Why the Jazz Should Sign Paul Millsap to a $10 Million per Year Extension

Mar 09, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Utah Jazz forward Paul Millsap (24) during the first quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers defeated the Jazz 104-91. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Earlier this week, IAMAGM.com posted this article, saying that Millsap is looking for a contract extension of roughly 10 million dollars per year. (They based it off a BTS article at the Salt Lake Tribune, but he decided to bury the story in an article about Josh Howard for no particular reason.) This led to some varied reaction on Twitter:

My goal, in this post, is to make Kevin Ferguson and Mark Jay Whalen look silly, in a nice, respectful, total beatdown kind of way. Because they are wrong. Paul Millsap absolutely deserves $10 million per year.

Here's how this post is going to be organized: I'm going to convince you that Paul Millsap deserves $10 million per year. Then I'm going to imagine every possible argument against that point, and swat it away.

1. Paul Millsap is one of the best players in the league:

He is, depending on how you define best. I wrote a post while I was still just a wee FanPoster, called "Don't Trade Paul Millsap Please, He's Really Good." In it, I show numerous statistics that show Paul Millsap is one of the best players in the league. Here are a few:

(Please read on for all 8 reasons why Millsap is worth the money)

BasketballValue.com Adjusted Plus/Minus:

Aao5y

I wrote this, then: "By this measure, Paul Millsap is fourth in the entire NBA in affecting the score when he is in the game. As you may know, one extremely important factor in winning basketball games is scoring more than the other team. When Paul Millsap is in the game, the Jazz do this extremely well. That's pretty important." Snarky, but still true.

Basketball Reference Win Shares:

1dbtf_medium

So these two charts show Paul Millsap as one of the best players in the league: basketballvalue.com has him 4th, and Win Shares has him 14th. These are important stats: they seek to totally measure a player's ability on the floor, rather than one small aspect of it. Note that each passes the smell test, having LeBron as the best player in the NBA. And, for this post, here's the important thing: every player besides one(Marcin Gortat), of them either makes more money than Paul Millsap, or is still on a rookie contract.

Let's break it down further. Here is the full list of players mentioned above and their salaries for next year. If they are a free agent this summer, their names are in italics and their salaries from last year are shown:

Player Salary
Kevin Garnett $21,247,044
Dirk Nowitzki $20,907,128
Pau Gasol $19,000,000
Dwight Howard $18,091,770
Paul Pierce $16,790,345
Kevin Durant $16,669,629
Chris Paul $16,359,805
Andrew Bynum $16,100,000
LeBron James $16,022,500
Dwyane Wade $15,691,000
Carlos Boozer $15,000,000
Al Jefferson $15,000,000
Andre Iguodala $14,718,250
LaMarcus Aldridge $14,000,000
Marc Gasol $13,891,359
Tyson Chandler $13,604,188
Josh Smith $13,200,000
Kevin Love $12,922,194
Russell Westbrook $12,922,194
Tony Parker $12,500,000
Steve Nash $11,689,062
Joakim Noah $11,300,000
Paul Millsap $8,603,633
Marcin Gortat $7,258,960
James Harden $5,820,417
Blake Griffin $5,731,080
Greg Monroe $3,217,680
Ryan Anderson $2,244,601
Taj Gibson $1,195,680

The players all have contracts at values greater than $10 million dollars per year, except for those who are still on their rookie contracts (the NBA equivalent of indentured servitude), and Marcin Gortat. Note that Paul Millsap's place on this list wouldn't change if he were to receive a $10 million dollar per year contract. Finally, if you're worried about the Marcin Gortat example, consider that Gortat's stats show he's a worse player. Nearly everyone who is considered in Millsap's ballpark as a player has a higher salary than him. According to Win Shares, he is directly responsible for 22% of our wins last year. We would not have made the playoffs without Paul Millsap. Really, we wouldn't have gotten particularly close. Oh, and by the way, he's only 27 years old, entering his prime years.

2. But I don't like either of Adjusted plus/minus or Win Shares! Those "all-in-one" stats don't tell us enough about Millsap!

I haven't actually heard this complaint, but it's good to address the other things Millsap does. Besides his 16.6 points per game last year, he also:

  • Ranked 19th in offensive rebounds, 20th in defensive rebounds, and 17th in total rebounds. As a side note, he converts his putbacks off of offensive rebound opportunities 66% of the time, good for 10th in the league.
  • Ranked 3rd in steals, 7th in steal percentage, and was the only player in the top 20 of that list who wasn't a wing or PG.
  • Shot nearly 80% (79.2%) last year from the free throw line
  • Assisted 12.4% of teammate field goals when he was on the floor, and only turned the ball over on 10.3% of his possessions, an excellent ratio for a big.
  • Had the lowest number of fouls per 36 minutes in his career (3.8).

Look, all the evidence we have says that Paul Millsap is either a very-good or an elite player. Either way, he's worth $10 million per year (as shown above).

3. But he's a bad defensive player! His length just doesn't allow him to guard well.

Interestingly, the defensive stats show a pretty good Paul Millsap defensive effort.
  • His DRTG, points allowed per 100 possessions, is 102: the lowest value on the Jazz team.
  • His Basketball value net DRTG is -0.87. This means the Jazz defend 0.87 points per 100 possessions worse when Millsap is on the floor. That's not a lot, but it's not a negative influence. That's especially notable because his backup, Derrick Favors, makes the team 6.36 points better per 100 possessions when he is in the game.
  • The PER of the opponents he is guarding is, on average, a 17.4. While that is higher than the average 15, it is pretty good considering his defensive duties against the starting PF for most of the game. Western Conference power forwards, in particular, are very very good, and so I don't think a 17.4 PER against is unreasonable against the likes of Gasol, Dirk, Griffin, etc.
  • His Synergy defensive stats are really quite good:
Paul_millsap_synergy_defense

Paul Millsap's 0.82 PPP against ranks 146th (remember, out of around 500 total NBA players). To give you some context, Al Jefferson's PPPA is 0.84, Ibaka's PPPA is 0.88, Perkins PPPA is 0.79, Griffin's PPPA a 0.91, Pau Gasol's PPPA is 0.79. Basically, while Millsap is not an elite defensive PF, he stacks up quite well to his peers. This is due to his very effective isolation defense, post up defense where he causes a turnover 19%(!) of the time, and even effective spot-up defense, where he only allows a 36% FG% against him.

Basically, Millsap's defensive woes are incredibly overrated. Where his length may have caused him problems, he's figured out an effective way to defend even spot-up shooters. In other situations, his quick hands (and possibly his lower stance) mean that he is able to steal the ball much, much more effectively than any other big in the league. In short, Millsap is an average-to-good defensive player.

4. But Favors is the future, and as such, deserves to start now. Where does Millsap go then? Does it make sense to pay $10 million to a bench player?

We all like us some Derrick Favors. He's quite good. I would hope that I've convinced you that Millsap was the better player last season, and thus, probably deserved to start and get more minutes at the PF position.

Now, that may not be the case for forever. Favors started to improve rapidly near the end of last year, and made a case that he needs starter minutes immediately. He plays the same position as Millsap. Furthermore, Millsap has shown an extreme preference to starting. How do you make this work?

Well, luckily, it turns out that both players have shown positional flexibility. Millsap has shown an ability to play the 3, and Favors has spent time at the 5. Let's see how that works out for both players:

This is Millsap's performance, sorted out by what position he played:

Skyox_medium

He only played a few minutes at center, so don't worry about the bottom line. Do note, though, how successful the time he spent at SF was: He still was involved in the offense, getting a 24.9 PER, while playing really well defensively, allowing only a 9.5 PER against. The worry with Millsap at SF is that opposition players would be too fast for him, that hasn't seemed to be the case: impressively, he's only fouling there once in every 24 minutes. Let's be somewhat reluctant to jump to conclusions here, this is still a relatively small sample size. But there is also more evidence that Millsap would make a good SF than evidence otherwise.

The other place of flexibility here would be to put Favors as the starting center, though this obviously causes problems with regards to Al Jefferson and Enes Kanter. Still, should those two not work out long term, the data shows that he could play well there. This season, Favors played more than one-fifth of his minutes at the center position:

Favors_positional_82games

In short, it doesn't seem to matter for Favors' overall effectiveness whether he plays at C or PF. He does foul more at the center slot, but he scores more points and gets more free throws. He does give up more at the defensive end, however. While much would have to change for Favors to become the long term option at center, it is a option due to his size and length. Either way, we can avoid sending Millsap to the bench.

5. It messes up the long term financial situation for the Jazz!

It does not. As Locke pointed out on Twitter:

Assuming he means cap space there (and doing the calculations, I think that is what he means), that seems really reasonable. There will be many spots to fill, but around a core of the Core Four, plus Marvin and Millsap. From there, the team would need to address the PG position and find a starting or backup center, depending on how good Kanter has become. That seems really reasonable to do with 23 million. If you wanted, that's still enough cap space to do something crazy like sign Dwight Howard. Remember due to the new CBA rules, the Jazz must spend 90% of the cap in that year anyhow.

When the Core 4 need their extensions, that will indeed cause havoc, depending on how good of contracts those players get. Greg Miller is understandably reluctant to go over the luxury tax line. Luckily:

  • Favors and Hayward won't be RFAs until the summer of 2014, two years from now. Burks and Kanter won't be RFAs until 2015, three years from now. In the mean time, we will want Millsap giving us win shares, steals, and great value.
  • We would still have room to give two of them max extensions, without going over an estimated salary tax line. This assumes that we have a $55 million dollar base salary the year prior to 2014, which seems like a reasonable salary estimate (we were at about $58 this year with an expensive C and PG). If we don't have to give two of them max extensions, we can spread out the "savings" to the other players we wish to resign.
  • Failing that, i.e., 3 or 4 or them need large money extensions, we can always trade Millsap in 2014 or 2015. If there's anything that the last few months have shown us in the NBA, its that it is always possible to trade a contract. Joe Johnson even got traded. Nene wasn't producing under his new salary, so he got traded for Javale McGee. Millsap should fetch more than those players did under such a reasonable $10 million salary.
This means that it's financially responsible to give Millsap an extension. By no means would it prevent us from keeping more skilled players later on.

6. He struggled in the playoffs!

He did. He averaged 13 PPG and 11 RPG, only shooting 37%. While the rebounds are nice, more efficient shooting would have been ideal. A few points, though:
  • The sample size is small, only 4 games.
  • He still probably was the 3rd best player in the playoffs, behind Al and Favors (everyone else struggled very badly).
  • It's not as if Millsap is doomed to struggle in the playoffs. Last time he was in the playoffs, he played very well, putting up a 24.5 PER, 57% shooting, 18 PPG, 8.8 RPG against two teams with really good defensive bigs: Denver and Los Angeles.
Most likely, this was just a result of excellent team defense by the Spurs, plus some unlucky shooting from Paul. It happens.

7:
No, because Millsap is a better all-around player than those guys, with less risk. He contributes more wins to the team.
  • Ilyasova had an excellent year, no doubt: 17 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 20.1 PER, 6.5 WS. He only has a lower total in WS and PER because Millsap played more minutes and games than Ilyasova, if they played the same time, they would have contributed nearly equally. Ilyasova isn't the Adjusted +/- darling that Millsap is, but he was still pretty good. He is only 24. His defense, according to Synergy and 82games.com is slightly worse. The problem with Ilyasova is uncertainty: this was far and away his best year. Was the contract year phenomenon in effect? Can he sustain the performance as defenses adapt? On the other hand, Paul Millsap has been putting up these kind of numbers his entire career: check his per 36 minutes stats. I think Ilyasova's contract was a bargain, to be clear, but Millsap's contract should start at Ilyasova's level.
  • Spencer Hawes has a few of the same questions: this was far and away his best year, and hasn't shown the consistency of Paul. He is also younger, just 23 last year. Can he keep it up? Probably. But he also only played 24 MPG in only 37 games this year, it could just be a small sample size thing. Finally, his defense is much worse: allows a 0.91 PPP in Synergy, and 19.5 PER against in 82games.com. His DRTG was excellent this year, though. Basically, you're making a bet when a young player takes a jump in such limited minutes, and that requires some hedging. I would also say that this was a good deal, though.
  • David West is a very similar player to Millsap in a lot of ways. WS and PER like him less because Paul is a much better rebounder, but it's a reasonable comparison to make. West's contract was so short because a) he was coming off a serious knee injury, b) he was 30 years old at the time, and c) he wanted to sign with a contender, and so didn't really play the open market. Consider the example of Memo: he was also 30 years old when suffering a serious injury, and he just couldn't come back. The risk was substantial with David West, and it was reflected in his contract.
On the other hand, Millsap is a much lower risk: he's shown impressive durability and consistency throughout his career. His effectiveness hasn't taken huge jumps or declines. He's only 26. Each of his last 4 years, he's put up WS between 7.2 and 7.8, and his ORTG has stayed constant through a lot of team turmoil between 113 and 116 points per 100 possessions. He's just consistently excellent, and that's very valuable.

8.:

Dang it. This sort of counterargument is asking me to escape my comfort zone: evidence. Still, I'll do my best.

Paul Millsap has been everything you want in a Jazz player. We've heard numerous times from teammates, media, coaching staff and even the front office that Paul Millsap is everything that the Utah Jazz stand for. In terms of toughness, effort, integrity, hard work, determination, improvement, responsibility, and success, he's been everything the Jazz could have ever asked for.

But impressively, he goes beyond what we ask of him. He surprises us in new ways with his ability to go above our opinion of his talent when it matters most. This begins with the Miracle in Miami:

Prior to this game, Millsap had made 2 three point shots in his entire career. He had not even attempted one to that point of the season. He somehow delivered more than was even conceivable.

But it doesn't stop there: throughout this season, he delivered important putback after putback, shot after shot, to keep the team afloat when it mattered most. Indeed, consider the three most important games of the season:

  • In the triple overtime game against Dallas, he made the putback dunk at the end of regulation to tie the game for the Jazz after Hayward's wayward shot:

  • In the overtime game against Orlando, it was his offensive rebound with 30 seconds left in regulation that allowed the Jazz the final possession in which Jefferson tied it up. In the overtime, he led the team with 4 points and 2 rebounds to help them win OT by 10.
  • In the do-or-likely-die game against the surging Phoenix Suns, he had his best game of the season: 26 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. He was a +21. It was his effort in the 4th quarter that led the Jazz' comeback, and put the game away.
So he brings it every day, to the level that he is in the top echelon of NBA players in some important statistics, but still finds the ability to raise his game and lead his team when their backs are against the wall. Wow.

In short, Millsap has the whole package. Not only is he a statistical darling, substantively adding wins to the team's total, but he's also everything you want subjectively in a player. Too often, I feel, we are too eager to find the faults of our current players in the search of something new, but we should make an exception for Paul Millsap. He deserves it. Let's do what it takes to keep Millsap a Jazzman.



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