Atlanta Hawks: How Does Paul Millsap Compare to LaMarcus Aldridge?


The shiny toy at the bottom of the Happy Meal bag that was the 2015 NBA offseason was clearly LaMarcus Aldridge. The 30-year-old power forward hit free agency in the prime of his career and allowed himself to be wooed by the blue bloods of professional basketball.

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The Los Angeles Lakers tried and failed to convince Aldridge that the off the court value of LA would be great for his career. The Knicks made their half-hearted pitch that went nowhere. The Phoenix Suns made a surprising run that made them look like serious contenders for a few days. There were even rumors that Pat Riley would work some of his wizardry to get Aldridge in Miami.

But, in the end, the big man ended up exactly where many pundits predicted. After all the fanfare, Aldridge agreed to a 4-year $84 million contract with the San Antonio Spurs. He will join Kawhi Leonard and Gregg Popovich as they begin their quest to help Tim Duncan ride off into the sunset having completed his world domination. After that Aldridge takes over for Duncan as the star of the franchise as he hopes to keep the Spurs machine clicking on all cylinders. It was a splashy deal and one that makes the Spurs feel like early title favorites.

While all that was going on, the Atlanta Hawks quietly re-signed Paul Millsap to a three-year $59 million deal, keeping him away from the rival Orlando Magic. Millsap and Aldridge have very similar skill-sets. Both are rangy power-forwards that excel in the post, but also have smooth jumpers. Is Aldridge really superior to Millsap, or did Millsap also deserve a country wide tour of wooing and lobster dinners? The numbers show them to be much closer in ability than the casual fan might think.

Last season Aldridge averaged 23.4 points and 10.2 rebounds on 46.6 percent shooting. He led the NBA in two-point field goals attempted with 1310, though he did have the most prolific three-point shooting season of his career. LMA attempted 1.5 three-pointers per game, shooting a respectable 35.2 percent.

Still, Aldridge made his living in the mid-range. He attempted most of his shots from between 16 feet and the three-point line, making 41.5 percent of them. He certainly is a mid-range monster.

Millsap’s numbers were a bit more modest, but that is to be expected given how balanced Atlanta’s offense is. Millsap put up 16.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game on 47.6 percent shooting. Millsap’s outside game is a bit more developed than Aldridge’s, he attempted 3 three-pointers per game shooting 35.6 percent. He attempted 216 three-pointers this past season, the most in his career and more than twice as many as Aldridge took (105).

When Atlanta spreads the floor, placing Millsap in the corner, he is even more deadly. Millsap knocked down 44.2 percent of his corner threes last season, and those shots accounted for 24.1 percent of his shots taken. The only shots he attempted more were shots from within three feet of the rim.

Since coming to Atlanta Millsap has focused on cutting down on his long two-point attempts. As I noted before, the two types of shots he attempts the most are three-pointers and shots within three feet of the rim. It’s clear that analytics are influencing his game for the better, making him a more efficient player. However, Millsap has not and likely will not be asked to ever take the volume of shots that Aldridge took in Portland.

That lesser role is what makes it difficult to see Millsap as a superior offensive player to Aldridge. Aldridge is The Dark Knight era Batman, he was essentially doing it by himself (maybe Damian Lillard was Alfred). Millsap is Justice League era Batman. He’s still Batman (he nearly led the Hawks in scoring last season), but he has plenty of help and they share the wealth (all five starters averaged double figures in scoring).

It’s quite remarkable how Aldridge remains so efficient despite taking so many long two-point shots and being the primary scoring option on his team. Aldridge’s PER was 22.85 last season, slightly better than Millsap’s mark of 20.10. Imagine how high Aldridge’s PER could climb with more efficient shot selection?

Defensively is where Millsap clearly has Aldridge beat, at least when you compare some of their advanced metrics. Millsap’s defensive rating was 99 last season, Aldridge’s was at 102. When it comes to defensive real plus/minus Millsap was at 2.22 and Aldridge was at 0.36, ranked as the 46th best power forward in the league.

Aldridge is a better defender than the numbers show. He is a solid position defender, a good rebounder, and never feels like a liability. The numbers here aren’t necessarily lying, they’re just being a bit too harsh. That being said, Millsap is still better.

He’s quicker, smarter, and is much more versatile. He is an undersized power forward, but can still bang down low with the best of them. He can also handle himself on the perimeter when switched onto a smaller player. So, while Aldridge may be the better offensive player, Millsap has him beat on the other end of the court.

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  • Of course, now that Aldridge is with the Spurs he will likely turn into a three-point shooting machine that will unleash destruction upon the entire NBA. That’s what happens in San Antonio. The way Atlanta uses Millsap may in fact be a good example of how the Spurs will try and transform Aldridge’s game. A LaMarcus Aldridge that takes the most efficient shot on every possession is a very scary LaMarcus Aldridge. All hail our Spurs overlords.

    But, for now, while he still may be a tad better than Millsap, it’s much closer than you’d think. He’s still the better player, but the Hawks are no doubt glad Millsap is theirs. Two years after signing an absolute steal of a contract he remains a valuable part of the present, and future, of the Atlanta Hawks organization.

    Next: More Minutes for Kent Bazemore?

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