All the Reasons that Paul Millsap is Still the Jazz's Starting Power Forward

Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Despite the pricey acquisition of a young high lottery draft prospect, Paul Millsap remains the Jazz's starting power forward...here are some of the reasons why.

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PETER: On May 7, 2012, Derrick Favors may have played the best game in his short NBA career. On that night, the San Antonio Spurs were wrapping up a first round playoff sweep against the Utah Jazz while Favors played 37 meaningful minutes as the Jazz’s starting power forward. Favors finished that game with 16 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals and was 8-12 from the free throw line, while simultaneously drawing primary defensive responsibility for guarding future NBA Hall of famer and four time NBA champion Tim Duncan and succesfully holding him to a meager 11 points and 5 rebounds. After that game many in the Utah media and the Jazz fan base declared that Favors would forever be a fixture in the Jazz’s starting lineup for so long as he remained a Jazzman.

Fast forward to October 2, 2012. The Jazz convened training camp for the 2012-13 season with Paul Millsap firmly atop the team’s depth chart as the Jazz’s starting PF. Other than two starts that Millsap has made at small forward this season (next to Favors at PF), Millsap has kept that starting spot throughout the entire season so far, with no indication that Coach Tyrone Corbin has considered benching him. As captain of #TeamFavors, I have on several occasions suggested that it is time to either trade Millsap and start Favors or alternatively move Millsap to the bench as a 6th man. While either option is less than ideal, it does pose a realistic and simple solution to get Favors more playing time and to see if he can step forward and become this teams next great franchise player (or at least a stop gap to the Jazz’s defensive struggles).

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CLARK: Admittedly I cringe every time I hear a Jazz fan suggest that the way to improve the team is by either trading Millsap or by cutting his minutes and bringing him off of the bench. I’m a huge Millsap fan, but I believe my fandom has less to do with him being "a true Jazzman" or because he has overcome his low draft status and smaller stature to become a decent starter in the league. In short, I’m a huge Millsap fan because he is simply very good at basketball. In fact, I believe it is indisputable that he is our best player on the team and has been since the day Deron Williams was traded to New Jersey.

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PETER: What follows is comprehensive list of the on court and off court reasons that Millsap remains the Jazz’s starting PF:

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CLARK: Paul Millsap Puts Up Very Good Individual Numbers.

Basketball is a team sport, but even individually Millsap is a very good NBA player. Millsap has started 233 games over the last several seasons and his numbers have been impressive. In 33.4 minutes per game per start, Millsap has put up 16.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.5 apg, on 51.3% shooting from the floor. His production and consistency from year in to year out are really noticeable. The list of active players who have averaged 16 ppg, 8 rpg, and 2.5+ apg while shooting better than 50% from the field, as a starter is this:

Paul Millsap

David Lee

Blake Griffin

Pau Gasol

Kevin Garnett

Tim Duncan

Carlos Boozer

That's it. Pretty remarkable.

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PETER: The Jazz are Legitimately Undecided on if They Want to Retain Millsap Beyond This Season.

The Jazz are currently in year 3 of the Al Jefferson and Millsap frontcourt pairing. Over that time period the Jazz have collected a record of 102-99. At this point I think it would be hard for anyone to argue that the team has been anything but average to slightly above average with this current team. While the playoffs once again appear to be in sight, it is hard to project anything more than a first round playoff exit, barring some Derrick Rose-ish injury to one of the top teams in the West.

As all Jazz fans know by now, the team has many important decisions to make this upcoming offseason. With only 5 players under guaranteed contracts past July, the Jazz will have 10 players who will potentially be unrestricted free agents and thus completely in control of their next NBA destination. If the Jazz wish to re-sign any of these free agents they need to demonstrate to each player reasons (in addition to adequate compensation) for them to make Utah a more permanent home.

As one of the teams most soft spoken players, I don’t claim to know much about Millsap as a man and as anything other than a basketball player, but I am virtually certain of one thing: If Coach Tyrone Corbin benches Millsap now in favor of Favors, Millsap will choose to sign elsewhere this offseason. As fans we often hope that our players will unselfishly take on a role on the team that would seemingly fit our expectation of what the team needs the most. While it is easy for us on the outside to suggest that moving Millsap to the 6th man role will get more defense in the starting lineup next to Jefferson and more offense on the bench, and therefore translate to more victories, the impact of such a decision reverberates much deeper then we’ll ever know on the outside of the locker room. If you don’t believe me then go read yesterday’s quotes by Pau Gasol suggesting that he will demand a trade this offseason as a result of Mike D’Antoni asking him to come off the bench for the betterment of that train wreck of a Lakers team.

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CLARK: Paul Millsap is Loved by Advanced Statisticians.

While my previous list is really interesting, most NBA fans know that points and assists and rebounds per game mean very little. But when you delve into the deeper side of statistics, Paul Millsap actually looks even better. In some ways Paul Millsap has been a poster child for advanced statisticians, even having whole advanced statistical phenomenon named after him.

In fact, when you look at his raw numbers, especially this season, it is really hard to say that Paul’s 14 points and 7 rebounds per game make him a better overall player than Al Jefferson who averages 17 and 9, especially with Millsap’s own defensive shortcomings. But when you start to look at advanced statistics, Paul Millsap really shines.

To take a look at how advanced metrics look at Paul Millsap, let’s place him among other power forwards* under a handful of advanced metrics. Click on the metric for an explanation.

Player Efficiency Rating

2011-12

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*For reference Lebron James (30.8) and Carmelo Anthony (21.15) could be listed as Power Forwards

2012-13

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Lebron James- 30.61

Carmelo Anthony- 24.18

WARP

13th in the league in WARP in 2011-12, best on the team for two years

  1. Lebron James 23.5
  2. Kevin Durant 19.0
  3. Chris Paul 18.2
  4. Kevin Love 16.7
  5. Dwight Howard 14.6
  6. Ryan Anderson 14.0
  7. Josh Smith 13.2
  8. Blake Griffin 13.1
  9. Russell Westbrook 12.9
  10. Dwyane Wade 12.7
  11. Greg Monroe 12.3
  12. Andrew Bynum 12.1
  13. Paul Millsap 11.5
  14. Paul Pierce 11.3
  15. James Harden 11.3
  16. Andre Iguodala 10.7
  17. Pau Gasol 10.7
  18. Joakim Noah 10.4
  19. Al Jefferson 10.4
  20. Serge Ibaka 10.0

Win Shares

Millsap has LED the Jazz in Win Shares the last two seasons, although Al Jefferson has been a close 2nd.

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PETER: The Jazz May Have Already Decided to Retain Millsap Beyond This Season.

It is well known that this past summer the Jazz offered Millsap the maximum contract extension allowed under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA"). That extension, if signed by Millsap would have added 3 more years to the end of his current contract, with annual salaries of approximately $7.7m, $8.3m and $8.8m for a total new money figure of about $25m. There has been some open debate on whether Millsap is deserving of an annual salary of about $8.3m a year. As a starting PF on a playoff team, however it is hard to dispute that the NBA market rate justifies such salaries. Furthermore, there are about 15 teams in the NBA which are currently poised with enough cap space this offseason to sign Millsap to a similarly sized, or larger, contract, if they so desire.

Perhaps the more important and less talked about aspect of the Jazz’s attempt at a contract extension with Millsap has to do with the amount of years the Jazz could offer him in an extension. Extensions to NBA veteran Player Contracts are limited to a total of four seasons, which includes any years remaining on the player’s current contract. See CBA Article IX, Sections 1 and 2. On the other hand, as an unrestricted free agent, players are eligible for 4 year free agent contracts from other teams and 5 year contracts from their original team (provided of course that their original team holds the players Bird Rights). Thus while the Jazz could only offer Millsap $25m in new money through 2015-16 last summer (technically they can still make that same offer up to June 30th), they could offer Millsap a new contract this July which would carry him through the 2017-18 season. So assuming the Jazz and Millsap mutually agree that his services are roughly worth $8.3m a year, Utah could offer him a contract this offseason which would be worth a total of $41.5m and which would keep him locked in to the NBA until the age of 33.

The added two years of guaranteed money is very important to any NBA player and thus it could be that the Jazz and Millsap already have an idea that he will re-sign in Utah once they can offer him a contract with the additional 2 years and $16m attached.

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CLARK: Paul Millsap Helps You Win Basketball Games.

I have a theory that one of our biggest weaknesses as basketball fans, is that we get caught up by statistics so much that we overlook the biggest aspect of basketball players: do they help my team win? The NBA National Media is especially guilty of this every season. The truth is that, at any time, there are 4 or 5 players in the league that can put up fantastic numbers, but don’t help their team win basketball games. In fact, sometimes they hurt their team’s chances of winning. I think the most important thing that coaches and general managers can figure out, is how does this player help me win games? Plus/minus is not a perfect statistic to explain the helpfulness of a player, but I do raise an eyebrow when fans throw it away as useless. What statistic is useful on a single game basis? None of them are. So, like any statistic, you can learn a lot by following +/- over a season. When a player has a positive impact on a team’s +/- consistently over time, it speaks volumes to that player’s impact. Either that, or else he only ever plays with other really good players. Let’s look into some +/- numbers for Millsap. (see bullet points below).

If you remember 2010-11, the Jazz spent most of that season being outscored, so that fact that Millsap had a positive affect on the game says something. As you have probably noticed, Paul Millsap had a great season last year and his adjusted +/- that takes into account the players teammate talent level, Paul Millsap had the 7th most positive affect on his team, in the league. Here are the +/- for the other starters the last three seasons to help illustrate the point. Keep in mind that Paul Millsap willingly moved out of position in 2011-12 in order to contribute to one of the most productive lineups the season saw, and the 2012-13 season has not seen.

Player- on court/off court

2010-11

  • Deron Williams: -1.2/+2.8
  • Raja Bell: -4.9/+1.6
  • Andrei Kirilenko: -0.8/-2.8
  • Al Jefferson: -2.8/+0.9
  • Paul Millsap: +0.2/-5.7

2011-12

  • Devin Harris: +2.7/-1.8
  • Raja Bell: -0.8/+1.1
  • Gordon Hayward: +1.2/-0.4
  • Josh Howard: -0.8/+1.2
  • Al Jefferson: +3.7/-5.0
  • Paul Millsap- +4.5/-6.6

2012-13

  • Mo Williams: -3.9/+0.7
  • Jamaal Tinsley: +3.8/-3.4
  • Gordon Hayward: +0.6/-2.3
  • Marvin Williams: -0.9/-0.7
  • Al Jefferson: -2.4/+2.3
  • Paul Millsap: -0.7/-1.0

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PETER: The Jazz Continue to Start Millsap to Showcase Him to Other Teams for Potential Trades.

Personally, this is one of my least favorite theories on why Millsap remains a starter for the Jazz. Fans often bring this up as fact but I think there is little evidence to support that NBA teams do this. Millsap is in his 7th NBA season now and most teams have enough scouting tape to know what type of player Millsap is and how he would fit on their team.

That being said, Millsap’s early season slump could have become an issue of concern for some NBA teams and caused them to pause slightly in maximizing any potential trade offer to the Jazz. Furthermore, we did just witness Toronto spending the first half of this season showcasing Jose Calderon, when it was well known that he was on the trade block and that they had brought in Kyle Lowry to be their starter at the position. So maybe there is some truth to showcasing after all.

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CLARK: Paul Millsap Produces a Lot for a Very Small Price Tag, Relatively.

If you look at some of the lists of players that I have been comparing Paul Millsap to in productiveness, you may notice that almost all of them are paid significantly more money than Paul Millsap. After this season, his 7th, Millsap will have been paid roughly $34 million total. Most of those guys that Millsap is listed with, make that in 2-3 years. In fact, of all the 20 players listed on the top WARP producers, Millsap is the 2nd lowest paid among guys not on rookie contracts.

What was a somewhat controversial contract match back in 2009, has turned into one of the best bang for your bucks contracts in the NBA.

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PETER: If Coach Tyrone Corbin Benches Millsap He’ll Lose the Locker room.

Of all the theories I presented herein, I tend to believe in this one the most. Professional athletes are a fickle bunch and getting them motivated on a nightly basis is perhaps the most difficult task of any head coach. While each veteran Jazz player should be inherently motivated to maximize their performance in order to earn a substantial monetary reward in the offseason, the collective goals of a team may suffer if Millsap’s teammates feel that management has decided to turn its focus from present wins and playoff success to developing future younger players for the future.

Benching Millsap now in order to get more minutes for Favors and/or Enes Kanter may have an adverse affect on how guys like Jefferson, Randy Foye and Mo Williams perform for the rest of the season. Accordingly, even if the Jazz management believe they are in a rebuilding stage (something Dennis Lindsey has confirmed on multiple occasions), it would behoove the team to outwardly express that they are competing for the here and now, both by how they represent themselves to the media and the rotations and players that Corbin puts on the basketball court.

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CLARK: The Influence of Relative Value.

There’s no question that Millsap is a Utah Jazz fan favorite and loved by many basketball analysts across the league. But how much of that love has to do with the fact that Millsap is appropriately to underpaid? And where is the cutoff line to where Millsap becomes overpaid? Would Jazz fans love and want to retain Millsap’s services if he were paid Jefferson’s salary? Would Jazz fans be quicker to point out Millsap’s defensive shortcomings if he were paid 4 years, $48 million? Ten million a year? Where is the cutoff?

On top of that, what if Millsap were a lottery pick? What if the Jazz had drafted Paul Millsap with the 14th pick in 2006, instead of Ronnie Brewer? Would we look on his career with as much respect now? How much does the fact that Millsap has hurdled every career obstacle thus far, weigh in on his overall value? How many more questions do I have to ask to illustrate the point?

Millsap is probably the 2nd best or 3rd best player from his draft class, drafted 47th overall. If you look at Millsap’s draftexpress page, his best case scenario comparison was Udonis Haslem. Udonis Haslem would give half his yearly salary to be the player that Millsap is and Miami would let him. But this summer, we will get to see what the free market thinks of Millsap’s services. And then we will be able to see how much Millsap’s salary and lower expectations have bumped his relative value.

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PETER: In Conclusion, while many of us are having a hard time waiting for the Jazz’s front office to unfold the future direction of this franchise, it is hard to ignore that Millsap represents a huge part of its present and its past. Whether Millsap is traded this month, moves on in free agency this summer, or re-signed to potentially finish his career in Utah, I think all Jazz fans can agree that the time, effort and performance he has already given us Jazz fans has made him a Jazzman for life.

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