Paul Millsap – The Power Forward Terminator
It’s January 23, 2012. Usually it wouldn’t be too soon to think about the All-Star game; however, this season no team has even played 20 games yet. That said, the All-Star game isn’t cancelled this lockout shortened season (it was back in ’99). So we have to go through this whole, painful process. Each of the Western Conference’s top teams (and even some of the bad ones) has an All-Star worthy forward making solid contributions. Let’s briefly go over them:
- Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant (26.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.3 apg)
- Denver Nuggets: Nene (13.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.4 apg)
- LA Clippers: Blake Griffin (21.0 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.9 apg)
- Memphis Grizzlies: Rudy Gay (18.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.9 apg)
- Utah Jazz: Paul Millsap * (16.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 2.0 apg)
- San Antonio Spurs: Tim Duncan (12.6 ppg, 7.3, 2.9 apg)
- Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki (17.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.3 apg)
- Portland Trail Blazers: LaMarcus Aldridge (23.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.6 apg)
- LA Lakers: Pau Gasol (15.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.8 apg)
- Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Love (24.1 ppg, 14.1 rpg, 1.8 apg)
Obviously Kevin Durant will be voted in, and will be voted in every year forever, even if O.J. Simpson discovers that he was the real killer. The rest of these guys are PF/C types, and Rudy Gay. And there’s also the Utah Jazz’ Al Jefferson who deserves consideration as well, this year. I decided to take a look at Nene, Blake, Paul, Tim, Dirk, LaMarcus, Pau, and Kevin. What I found out is that, among other things, Paul Millsap is the Power Forward Terminator.
[Ed. Note: Removed Photoshop of Paul Millsap as the Terminator - which you can still see here.]
Don’t believe me? Read on beyond the jump to find a lot of stats. (You don’t have to take your clothes off to travel past the jump like the Terminator universe though, so that’s a plus)
What’s the same / What’s the difference?
Nene, Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, and Kevin Love all play hard. On any given night they are a threat for a double double, and for the most part, play on defense and on offense. Guys like Duncan and Gasol get blocks. Guys like Dirk and Kevin shoot threes. LaMarcus can do it all. Millsap has guard skills with the ball. And Blake Griffin dunks on everybody. So how do you rank them? I guess we can’t all go by a fan vote, because those are stupid; and we can’t go by a gut feeling either. That’s less than rational or objective. What I’m left with are statistics.
These guys are all vaguely in competition with one another for an All-Star spot (well, Blake will be voted in, so that means that the remaining 7 guys are competing for at the most, 3 spots). The coaches will vote for the guys they are told to vote for, while some will vote for the guys who hurt their players the least (eg voting for a guy like Enes Kanter instead of voting for someone their own player is in competition with). I can’t ‘get’ voting, because it’s so easy to vote for the wrong guy. So I’m not going to go out and tell you who to vote for—but I will try to find the ‘best’ players in this group. And by best, I don’t mean selling shoes or being in Jenga ads. I mean their on court production. Period.
What are we looking at?
Since the per game stats for these players are all really close, and so are their records for the most part, I’ve decided to look at the basic stats these guys get – against one another. So we’re going to see what these guys produce when facing one another. Not many people put stock into head-to-head, but I can’t close my eyes to it. If you are eating someone’s’ lunch we shouldn’t forget about it. Some of the results so far are surprising.
Top 8 Power Forwards in the Western Conf vs. one another – Basic Per Game Stats
If you look at the bottom and take a look at the average you see that "average" is getting 17.2 ppg (48.0 fg%), 8.6 rpg, and 1.9 apg. No one guy satisfied all of those categories, except for Blake Griffin. Four players average 17.2 ppg or more (Aldridge, Love, Griffin, and Millsap). Four players average 48.0 fg% or more (Griffin, Millsap, Gasol, and Nene). Three players average 8.6 rpg or more (Love, Griffin, and Millsap). And only three players average 1.9 or more apg (Aldridge, Griffin, and Duncan). It should be noted that Paul Millsap only averages 1.8 apg, so he was off by 0.1 apg to be the only guy besides Blake to be above average in these situations.
If you want your power forward to rebound, you’re happy if your power forward is Kevin Love or Blake Griffin. Over all this season they are boarding, but even against this elite company they continue to do the job with vigor. Also of note is Paul Millsap playing over 5 minutes less than those two, and he’s right there already in offensive rebounds per game. That’s pretty cool. It’s also pretty cool that he’s shooting 57.1 fg% against all of these guys. He’s, if you look at his per game averages, doing pretty well despite playing lower than average minutes per game.
But in this type of situation we shouldn’t put too much emphasis upon what YOU do to the other guys. We also need to look at what they are doing to you!
If I told you Dirk Nowitzki’s man was getting locked down by him you would laugh. But over 6 games against this murderer’s row, very few have found a way to solve Dallas’ defense. This Top 8 group seems to struggle most against Dirk, Blake, and Millsap in terms of fg%. Guys like Millsap and Griff also keep you off the glass – but HAVE YOU SEEN what The Top 8 average on the glass against Nene, or Kevin Love? These are the best of the best, and Nene and Kevin Love prevent the best from averaging even 7 rebounds per game. That’s simply amazing. It is also interesting to note that Pau Gasol’s man fouls, on average, 3.5 times a game. And Blake’s man fouls 3.1 times a game. Blake’s man fouls nearly as much against a second year player as he does on average against an NBA champion, world basketball icon.
The basic stats are fun to look at. Some guys are really good on offense, while others are really good on defense. The vast majority are in the middle of the road on both. Though, there’s still a significant disparity between how many minutes these guys play. Let’s look at the Per 36 stats for these guys in head to head matchups.
Top 8 Power Forwards in the Western Conf vs. one another – Basic Per 36 Minutes
Wow! The landscape changes quite a bit when you bump everyone up (or down) to 36 minutes per game. Sap leads everyone in scoring. Woo! There are three players who average a double double: Paul Millsap, Kevin Love, and Blake Griffin. Only two guys did back before the jump. Of this group, only Paul Millsap averages 20/10 – which for the longest time was the measuring stick for bigs. Millsap’s dominating fg% really helps him here. Sure, before in the per game stats he was holding his own. But this season Tyrone Corbin had him coming off the bench for the first few games, and measures him minutes so that Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter can also get playing time. Because the Jazz are deep inside Millsap gets slightly buried by the volume; and we fail to see how efficient he is. (Unless, of course, you are a crazy nba blogger and read stats like others read street signs – without thought)
In 36 minutes, Millsap is 2nd in ppg, 1st in fg%, 1st in o. rpg, 3rd in rpg, 4th in apg, 1st in spg, and 1st in topg. Those are pretty good ordinal ranks. (Too bad this isn’t figure skating…)
What about what the group averages against a player, in 36 minutes?
Wow, Dirk and Gasol both give up 4.0 off. rpg? Guys score on Nene at a 56.2 fg% rate? Tim Duncan surrenders 21.1 ppg? Kevin Love surrenders 23.1 ppg? (Kinda takes the shine off of him a bit) No one misses free throws again Blake Griffin? There’s a lot of cool stuff here, but let’s look at that average score line – 18.4 ppg, 49.0 FG%, 9.3 rpg, and 2.3 apg. Which players approach that? Four players give up 18.4 ppg or less (Dirk, LaMarcus, Blake, and Paul). Three players make their opponents shoot 49.0 fg% or less (Dirk, Blake, and Paul). Four players let their opponent grab 9.3 rpg or less (Blake, Millsap, Nene, and Love). And five guys allow the other dudes to dime 2.3 apg or less against him (LaMarcus, Blake, Paul, Pau, and Tim).
If you look at, primarily, things like ppg, fg%, rpg, and apg you see that some of the same characters show up a lot on all four charts: Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, and Paul Millsap.
Millsap should be opening up some eyes, by now. But that’s not what makes him the Power Forward Terminator. And no, it’s not his +10.0 fg% differential either. He takes it to other PF/Cs, and has been on a pretty solid run so far.
Head to Head with the Power Forward Terminator
The first game was against the Lakers, without Andrew Bynum – so Pau played Al Jefferson most of the game, but I wasn’t going to do another 2 hours of work to put in stats for Josh McRoberts here. Or for Al Harrington, because Nene played against Al Jefferson for most of the game in game 2. That said, Millsap has been the primary defender against all of these guys in their games. And he was equal to the challenge on most nights.
You know, when you count holding your last three guys (Blake, Dirk, and Kevin Love) to 5/12 shooting each – I guess that’s being equal to the challenge. Oh yeah, let’s not forget that Millsap is the only guy on this list who is a 2nd rounder, and also he’s shorter and gets less love from the referees too. Winning these head to head matchups against other Western Conference teams, most of these guys All-Stars, is why Paul Millsap is the Power Forward Terminator.
He may not be the most advanced, and he definitely shows wear and tear; but at the end of the battle he’s the one still standing.
There’s going to be more on this as the season goes on. I’ve done a regression analysis of the last 25 All-Star games, and which players were selected as reserve forwards. This goes back all the way to the 1986 All-Star Game (again, because there was no game in 1999). Per 36 minutes, the average season production (up until the day of the All-Star reserve announcements) has been 21.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.1 spg, and 1.0 bpg. Right now Millsap is sitting at 19.9 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.4 apg, 2.1 spg, and 0.8 bpg – per 36 minutes. That’s pretty close – and so are about another 4 guys on this list.
It’s going to be tough to pick a winner outside of the voted in guys Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin. If I had money to put on it, they’ll also add Kevin Love, Dirk Nowitzki, and Tim Duncan. Dirk and Tim aren’t playing so hot this year. If Duncan gets in he should bow out with an injury and open up a spot for a younger player. A good pick would be LaMarcus Aldridge – but he has yet to be terminated by Paul Millsap yet this season. Obviously, I’m going to focus a bit more on Millsap here, but feel free to leave your observations in the comments section.