh Smith’s .81 PPP mark. Against isolation and post up plays combined, he only gave up about .80 PPP, which can be attributed to his stout build and spatial know-how among other things. However, his defense against spot up plays, which turned out to be a whopping 41% of the time, was logged as poor at 1.01 PPP. He simply will not be able to provide to mobility and flexibility to jump out against perimeter and midrange players that Josh Smith provided.

In the end, it’s unfair to try to compare Paul Millsap to Josh Smith. Though they both primarily play the power forward position, they operate and contribute in much different ways. The fact of the matter remains, Smith will get paid $13.5 million a season for four year whereas Millsap only $9.5 for two years. The Hawks aren’t looking for Paul to completely fill that void and neither should the fans. But it’s a risk free signing that I’m sure Hawks fans will come to appreciate and get behind for the next two season and possibly more.

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