I love Paul Millsap.
One of my favorite experiences as a fan was watching him fill in for Boozer during the 2008-09 season, suddenly realizing: This guy's starter material. Forget the hustle player rep, this dude's a terrific starting PF.
It was one of the most beautiful, innocently happy moments of my Jazz fan life. We all know the down sides to Boozer. We all know why we couldn't love the dude. But I felt, for about four years, resigned to him. Stuck with him because despite all the headaches, he could play the game of basketball really well. It was strange to hope the team could hold on to a guy I didn't really like that much. But I did.
Paul Millsap was the great release. I realized this when I noticed that I didn't miss Boozer at all during that time. What I missed, what I thought the team really missed, was the additional 12 points and all-around contributions off the bench from ... you know it ... Paul Millsap. Contributions he couldn't give because he was busy succeeding as a starter.
I knew he wasn't quite as good offensively (particularly in passing skills, I thought), nor rebounding. But he was a better teammate and defender. Certainly not an All-Defense kind of player, but one who was able to consistently contribute despite the well-documented size issue.
Put it all together, and the differences seemed to balance out. We'd get about the same overall production for half the price and none of the issues.
And it's been so fun to see him prove this hunch right—so fun to see him actually outperform what we originally saw in those 38 starts of 2009-10.
Of all our non-C4 players, Millsap is the one I hope we can keep the most. I know the odds are slight. I know the money reasons, and I know the roster reasons.
But it is significant to me how well Millsap fits with our young talent. I'm thinking of the synergistic effect of blocks, steals, and deflections. I'm thinking of how freely the young guys are able to contribute at the same time Millsap does (specifically Favors' numbers next to Sap vs. next to Al). I'm thinking of a lot of things. His game has just meshed so well with theirs.
And I hope we get to see a lot of it this year.
I know the front court minutes issues. If Favors gets 30 minutes and Al gets 30 minutes ... well, the only way Millsap plays as much as I'd enjoy is if Kanter gets fewer minutes this year than last: which would be a tragedy of Macbethian proportions.
But damn it, I want to see Millsap play. The fan in me won't set that desire aside.
I also hope Millsap holds up for a while longer.
For every player there are random fluctuations in his numbers over the years. Nobody hits the same FG% every year, for example. Things go up and down, and really that range between highs and lows is what tells you most about a player.
Well, Sap had a lot of personal lows last year. Low FG%. Low trips to the line. Low blocks. Was these part of normal fluctuation? Or were they the first steps to ongoing decline? I don't know if we can say right now. I certainly hope the decline isn't coming. I look at other things (high FG%, jump back in rebounds, high steals, shot locations), and I don't think it's happening yet.
But I also know he's outsized at his position, and his playing style isn't based on finesse and self-preservation. At some point it will wear him down. I hope that's not for several years now. I can look at the numbers and totally convince myself it's not coming for a while now.
But I don't really know. Nobody does.
We'll all have to just wait and see. And if the season ends a blaze of Millsappian glory, if it gets him a $10+ contract with some other team, so be it.
I can say I was there to watch the beginning, the emergence, and finally the triumph.