Making the Case for Keeping Millsap or Jefferson

While I am as antsy as everyone else to get to next season, so we can watch Favors and Kanter continue to grow (and possibly start), I think the Jazz also need to explore keeping either Millsap or Jefferson. A case can be made for either, both qualitatively and quantitatively. I'll attempt to muddle through the quantitative stuff, but let's start with the common sense arguments for both.

Paul Millsap

Argument - We should keep Millsap because of his well-rounded overall game: Quite simply, Paul has been a great player for the Jazz. He dealt with being stuck behind Boozer, and finally earned his spot in the rotation. Every year he has added to his game, and has turned into a fairly decent stretch four, able to knock down a mid-range jumpshot with limited success. He can make moves on the wings and in the post, and he will knock it down if you give him space. There's also an emotional aspect to it. We love him because he's not Boozer. We love him because of the Miracle in Miami. We love him because we found him at the end of the draft. He's the gem we found that everyone else overlooked. Everyone loves the idea of having a player be a Jazzman for life, and Paul could do that.

Counterargument: We all fell in love with Millsap his rookie year, he was amazing off the bench and filling in for Carlos Boozer when his various body parts started cramping for weeks at a time. We mostly loved him because of his rebounding, blocks, and nice touch around the rim (and the fact that he attacked the rim much better than Boozer). Unfortunately, his rebounding has fallen off dramatically since then. His rookie year, Paul's rebound rate was 17.5%. That's not bad. It's also his career high. This season it's 14.1%, the second lowest of his career. That's not good. His block rate has fallen as well, from 4.2% to 2.6%. His shooting has fallen as well. His true shooting percentage has gone from .571 to .554, and his eFG% has fallen from .526 to .498, also a career low.

A: There are some positives, however; assist% is way up, at a career high this season of 14.8%. Turnover% is down to 11.2%, nearly 5% lower than his rookie season. Surprisingly, his steal% is fairly consistent throughout his career. Last year was a career high at 2.9%, but this season isn't bad, at 2.1%. The things we fell in love with him for are no longer the things he does really (rebound, block shots, around the rim offense, general hustle), but that doesn't mean he's any worse. He's a much better passer and more versatile shooter. His ORtg is consistently 10 above his DRtg, which is very solid.

C: This is all true, but is he better than Favors and/or Kanter? He's not really a PF, but he's not quite versatile enough to be a SF. If we want to get Favors and Kanter minutes (or maybe even starts) is he okay taking a smaller role, or possibly coming off the bench? I doubt it. He wants to start, and he wants his minutes. There will be plenty of bad teams willing to pay him to come start for them. He would be the best player (by far) on Charlotte if he went there, but is he willing to be on a team that bad?

Decision: While it's true Millsap's game has changed dramatically, and he struggles at times with shooting and rebounding, some of that could be attributed to Jefferson. Looking at 2-man lineups, with one of them being Millsap, he plays much better with Kanter (+51 in 158 minutes) and Favors (+17 in 293 minutes) than he does with Jefferson (-60 in 1450 minutes). Kanter does better with Millsap on the floor with him than he does with Al by a huge margin, and is actually better with Paul than he is with Favors. Favors conversely is better with Kanter, still good with Millsap, and atrocious with Jefferson (-66!). A rotation that used Favors, Kanter, and Millsap mainly should be very effective (just for fun, the big-3 lineup with those 3 is +6 in 36 minutes, with Jefferson instead of Kanter it is -3 in 69 minutes). Ideally, Millsap agrees to come off the bench and still be used heavily in the rotation, or take a cut in playing time and start with either Kanter or Favors, with the other one getting an ample increase in playing time when compared to this season. Keeping Millsap would be acceptable, if he's willing to help make it work, but I am unsure if he is willing to do so. I expect him to move to a contending team this offseason. The Spurs, Lakers, and Rockets, would all be destinations I believe would be willing to start him that are all in the hunt.

Al Jefferson

Argument - We should keep Jefferson because of his offense: This should surprise nobody, bu Al is really good on the left block. He's got an old-school low post game, his nifty little hook shot thing, and can straight up just shoot the ball right over you. I know this is bordering on blasphemy, but he actually has an offensive style that at times reminds me of Malone. Karl could face you up and knock down the jumper, or work you in the post. Big Al can do that as well, though with nowhere near the effectiveness as Malone. I'm just saying it looks similar at times. His rebound, steal, assist, and turnover percentages are all near career bests. His ORtg compared to his DRtg is actually alright as well. And if the Milwaukee and Cleveland games taught us anything, we need someone in the clutch to carry the offense. It isn't Millsap. Maybe it would've been Favors in Milwaukee and Kanter in Cleveland, but they were on the bench at the wrong times. Who knows. In the last five minutes, with the score within 5 points either way, he shoots 49.2% and is +33 in 128 minutes. Within the last three minutes he's 50% and +47 in 75 minutes. Keep in mind that this is someone who shoots 48.9% regularly, and is -106 for the season. He finishes games. Those same situations for Millsap? 46.9% and 43.8%, with +17 and + 23, respectively. Millsap's FT% in the clutch is lower than his normal %, Jefferson's is not. Jefferson's FT% in the clutch is 4% higher than Millsap's at five minutes left and over 11% better with three minutes left.

Counterargument: Did you really just compare Al to Karl? Your argument should be invalid just because of that. Millsap and Jefferson have the same DRtg, but Millsap's ORtg is 4 higher. Millsap shoots better, passes better, steals much more, and has a high win share. 5-man lineups with Jefferson average -3.2 points, while Millsap averages +.4. Did you know that Big Al is negative in all 2-man lineups except with Alec Burks, Evans, and is only +3 with Kanter? Millsap is negative with Kevin Murphy, Tinsley, the Williamses, Foye, and Jefferson (obviously). None of those people for Millsap are worrying. Murphy? Meh. Tinsley? Not gonna be here. Marvin, one assumes, will have a smaller (non-starting) role next season. Mo may or may not be here next year, and may or may not be starting. And Foye could go either way as well. Millsap is positive with Hayward and Favors, Jefferson is not. That's a big issue moving forward.

Decision: Al may in actuality be a better player than Millsap. His offensive game is so nice, and usually more consistent than Millsap's. He's better late in games. He has single-handedly carried this team on several occasion. All of that notwithstanding, Al is not the right fit for this team moving forward. The fact that he is negative with Favors and Hayward, two players we assume, will be some of the cornerstones of this team's future. It is essential that this team plays well together, something that Millsap accomplishes better. As much as I like Jefferson, he should not be resigned. As with Millsap, if there was a way to get him to come off the bench, I'd jump at it, but I very much doubt a player as fluid on offense as Jefferson would be ready to accept a backup role when I'm sure there will be many suitors for him this summer

What is Likely to Happen?

Because the Jazz seem to like doing things that confuse me, I expect them to sign Big Al to a 5-year, $75-million contract. What I do hope happens, is that we are able to convince Paul to take a smaller role with this team, and maybe lead the bench unit. This of course also has the hope that we can get him for a fair price. This league tends to overpay for players, and Millsap could very easily get the attention of some bad teams with lots of money. PF contracts have been insane lately, so we'll see what his market value comes out to be. If we cannot get him for a fair price (which is not at all unlikely), we must turn our attention to free agents. I assume we would start Favors and Kanter, hopefully with something like Carroll, Burks, and our new PG, possibly Kabongo or Burke (though Bolerjack's head would explode if we had Burke and Burks as a starting backcourt), or someone like Calderon. We grab a decent backup PG, maybe we keep Mo for that, Hayward as a 2/3, Marvin (assuming he stays, which let's be real, he'd be crazy not to) as a 3/4, Evans as a 4/5, and we grab a couple other free agents with our piles of cap room (Fesenko!!!). We'd still have Murphy, we might be able to grab someone good who gets amnestied, I don't know. I do know we have options, and I (possibly filled with dumb, blind, optimism), think next season is going to be amazingly fun. Only time will tell.

All comments are the opinion of the commenter and not necessarily that of SLC Dunk or SB Nation.

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