22 January 2012
(Photo by Colion E. Braley - AP)
Utah Jazz fans know it. The dilemma is how to help the rest of the basketball world see it as well. Paul Millsap is an All-Star.
Only there's quite a few barricades to his officially receiving the prestigious stamp of peer approval, not the least of which is a system conducive to catering to fans that aren't for most of the year getting to have the loudest voice in the matter, as well as player reputations that carry far more weight among national pundits who heavily influence texting and typing fingers in voting.
I won't even go into the "rantangent" (new word!) of Tim Duncan erroneously being listed as a "Forward" yet again, when he clearly hasn't been one since Rasho Nesterovic was the starting center on the San Antonio Spurs nearly a lifetime ago now. But for this exercise we'll ignore Timmy and the obvious reasons he doesn't, but probably will, belong on the All-Star squad this year in Orlando and focus on those who legitimately do at the PF position.
Our six participants and top candidates are, alphabetically: LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Paul Millsap, and Dirk Nowitzki.
Note: Denver's Danilo Gallinari is absolutely also in this mix, but hey, we have to draw the line somewhere and his game certainly leans more toward a tweener role than a traditional power forward's, even if Dirk is also more perimeter oriented. Dirk is also far more likely a player Millsap would have to unseat to make the show, and it feels like Millsap is closer than Gallo at this point. But now you have a deeper understanding, between the listed candidates and Duncan and Gallo, as to just how difficult it is to crack an All-Star lineup in the West as an "F." And that's not even to add in the Kevin Durants and other such forwards who undoubtedly will be there
Here are their season stats through January 21, 2012, per-game, per-36 minutes, and Advanced.
Click here to see full size as the Bloguin format is horizontally challenged
Whether we like it or not, three of the players on this list are virtual locks for the February festivities: Perennials Dirk, Pau, and Griffin, who stands a better chance of getting voted in as a starter than Nowitzki does of sinking a freebie from the line after an Earl Watson ball slap technical.
More bullet points (through games played Jan. 21):
• Currently only three of these players are on teams playoff positioned, Gasol, Millsap, and Nowitzki, often a deciding factor for coaches and/or commissioner's picks (in the case of DNP due to injury). This is likely Millsap's best chance at getting into the game, my fellow Jazz fans
• One of these players, Love, is on a team with a losing record. Then again, he was last season too and still made the game. And his offensive stats are better than ever even as he's added an element of passable defense to his repertoire
• Two of these players are playing less than 36 minutes per-game, Millsap and Nowitzki, indeed, both have played less than 32 MPG (a key factor for success in a compressed season, but another topic for another savvy Ty Corbin day)
• Note the middle statistical box, per-36 minutes, where with minutes played normalized among the candidates Millsap compares favorably indeed, logging in as the most efficient of the players and top three in virtually all significant categories for the position. While we might be tempted to insist he play more in order to cement his status in an All-Star bid, it's far more important to remember the big picture here, the one where he and Al Jefferson share the load so well for the good of the team in the long run
• Paul Millsap leads the group in FG%, Steals, least Turnovers, Player Efficiency Rating by +3.1, True Shooting Percentage, effective FG%, Steals Percentage (seems redundant, but for you non-stat-heads advanced percentages are a more accurate measure of a player's production on the court than a standard box score), Offensive Rating, and Win Shares per-48 minutes by an impressive margin
• Millsap is top two in additional categories of Offensive Rebound Rate, Blocks Percentage, lowest Turnover Percentage, lowest Usage Rate (meaning his actual production is highly efficient), and Defensive Rating
• According to mySynergySports Millsap ranks 1st in the NBA on offensive plays on cuts scoring 1.71 points-per-possession, 1st in offensive rebounds resulting in scores at 1.67 PPP, 12th in the post at 0.99 PP, and 20th overall in scoring at 1.07 PPP
• On defense Millsap defends Spot-up shots most often, 37.6% of the time, giving back only 0.74 PPP ranking him 33rd up from a 2010-11 253rd, and Post-ups 34.0% of the time giving up a mere 0.63 PPP, good for 11th in the NBA up from last year's 159th-place rank. Overall he's giving up only 0.78 PPP good for 104th-best, much improved from his last season's 264th-place rank on defense
While Kevin Love is truly greatly improved defensively this season, a fact noted by the national media, what's flown under the radar here is the fact that Millsap was not good defensively last year, but is living up to his wide-spread rep that he is, this. And magnificently so.
• mySynergySports overall offense - defense ranks: Millsap 20th on O - 104th on D | Gasol 67th on O - 24th on D | Griffin 160th on O - 153rd on D | Love 88th on O - 114th on D | Aldridge 55th on O - 216th on D
We can't ignore head-to-head matchups
Some would say it's foolhardy to base what a player does head-to-head against another when attempting to discern their worth for awards, but I submit that it's something that cannot be ignored, especially on a team like the Jazz whose winning ways have largely been determined by beating opponents in individual matchups, something Millsap has excelled at this season.
Millsap has played head-to-head against four of these players in the last ten days (remember, in the first tilt with the Lakers Bynum was out due to time served courtesy a Finals cheap-shot and Gasol matched up on Jefferson, not Millsap, which actually gives us a nice round four-game sample size to work from in this tangent), with Aldridge yet to come, in a week's time. Aldridge is also the only other player on this list aside from Millsap to have not yet appeared in an All-Star game. Most would say Aldridge was snubbed last season, making him a likely target to make it, this, over Paul.
Those recent four games, in chronological order:
These four players have 16 All-Star appearances between them, including three straight for Gasol, ten straight for Dirk, and all four were in last season's exhibition in the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Again, tough nut to crack. But I'm sayin' there's a chance. Or at least that there should be.
• Outscored this bunch 91-51, or 22.75 PPG to 12.75 PPG, holding them to five made made FGs each and 20-59 from the floor for .339, while making 39-69 FGs for .565. Love leads all PFs in scoring this season at 24.1 PPG, Griffin is 3rd at 21.2, Dirk 7th at 17.5, and Gasol 10th at 16.3. Love and Griffin are also top eight in the entire NBA. Based on season averages they should have outscored Millsap 74.1 to 66.4
• Despite being several inches shorter, out-rebounded 'em 37-35. Love and Griffin are top four in the league overall and lead all PFs at 14.1 and 11.7, with Gasol checking in at 8th among PFs at 9.4 per game. The foursome should have eaten glass over the much smaller Millsap at a rate of 40.6 to 34.8
• Registered a solid 8 assists, good for 2.0 per game, to only 5 total for these, some of the best-passing big men in the game today. Griffin, Gasol, and Nowitzki are 3rd, 7th, and 8th each among PFs in assists this season with Love coming in at 1.8 per game. Season averages says they should have logged 9.4 dimes to Millsap's 8.0. He was also the only player on this list to dish at least one dime every tilt
• Picked pockets 7 times to a big fat goose egg. Millsap leads all PFs at 1.73 steals per, but the oppositional bunch should have netted at least 2 total instead of 0
• Turned it over only 5 times to 11 for the 16-timers, a 1.25 rate for Millsap to 2.75, nearly twice as often coughing up the rock
• Held all four to under 50% from the field and Blake Griffin to less than 50% for only the second time this season to that point. Millsap is 5th overall in NBA FG% making an astonishing 74.2% at the rim adding the double-threat mid-range at a career clip of 50% on the season from 16-23 feet on 3.1 tries a game
• Broke Kevin Love's double-doubles streak, the longest such, at 15 games, to start a season since Moses Malone's 30 years ago. Love had a 94% chance of logging a double-double coming into the game
Millsap has historically struggled with both Gasol and Dirk, but no more. He's figured 'em out. Now it's he who is the offensive threat that stretches defenses, forcing his man to expend precious energy on defense they can ill afford in this shortened season, coming to find him as he roams the floor as a legitimate multi-headed monster from any angle with a mirror of a 'mate on the opposite side willingly waiting to trade shifts at any time he's called upon to.
The Utah Jazz lead the league in efficiency differential in the frontcourt. And it's not even close. They're 3rd in the NBA at +8.7 at the PF position and 2nd at +6.5 at the C position for a combined +15.2 on the season.
"Last night it was Millsap first, early, and often.
The offense has slowly transitioned from Al to an Al/Millsap combo and our team is better for it."
The Jazz have long gone to Jefferson at the beginning of games to try and establish an inside-out presence first and foremost, but the last handful of games Ty Corbin has opted to go to Millsap for the first few scripted possessions, and he's responded well for the most part. The Mavericks opted to double Paul quite a bit when he was the focal point, and his numbers reflect that. But Rick Adelman and Minnesota did not, and again the numbers reflect that as well.
Millsap isn't a player you can handle one-on-one anymore with his work ethic, hustle, and ability to add something new to his game every single year -- last season it was extended shooting range, this it seems to be an all-new way of seeing the court in the passing game.
Snub the man at your own peril. Cause he'll make you pay when and where it really matters.
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