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Utah Jazz Player Previews: Paul Millsap

We're kicking off player previews with a format where multiple authors are contributing. These will run through the start of the regular season.

Who Is This Guy?

This image embodies what Paul Millsap is all about. This has been his MO for most of his life and not just his time on the court. This is how he has built his reputation and how he's become so endearing to Jazz fans. And that's not in a "he has hustle but no talent" kind of endearing. From his rookie season on he's had to fight for everything he has. This season is no exception. Just a year after taking over the starting PF position, there's more competition than ever for his spot and for minutes. Despite doing nothing that would deserve losing his starting spot, he's received no assurances that it's his. That's just the way he likes it.

Despite leading the nation in rebounding for three straight years at La. Tech, Millsap wasn't taken until the 47th pick in the 2006 draft. He's played the role of the underdog ever since. Part of the reason why he dropped, and almost fell out of the draft, was that he was considered undersized for the PF position. That remains true; he's often score upon by bigger fours in the league.

One of his hallmarks has been that he continues to improve every year. He adds different elements to his game and isn't showing signs of slowing down. He became more of an option on offense in his first full year as a starter. Because he's often at a height disadvantage, he had to add a mid-range game to his repertoire, one that was the best in the league according to John Hollinger. As a result, his offensive rebounding percentage dropped as he wasn't hanging around the basket as much looking for scraps. He became one of the options on offense. If you compare his offensive rebounding numbers with Malone's, you'll see that they're pretty similar.

As we move forward into the 2012 season, Millsap still has plenty left to prove. As he increased his playing time last season, most of his offensive numbers were career highs. However, on defense, his numbers slipped. Despite playing more minutes, his defensive win shares dropped from 3.5 in 2010 to 2.5. A lot of that has to due with the fact that he's playing against starters now instead of second-team units. He can become a defensive leader of the team if he can improve his defensive rebounding rate while maintaining his low foul rate. That's right, low foul rate. Part of the knock on Millsap when he entered the league was his high foul percentage despite nearly every rookie having that problem. He's managed to get that rate down to just 3.8 fouls per game, something that not many thought he could do.

Millsap's future with the team is an unknown commodity. His attractive contract and high value make him the subject of many trade rumor mills. His value to the Jazz though is huge. He is the embodiment of Jerry Sloan and the Jazz culture. Tough. Plays hurt (he's played in 96% of games). You never question his heart or his work ethic. So why would the Jazz want to send that away?

There are some tough choices to be made in the near future. Young(er) players need playing time, but at what expense? One thing is for sure, it's going to be awfully difficult, if not impossible, to knock Millsap off his spot. There are very few that are going to give you more at such a high level. It's going to have to be taken from him and I wouldn't want to be the one that tries to do that.

The rest after the jump

How Does He Fit?

I love a lot of players on this team, but did you realize that Millsap, Mehmet Okur and CJ Miles are the last remaining Jazz players of our 50+ win seasons? It's staggering how quickly the Jazz have turned over almost their entire roster. And with Miles and Okur on the last year of their deals, it is possible, with two years left, that Millsap will be the last Jazzman of the D-Will/Boozer era to be on the team. The problem for Millsap, as well as Jefferson, is that in 2 years from now, they won't be the best big men on the team. And if things pan out for the Jazz, Millsap and Jefferson won't even be the 2nd best big men on the team by 2014 if Favors and Kanter make good strides in their development.

The ideal situation would be for Paul Millsap to play 30 minutes off the bench this season and vie for the 6th man of the year award. And then extend his contract for similar money and continue to be a top 6th man in the NBA, playing for a contending Jazz team in 3-4 years. But reality is probably that Paul will be less satisfied with a reserve role, even if he is getting good minutes and in two years, he will sign a deal with another team at All-star or close to All-Star money and leave the team. The Jazz simply can't afford to pay their vets more than mid-level money when they will have their youngsters to offer contracts to down the road. But until Millsap's contract is up, I expect him to remain a Jazz man for two reasons.

One is because Millsap embodies the Jazz culture. He's a tireless worker, as he has shown by his improved conditioning and skill level each season. Secondly, is that he is adequately paid, which is a big deal. If you look around the league and take every NBA player not on a rookie pay scale and rate them as underpaid, adequately paid, or overpaid, a majority of the players, maybe 60%, are going to be overpaid. Correctly paid or underpaid players are a huge commodity in this league, especially for a fiscally-responsible team. On top of that, Millsap is arguably the Jazz's best player right now and he will make about $8.5 million each of the next two seasons. Again, try to find a player, who is not on his rookie contract, who is a top one or two guy for their team that makes about $8 million a year. I could only think of Luis Scola and Anderson Varajao. So if the Jazz trade Paul Millsap it is going to be for a real difference maker, not just to save money or obtain an average wing player for the sake of balancing the roster.

On top of that, the Jazz are notorious for forcing their guys to honor their contracts, even if they don't like their role. They've done it with Chris Morris, Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko. If the bench is the best place for Paul Millsap, that is where he will contribute, even if he isn't thrilled about it. But it won't be a problem, because attitude problems are only bad if it affects player or team performance. And a change in role isn't going to keep Paul Millsap from working hard and continuing to improve. Because that is what he has done and that's the player he ihas proven to be. I'd be shocked if the team had to trade him because he was causing off court problems.


Our Hopes, Dreams, and Deepest Fears

We're starting with the hardest narrative to put together. Millsap. Do any of us really know what we hope he can accomplish this year?

In some ways, of course, it's simple. We hope he can continue to expand his shooting range, perhaps become a regular 3-point threat. We hope he continues working his butt off all the time. And, of course, we hope the refs will stop shafting him more than any other player in the freaking NBA.

We hope that-even if his range expands-he remains a reliable post scorer; that he never develops Ralph Sampson Syndrome and abandons the paint.

We hope that his rebounding comes back up, and that he can be a little better defensively.

But this isn't really what this section is supposed to be about. It's supposed to be about narratives, about storylines-and every hypothetical storyline we can dream for Paul Millsap relies too much on stuff we simply don't know right now.

Some of us dream of a smooth transition to SF. But that depends so much on whether Coach Ty is even open to experimenting with it-plus the development of Favors and Kanter, Al's improvement (or not), Memo's recovery (or not), and even if Favors really grew and now fits the length of a center. Plus there's a whole bunch of issues coming from the Hayward/Burks direction. And then ... IF all those things work out just so-then we can worry about his lateral movement, whether other SF's are going to just blow past him, whether his outside shot is reliable enough to make the offense work.

Some of us dream of a willing and great 6th man, the first guy off the bench, a guy filling in for C, PF, and SF. But again, what makes sense depends on the other 4 big-men and who the Jazz bring in to fill out the last couple of roster spots.

Here's what we can say, though. Because Deron was traded last year Millsap and Al were, without question, the best players on the team. Their PER's and Win Shares were virtually identical. They both had the kind of year's that can earn an All-Star bid if all the stars line up correctly. Sadly, we know that NONE of the stars lined up right for anyone on the Jazz last year.

And I guess this is what we can hope for with Millsap. That the stars line up correctly. That he keeps progressing and plays slightly better than he did last year (extending his range and boxing out for defensive rebounds better immediately come to mind). We hope that the team finds the role for him that fits best, that he is happy with his role, and we get to use his talents to the max.

And that plays into what we're really afraid may happen: that the team won't find the right role, that he'll be put into a spot that makes him unhappy, and that his real, unalterable flaws (he's not big enough to play D against PF's) make the team unable to use his strengths. We worry that the early 2009 chemistry problems come back if Favors is ready to start. We worry that the only option that makes sense is to trade him.

In the past two years we've lost so many guys we've loved: Jerry, Phil, Deron, KK, Ronnie B., and OMSW. And right now things don't look good for AK, Fes, and Ronnie P.

And now the part of us that looks past the stats-beyond the cold harsh, inhumane desire for wins above all else-the parts of us that still have a soul, that still believe in everything Stockton, Malone, and Jerry Sloan ever stood for-everything good, holy, and decent left in us is pleading to the basketball Gods right now: Not Paul Millsap too.
We have drawn a line in the sand, and HE is the point at which we demand the bad things to stop and good things to begin. And now we wait to see if anyone is listening.

Jon Midget, aka Yucca

Why Do We Care?

I could talk about his work ethic. I could talk about how he generally keeps his mouth shut and lets his performance on the court do the talking. But really, all I have to say is Miracle in Miami.

(You may have seen this tons of times, but is there such a thing as too many times for this?) In and of itself, it was miracley enough. Consider the fact that at when this happened, he had two career 3-pointers to his name. Miracle of miracles, and the result of work.

Plus, there's just so much fun to be had with his name. When he's dominating, he's Mansap. When he stuffs someone, that someone got Millslapped. He's got Clips Nation's Steve Perrin muttering "two l's, one p" (hyperlink: every time the Clippers play the Jazz.

In many ways, he's perfect for the Jazz. Perhaps in no way more than this: He puts fry sauce on his hot dogs.

Paul Millsap's mayo hot dog (via memoismoney)

(Listen to Boler being grossed out. This was clearly in the pre-Harpring days. Also, watch bleached-blond Fes brick a free throw).

- Moni