The local SLC debate of Millsap vs. Jefferson seems to rage on lately, just as the debate of Millsap vs. Boozer raged in previous years. With the emergence of Favors and the addition of Kanter, it is nearly inevitable that one or both of Millsap or Jefferson will be moved to the bench or traded off the team. And so the debate of the merits and deficiencies of both of these players rages in the basketball vacuum that is this off-season.
But lately I have been wondering this: Does the memory of Karl Malone affect how we view Millsap and Jefferson, and how we viewed Boozer? I am wondering if there is a simple spit: the views of those of us old enough to remember Malone's playing days well, and those young'ens that don't. So I would like to end this post with a poll related to that question. But before I get to that, let me talk about intimidation. Or more accurately...
Fearlessness... The Lack of Intimidation
I believe that one of the most important characteristics of a competitive athlete that just does not show up on any stat sheet is the lack of intimidation. Even at the professional level, it is easy to see that many, if not most players can be intimidated. Intimidated by opposing crowds. Intimidated by pressure. Intimidated by superior athletes. Intimidated by the moment.
We couldn't have gotten a better case study of this then the last finals. In the end, the difference was that the Mavs were not intimidated by the moment. The Heat were. Even having a bad shooting night, being swarmed by what might be the most athletic team ever, Dirk was fearless in the clutch. He was a cold-hearted killer. Lebron and Bosh looked like deer in the headlights. Wade was rattled. And so the series was handily (amazingly handily) won by the Mavs.
And that is where I wonder if our memory of Malone affects how we are viewing our big men today. For those of us who can remember Malone, one thing we can say was that the man was fearless. Fearless on the road. Fearless driving into the paint. Fearless of playing hurt. Fearless of failure. Fearless. He might not have always been clutch.... being fearless and clutch, well that was Stockton... but Malone was fearless. And that meant everything to Jazz fans. The best analogy for you younger fans is that of is probably to compare him to DWill. DWill, in his Jazz days, was fearless. Not always clutch. We forgave all those times DWills clanked 20 foot jumpers at the end of games, because he did hit a few, but more so, because he wasn't intimidated by the moment. And fans respond to that.
So part of the reason some of us "old-timers" never got on the Boozer bandwagon, I am thinking, is because we remembered a fearless power forward, and the one thing Boozer never was, was fearless. Boozer was intimidated by bigger players (Garnett, Pau, etc). Intimidated of playing hurt. Intimidated by the moment.
And that is what I think might be the core of the debate between Millsap and Jefferson today. I just can't watch Jefferson and think he is fearless. Not when he only plays his best when the game is 15pts one way or the other. Not when he say's things like "That's why I don't like to dunk in traffic". Not when he looks like a deer in the headlights at the end of games.
And that is why maybe some of us value Millsap more than his stats say we should. Because Millsap is fearless. The higher the pressure of the moment, the better Millsap seems to shoot. The more likely he is to come up with a big block. The more fearless he seems. And that is what we want in a "Power" forward.
Millsap is too small to play 35-40 minutes at the PF position. We know that now. And I think we all started to see that Favors has that sense of fearlessness about him. (Why shoot an open 15 footer when I can hammer dunk over three-players? Who cares if I end up on my back?) That's the similarity I see between Favors and (the young) Malone. So maybe Millsap slides to the 3. Maybe he comes of the bench. I am pretty sure Millsap will be on the floor at the end of games one way or another. And personally, I hope that is the case of a lot of years to come.
Jefferson? He is a good player. If there is no pressure. If he is not needed to lead the team in a close game. If he doesn't need to lead the team in the playoff hunt. OK, so maybe he just needs to be in a position where he isn't leading. Should he still start? Should he be traded? I personally think he could excel being a team's third big. He would have a lot of value producing outside of the biggest pressure moments. If he can't handle that, then trade him. (Either way, don't feel bad for him.. he is still a personable, nice, very rich young man... he will be OK).
Poll: Does the the memory of Malone affect the assessment of Jefferson?