After the departure of Carlos Boozer, the starting power forward spot in Utah was handed to Paul Millsap, who went from starting nine games two years ago to starting 76 games in 2010-11. The new role meant Millsap got about seven more minutes per game. As you might expect, this added playing time allowed Millsap to increase his scoring from 11.6 points per game to 17.3 points per game. However, Millsap didn't just increase his output, he became a lot more efficient, posting a True Shooting Percentage of 57.8 percent, which was better than his 57.3 percent two years ago even though his usage rate increased from 18.7 percent of the Jazz's possessions to 22.6 percent. All of this meant that Millsap was able to see his PER increase from 16.6 to 19.7.
What He Did Well
The jump in Millsap's production has to do with the fact that he has become one of the top post-up players in the league. According to Synergy, Millsap posted up on 14.3 percent of his offensive possessions. During those 182 possessions, Millsap was able to score 195 points, good for 1.071 points per possession, which places him in the 93rd percentile among all NBA players. A year earlier, Millsap's 0.826 PPP in the post placed him in the bottom half of the league. So what changed? Millsap, who likes to turn and face up his opponent in the post, started knocking down face-up jumpers:
The biggest difference that I see between Millsap of two seasons ago and Millsap of last year is that he is much more patient. In previous years, Millsap would make the catch in the post, face up, and then rush a move--either a shot or a dribble drive. As you can see in the video above, Millsap looks under control. He'll face up and stare at his opponent, or jab step, waiting for the right opportunity to get his shot off. Being more patient leads to Millsap making better decisions and making more shots. Once he starts making more shots, he becomes more confident, and as his confidence increases, he continues to play better.
What Needs To Change
Despite improving on the low block, Millsap still isn't playing at the best of his ability and that is because he can still improve in some areas, mainly finishing when cutting to the basket without the basketball. As a player, Millsap has been blessed to play with two above-average point guards in Deron Williams and Devin Harris, who was traded to Utah in February. A player like Millsap, a power forward who is quicker than most of the people he is being defended by, should be feasting off of cuts away from the ball.
The numbers show us that he is trying to, but just not succeeding. According to Synergy, cuts make up 20 percent of Millsap's offense, but he doesn't perform well in this area, scoring just 1.227 PPP. That's more of an average PPP than a good one for cuts, placing him in the bottom 50 percent of all NBA players. Why does Millsap struggle? Because he brings the basketball down:
When Millsap makes the catch, he has a tendency to bring the basketball down and hesitate briefly. In the NBA, that split second is an eternity, especially when you consider that Millsap is undersized for his position. Millsap is using his quickness to cut to the rim and get into space, but when he hesitates, he allows his man to get back and either block or alter the shot. Also, when you bring the basketball down, it breaks your rhythm, and it tends to lead wide-open misses.
What's interesting about Millsap's situation in Utah is that the Jazz seem to be trying to replace him despite the continued improvements in his game. Utah acquired Derrick Favors in the Deron Williams trade with New Jersey, then drafted Enes Kanter in June. Millsap should be the starter going into the season, but there is a good chance he is going to be on a tighter leash. He needs to start finishing his cuts, because if he can do that and continue to have success in the post, he will be able to take yet another step in his development and put the Jazz in a really tough position.
Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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