A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Why I Love Sports: Paul Millsap

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Last night’s performance by Paul Millsap pretty much embodies everything about what makes sports great.  You want a drama where the plucky hard-working underdog comes from behind against all odds  to grab victory by the slimmest of margins?  A great game can tell this story better than the best literature.

46 points in as clutch a performance as you’ll ever see.  Here’s the fantastic rally to tie the game in regulation where Millsap miraculously scores 11 points in 30 seconds with three 3-pointers, which people are now comparing with Tracy McGrady’s 13 point outburst a few years back:

People are debating about degree of difficulty here, and they shouldn’t – what McGrady did was harder, the defense was completely focused on him and he still pulled it off.  The focused on him of course because he was an established superstar – and that’s exactly what makes it so much less captivating.

Millsap came into this league a lightly regarded 2nd round pick from Louisiana Tech (ironically the same college Karl Malone came out of), and had to beat the odds to even have an NBA career.  For his first 4 years, the man worked hard and impressed with every opportunity he was given, but he was limited because the Utah Jazz already had star power forward Carlos Boozer.

This off season, Boozer left to join the Chicago Bulls, and I was initially hopeful that this would become Millsap’s break out year.  I was prepared to champion the guy as a candidate for Most Improved Player (and I’ll mention the irony again of ‘improvement’ in the NBA being more about opportunity than actual improvement), but then the Jazz swindled the often-swindled Minnesota Timberwolves out of Al Jefferson.  At that point, my expectation was that Jerry Sloan simply didn’t see Millsap as star material, and I was disappointed but figured he knew better than me.

Of course, he does know better than me, but clearly his opinion of Millsap isn’t what I feared.  Millsap’s getting his greatest opportunity and he’s killing it.  Lead scorer on his team, with ridiculous efficiency, even before this last game.  Now he’s in the top 3 in the league in both PER and Win Shares, and you have to start thinking about him for the accolades reserved for stars.  This isn’t a guy getting great efficiency off of limited usage and small sample size, this is a guy capable of taking over a game.

Now on the other side of things, The Heat have to be concerned.  The worry from the inception of Miami Thrice was that they didn’t really have a big man, which could be a huge problem on defense.  The Heat have proven to be very effective on defense against most teams, but now both Emeka Okafor and Millsap have torn them up.  Both fundamentally sound big men, and neither really considered a star.  I have no qualms about singing Millsap’s praises because his performance was so amazing it doesn’t matter that issues with Miami’s defense helped it happen, but in the long run the most informative part of this game might have been the realization that the Heat have a huge problem right where we feared they’d have one.  They need to make some adjustments ASAP, and if they can acquire a solid defensive big like Erick Dampier, they need to do it.

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Written by Matt Johnson

November 10, 2010 at 1:19 pm

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