Sports have a strange sense of morality. In most aspects of society, stealing is rightfully condemned and subject to harsh punishment. But the same cannot be said when in between the lines. In baseball, stealing bases is encouraged and a central figure in the pitcher-baserunner struggle for victory. In basketball, it is known as the ideal defensive result; one in which the opposing team does not even attempt a shot during the possession.
Paul Millsap is in the midst of a steals streak that doesn’t get much shine. Steals usually fall under the category of grunt work statistics, along with the likes of defensive rebounds and charges taken. They are important when trying to sway a game one way or another, but are eschewed in highlight tapes from high-flying dunks, three pointers and bruising blocks.
When we think of a stereotypical basketball thief, we picture the quick handed guard, like Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo, that can jump a passing route and start a fast break. It says a lot that a workman-like 6’8” power forward known for bringing his lunchpail every game continues to affect the game in this area.
Millsap owns a streak of 26 consecutive games with a steal, dating back to December 13th of last year. During the streak, he is averaging over two steals per game, as part of a successful effort to fill the box score in Al Horford’s absence. He is also averaging 18.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.3 blocks per game during the streak.
This is what is so impressive about Paul Millsap’s all-around game; he contributes in areas that power forward aren’t typically known to contribute. For example, he has unleashed a three point shooting barrage on the NBA that many big men cannot even think to replicate. Though he has cooled off from long range in recent contests, he still shoots 2.6 three pointers per game, hitting 35.5% of them on the season.
As of Thursday’s action, Millsap is 6th in the NBA in steals with 87 on the season, with point guards making up 7 of the top 10. Almost 3% of opponent’s possessions end in a Millsap steal, which is a rate almost twice that of the NBA average.
The importance of a steal lies in that it ends the possession of opponent while creating a live ball fastbreak for the stealing team. In this sense, it is a big shift in momentum by disrupting the offensive flow of one team and creating a favorable situation for the other. It has been a big reason Paul has led the Hawks to a 25-23 record and a top fourth record in the Eastern Conference in his first season in Atlanta.
I speak for all Hawks fans when I say may the steals keep coming in bunches. We can only hope Paul has his sights on a Kyle Korver-like triple digit streak.