On Sunday evening in New Orleans, Atlanta Hawks power forward Paul Millsap will make his long overdue All-Star debut. For a number of years in Utah, Millsap had been putting up numbers worthy of All-Star consideration, but in an incredibly tough Western Conference, he had no choice but to wait for his opportunity. Now out East, and back down in his native South with Atlanta, the timing is right though. Finally selected as an All-Star reserve, the 29-year-old has been given a rare opportunity, as he will make his debut in the league’s showcase game on home soil, as this year’s game takes place in Millsap’s home state of Louisiana.
Millsap achieved a rare feat by the standards set by recent Hawks players. Not only has it been tough for some of Atlanta’s players to get the recognition they deserved over the years, but even those who managed to break through generally didn’t do so by consensus. Yet in the run up to the team’s selection in recent weeks, you’d have been hard pushed to find a columnist nationwide that didn’t give Millsap the nod. Generally, the reason touted for the former Louisiana Tech man’s selection has alluded to the incredible job Millsap has done carrying the Hawks offensive load in the absence of Al Horford.
Although that statement is true, and Millsap undoubtedly deserves credit for that, it oversimplifies his importance and contribution for the season so far. While guys like Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan and Joe Johnson get selected almost purely on the back of their offensive abilities, Millsap does it all. In an age where offense is still king, Millsap is becoming one of the best two-way players in the NBA. That sort of title is normally reserved for the likes of LeBron James and Paul George, but the man known as Trillsap in Atlanta is doing more than just keeping pace with them.
Millsap has been a pest for opposing offenses all season, and is tracking to have a career year defensively. For a man of his size, he has proven time and again to have some of the quickest, most active hands in the NBA. This makes its no surprise to look and find Millsap near the top of the rankings when it comes to steals across the entire league. He currently ranks eighth overall with 1.9 steals a night, making him the second-highest ranked true forward, only trailing Thaddeus Young. It’s not just steals either. Averaging 1.2 blocks a game, Millsap finds himself just outside the top 30 in that category too.
To take a look at that earlier comparison with James and George as two-way players, it’s hardly a competition on the defensive end of the floor. Millsap’s 1.9 steals per game, just edges out George at 1.8 and comfortably beats LeBron at 1.4. Looking at blocks, all three men are of a similar stature with Millsap and James both 6’8″, and George only an inch bigger, yet the Hawks forward is by far the most productive. Millsap blocks 1.2 shots a night, as opposed to James and George, who only have 0.3 and 0.2, respectively.
On the offensive end is where the disparity between Millsap and that duo kicks in, but he is still having an excellent year on that end of the floor. Averaging 17.7 points a game, he is tracking for a career-high scoring average. The same also applies in the assist category as Millsap is averaging three assists per game, a 0.4 increase on his previous high. The eight-year veteran has also expanded his range by adding solid 3-point shooting to his arsenal. Fifty-four percent of Millsap’s made 3-pointers for his career have come this season, meaning he now presents an even more dynamic threat offensively.
So, as one of the best all around performers in the NBA, Millsap heads back home to Louisiana to represent the Hawks and the East. Having improved both his defense and offense this year, I’m betting it wont be his last All-Star appearance either.