NBA Regular Season 2012-2013, Game 2:
Utah Jazz (1-0) @ New Orleans Hornets (0-1)
Player Focus: Paul Millsap
Paul Millsap is "The Man". He may not play the most minutes, get the most touches, or ever be properly recognized by his own fanbase (let alone nationally); but 'Sap has demonstrated time and time again that he's The Man. An under-recruited tweener who was forced to go to a second rate college program in his home state . . . Millsap made noise by leading the NCAA Division I in Rebounding three times in a row, which no one does. Or has done since I think Spencer Haywood. Drafted as an energy guy (think of the 6'8 Renaldo Balkman), Sap kept working on his game. Sure, he was a second round pick -- but what the pre-draft combine didn't measure was his heart.
He does everything from make clutch three pointers to buzzer beating rebound dunks. And we love him.
But so far this season Millsap hasn't quite been up to form. He missed part of the preseason due to the untimely death in the family, the loss of his grandmother. Tonight he makes the first return to his home state since that time. It's a heavy time for him. It has shown on the court as Millsap did not have the best preseason: 10.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg. In the regular season he played more normal time (33 minutes), but managed only 13 points off of 41.7 fg%. Well, he also had 15 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal -- but the only thing that matters is points. Right, new NBA?
There is a minutes crunch in Utah -- but we all know that Paul will get the first crack at them. And speaking of cracking, Millsap is shooting 53.6 fg% over his career when playing against the Hornets. (12.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.9 bpg) The majority of those performances came as a bench player. He's a starter now. And he destroys the Hornets.
The main challenge for him tonight will be on defense. New Orleans starts Anthony Davis, the #1 draft pick, at power forward. And as a result, the 6'8 Millsap will get the first crack at defending the 6'10 Gold Medalist. We presume that Davis, who is younger, is also more athletic, longer, and will get the respect from the referees. (Davis earned 9 FTA vs. the San Antonio Spurs the other night) The challenge doesn't end with having to contend with another guy from a vastly different body category (like how Millsap has to deal with Pau Gasol at times) . . . that would be too easy. Millsap will also be chasing around (hat tip to Clint Peterson) Ryan Anderson for long stretches of the night.
Anderson is a face up forward with nearly unlimited range. Dude averaged a Millsap-ian 16 and 8 last year. And Anderson does damage from downtown, last season he shot 43.9 3pt%, which is Memo like.
Millsap will be asked to guard the rail thin super athlete *and* the face up forward with guard skills who moves well without the ball. Oh, and maybe a mix of Al-Farouq Aminu and Jason Smith too -- you know, for fun.
Millsap's continual improvement and versatility will be tested tonight as he puts himself in situations where we need him to perform -- and he's really one of only a handful of players on the team right now who CAN handle this mess of guys the Hornets will throw at him. If he was a more limited player, the type of player people thought he was on draft night, then things would be easier for him now. No one tells Craig Smith or DeJuan Blair to guard guys like Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka in the same game. For Paul Millsap - he stands up and requests that challenge.
Why? Because he's The Man.
- According to Synergy, Millsap was the #147th best defender in the NBA last season, by Opponents Points per Possession (PPP)
- 13% of the time he defended players in Isolation, and those guys only managed to shoot 27.8 fg% on him, and 27.3 3pt%. Millsap forces a turn over 11.0% of the time when Isolated as well, and his NBA rank was #32rd best. I could see Anderson and Aminu trying to Isolate on Millsap at times.
- Sap locked down the man rolling on pick and rolls (I assume Davis will be involved in these), that guy shot 40.9 fg%, and in the case that it's a pick and pop (Anderson here), against Millsap they went 3/16 from deep, or only 18.8 3pt%. Over all Millsap was #57th best.
- Millsap can be posted up, and he spent 26.1% of all of his defensive possessions being posted up. On these plays he did still cause a turn over 19.0% of the time, but his man shot 49.2 fg% on him. Still, top #150 NBA rank here.
- Anderson lives in the corners, and loves to shoot it from there. Millsap was the #103rd best defender against Spot ups last season -- which was a whopping 40.0% of what he did on defense last season. Guys only shot 36.5 fg% against him (33.3 3pt% in 114 3PTA against him). He's quick, and has great understanding of floor spacing. Sap at the 4 will have to help on the glass, but if Sap is playing the 3, he will shut his man down.
- Even on "guard stuff" Millsap did well. When he defended guys going around screens they only shot 29.4 fg%, and went 2/12 from deep (5.6 3pt%).
I fear the Hornets (and many other teams this year) are going to go small on us. That means outside the chance that we establish our bench guys early and often, Sap is going to have to carry the load guarding guys both taller or faster than him for long stretches.
I believe in Paul Millsap. This is going to be a good home coming for him. Even if he has to guard four very different players.