Scouting NBA players is an inexact science. You can observe how a player performs against a certain level of competition, but there are numerous variables that enter the equation regarding his prospects at becoming an effective player at the best basketball league in the world.
The Atlanta Hawks’ Paul Millsap entered the league as an undersized power forward and the 47th overall pick out of Louisiana Tech in 2006. However, he’s developed his craft steadily throughout a 10-year career to become possibly the best all-around big man in the Eastern Conference.
Post players who measure in at 6’7.25″ in shoes (as Millsap did at the pre-draft camp) don’t usually get rave reviews from scouts, and the one-time Bulldog was no exception.
Millsap had a relentless motor in the paint and overpowered his opponents in the Western Athletic Conference. But what about at the NBA level? Defenders are bigger, stronger and more explosive. How exactly was a 6’7″ banger with only a few offensive moves, just decent athleticism and no outside game to speak of going to carve out anything more than an end-of-the-rotation role?
That’s where Paul’s insatiable desire to improve comes in.
We won’t go into all the details behind every change Millsap made, but we will acknowledge the result: he’s dropped a good amount of fat from a 258-pound frame coming into the league, and he’s morphed into a respectable shooter from outside the arc and from the mid-range areas. Want to take away his open jump shots? Sorry, he’s become too comfortable putting the ball on the deck for a drive or turning his back to the basket and calling upon the services of his crafty post game.
Essentially, Millsap went from being an undersized power forward to a ultra-versatile 3/4/5 hybrid, thanks to his combination of quickness, strength and diverse skills.
His coach at Tech, Keith Richard, said this about his constant progression, per Grantland’s Jonathan Abrams: “He goes to college and the first year he was just a layup guy. The second year, we could actually throw it to him in the post. His third year, he started facing the basket [from] 15, 17 feet. Then he goes to the NBA and his game takes another step every year, to the point now that he’s raining down 3s.”
Millsap’s addition to his game this season has been guard-esque ball-handling, and it’s helped the 30-year old put together the best campaign of his career thus far.
In fact, you can safely put his stats against any Eastern Conference big and feel like ‘Sap has the advantage (basic box-score stats are per 100 possessions).
With the help of Basketball-Reference’s handy-dandy Player Season Finder, we can figure out how many guys in NBA history have matched Millsap’s sick per-game stat line of 18.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.6 steals, 2.0 steals and 1.2 blocks (the Player Season Finder only filters four different statistical categories simultaneously, so I’ll do the math on the blocks for you).
Charles Barkley is the only guy who has matched Paul’s numbers, and he only did it once. That’s it.
I mean, the guy is doing stuff like this.
While being keenly aware of where his teammates are at all times.
We haven’t really touched on his defense, but don’t discount Millsap as a versatile defender. He’s exactly the weapon the Hawks need against small-ball lineups. He took on the challenge of defending LeBron James at several points during last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, but he’s also a tough interior stopper thanks to active hands and quick feet.
For those who haven’t watched the Hawks power forward play much, he’s basically Atlanta’s version of the Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green. They both came into the league as undersized second-round posts without an ideal NBA position but have diligently honed their basketball skills so that both can now play several positions at a high level.
Sure, Green is definitely stingier on defense and makes more “wow” passes, but Paul is a much more reliable low-post scorer. Overall, there are still many parallels between their games.
Millsap has made the past two Eastern Conference All-Star teams. Now, his ball skills are better than ever, and he’s wrested away the unofficial title of the Hawks’ best player away from Al Horford and Jeff Teague—if one of the two even had it in the first place.
His Hawks won’t win 60 games again, but Sharpie in the ever-improving Paul Millsap as one of the Eastern Conference All-Stars again this season.