I admit it: I had no idea the Hawks’ Paul Millsap was this good

Here’s Paul Millsap, going to the hoop. (John Amis/AP photo)

Here's Paul Millsap, going to the hoop. (John Amis/AP photo)

Here’s Paul Millsap, going to the hoop. (John Amis/AP photo)

I begin with a confession: I had no idea Paul Millsap was this good. If you’d told me two summers ago that the Atlanta Hawks would be 38-8 and that Millsap would be their MVP — we can argue, but he’s my choice — I wouldn’t have known which part was more laughable.

I thought Millsap, who had seven solid years on some Utah teams that got worse as they went, might be one of those players who puts up nice numbers on middling-or-worse aggregations. (Even bad teams have a leading scorer .) I thought he was a value signing for the Hawks in the summer of 2013. Turns out he was one of the greatest buy since Microsoft.

I watch Millsap now and marvel, and I’ve seen enough basketball not to marvel much. He’ll turn 30 next month, and I feel as if I’ve just discovered something. I watched him for the Hawks last season, and he was impressive then. But now I’m just … amazed.

And also more than a bit abashed. How did I not know this all along? And was he this good all along?

Opinions vary. Lionel Hollins, against whose Brooklyn Nets Millsap scored 28 points (on only nine shots) and took 15 rebounds in the Hawks’ 113-102 victory Wednesday, said the guy “was a great player at Utah.” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, a San Antonio assistant for all seven of Millsap’s Jazz seasons, said: “I really didn’t know Paul could do this much.”

Hawks teammate DeMarre Carroll, who played alongside him in Utah, said Millsap’s emergence is merely a case of “opportunity — the right situation, the right place.” Said Kyle Korver of Millsap: “He’s unbelievable. He just gets better and better.”

In sum, there’s no consensus about what Millsap was. There’s raging consensus about what he is. He has made himself — OK, so Budenholzer and his assistants have helped — into one of the hardest men to guard in the NBA, and he has done this without flying above the rim like Anthony Davis and with there being some question, as Millsap concedes, about his quickness.

There are, however, different strains of quickness. Millsap isn’t Jeff Teague-quick, but he’s swift for a power forward. (He’s 6-foot-8, 253 pounds.) He has a first step that seems to cover 10 feet, and when those 253 pounds are put in motion, the man is a load. He can get from the 3-point arc to the hoop as fast as any power forward in the sport, and therein hangs a tale.

“He’s a small forward,” Teague said, “in a power forward’s body.”

It wasn’t always thus. With the Jazz, Millsap was a post-up guy. “Stretching the floor was tough,” he said. But coming to the Hawks in the same year as Budenholzer’s arrival left the new No. 4 man open to the joys of pace-and-space.

In seven seasons in Utah, Millsap took 113 3-point shots. In 1 1/2 seasons as a Hawk, he has made 123 treys. The Hawks encouraged him to expand his range — remember when a different bunch of Hawks wished Josh Smith would contract his? — and with the new-found ability to face the basket and make a 3-pointer, the NBA became Millsap’s oyster.

“The 3-pointer changed everything,” said Korver, who knows the power of that shot as well as anyone. The threat of Millsap hitting from 25 feet made defenders play him more closely on the perimeter, and a simple pump-fake — it’s now Millsap’s staple move– became his key to the kingdom.

“When you try to close out on him,” Al Horford said, “you’re at his mercy.”

If a defender doesn’t bite on the up-fake, Millsap shoots the trey; if he does, Millsap ducks his shoulder and takes that massive first step and thunders into the lane. Sometimes he passes. (He’s a deft passer.) Sometimes he gets to the hoop. Often he’s fouled.

“He has amazing hands,” Budenholzer said. “You can imagine him as a tight end.”

Millsap himself credits Budenholzer’s offense for much of what he’s doing: “When I do get a guy in the air, our spacing is so good that the lane is open.” But not every power forward could make the jump shot that renders the fake such a lure, and not every big man could get to the basket without charging into someone.

Back to our beginning: I didn’t know the man was capable of such brilliance, and I told him so Wednesday night. And Millsap, a quiet and dignified presence, smiled. He conceded he hadn’t been this good in Utah. “I was an OK player then,” he said.

And  now he’s the best player — again, we can disagree — on the NBA’s second-best team. I didn’t see this coming. I don’t think Paul Millsap did, either. Somehow that makes me feel a tad better.

From myajc: The Hawks couldn’t land a star but built a team instead.

Reader Comments 2

46 comments
RonMexico
RonMexico

I've been reading Mark Bradley for more than 25 years now, and I think this may be my favorite column ever. 

AceDawg
AceDawg

He truly is an All-Star, and as the Hawks' best player, I figure this is about the right time to trade him to a crappy team for a so-called up and comer that is worse than him in order to derail the Hawks' season. (yes, like Dominique Wilkins for Danny Manning the last time the Hawks had a special team.)

AceDawg
AceDawg

Also, it seems a lot of comments are being critical of a reasonable article. Bradley thought Millsap was good but now recognizes him as being even better than he thought. That is a pretty straightforward opinion, and a reasonable one considering that he has indeed blossomed into a better player and is now a central part of a very winning team.

crackbaby
crackbaby

In addition to his physical gifts, offensive skill, rebounding and defense, PM4 has an incredibly calm demeanor.  He is a joy to watch play the game. 

RogerBurke
RogerBurke

I like the hawks but something sounds fishy with every thing going on at start of season

charlestonian77
charlestonian77

i guess white guys CAN jump.  maybe if coaches and fans got over the great black athlete perception  they would find more players just like paul milsap.

goes back to that 'old' saying....... all men are created equal!



charlestonian77
charlestonian77

@HobNailBoot14 @charlestonian77 how embarrassed i am.  you are right.  had i watched my first hawks game in years this week  as i had planned i would have known better... hell had i looked at the photo better i would have noticed as well.  at least he is 'wearing' a white uni.  does that count for anything?

however my point still remains valid.  people  ( in this case milsap ) are often put in a box of expectations that  more often than not are self limiting. i had to deal with that scenario myself growing up.

i am happy that paul was able to break out of the box of limiting expectations and happy for the hawks. 


slydawg
slydawg

@charlestonian77 I hate to burst your bubble, but it's not just a perception. In general, keyword is "in general", people of melanated descent are, again, in general, possess more athletic ability. If this were not the case, given the rascist history of this country, would not the predominately white owners prefer to make white athletes millionaires? It's simple, they went where the overall "talent" was better and more entertaining. The perception that is false is that all white folks are not as athletic as other races or that all black folks can jump high and play a sport like a thoroughbred.Face it bro, some things you have to live with.

mike8472
mike8472

I think there is no question as to the value of Danny Ferry. The Hawks are now (finally) regularly mentioned on ESPN. I admit, this was a surprise and a pleasant one at that.


This team from coaches to players has been put together by Dan and he deserves a pardon for doing nothing more than reading an email from someone else.


If we want to win championships, he seems to know what it takes to do it and how to do it without superstars. In essence, he's building the San Antonio Spurs of the Eastern Conference.


I don't know if we have all the pieces together to win it all in this one season, especially against the powerful Western Conference teams but if not then Danny and Coach Budenholzer are absolutely neccessary to get us the final pieces and we need them both.


GO HAWKS!

Dman
Dman

Danny Ferry is a genius GM...

AceDawg
AceDawg

@Dman Ferry in fact does seem to have done well. His role in the race stuff seems to have been a case of using bad judgment with his scouts. As a long time NBA player and now employee, there is plenty of evidence of him not being racist in any fashion himself at all. I think the players and people who know him well realize that, and the team was able to move on and not worry about that stuff much at all

.

DarlaLewis
DarlaLewis

I see a guy who has build his confidence and his range along with his knowledge of the game. Paul Milsap is a load...

seminoleking
seminoleking

good column mark. i saw paul makes some BIG time moves last night against the nets........

the doc is back
the doc is back

@Cory Schmidt you guys should. kk too was close. was amazed they gave up on those three when you throw in dmc. that is the guy you should all be saying huh? how did we miss that one. he had it all over him and seems the only guy working in his last game with you guys which if you won you get in the tournament. playas!

Savdon
Savdon

Ok. I'm in.  1994 (When I swore them off.) seems so long ago.

El-Bey
El-Bey

Millsap made the All-Star team last season......so why the shock??

SportsTopFan
SportsTopFan

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17  ........ and counting  !!!


The Atlanta  Hawks are flying  H I G H . 

GeorgeJetsen
GeorgeJetsen

Hawks are impressing everyone and making Bruce Levenson look like an even bigger idiot.  While he stands to profit from the team's current success, Levenson's theories about why white people don't attend Hawks games was completely wrong.  Just look around Phillips today and you'll see it filled with people of all races.  What this idiot couldn't see is that black and white fans alike just want a solid team with some level of chance to win it all.  We have this now and will hopefully have two more reasons to celebrate later in the year- Hawks winning it all and getting a new owner.

bfred
bfred

@GeorgeJetsen Well said.  How can an owner know who his target customer is if he doesn't understand his own product?

GloryBetweenTheHedges
GloryBetweenTheHedges

@GeorgeJetsen I could not have said that better myself. As I was watching the Nets game I noticed the same thing with how many white and black people were in the stands. If you put a good product out there people will come.

CowbellHell
CowbellHell

If you bothered to watch the team last year Mark you would have seen he was our best player...maybe if you covered the home town team better you wouldn't be so suprised.

CouchPotato
CouchPotato

Can the Hawks bring back Danny Ferry now?  He would be the one that brought in Millsap, no?  He is the one that basically put this team together.  The man knows what he is doing.  Give him some diversity training and bring him back!

hardworkinman
hardworkinman

It's just further proof that Danny Ferry is the smartest basketball mind the Hawks have ever seen. This guy knows how to build a roster and he can see talent that others can't.

slydawg
slydawg

"Who knew Paul Milsap was this good?"


    Anyone who knows anything about basketball could have told you that. Yet we glorify ballhogs, malcontents, and bad coaching strategies who continue to shoehorn the ball to one or two players on a team. Alas, while Milsap has always been an exceptional ball player, but he cannot put a team on his back and carry them. Coach Bud's system is perfect for exceptional, but not superior, ball players like Milsap, Teague, and Horford.


      The true test is going to be in the playoffs versus the Cavaliers, who have woken from their slumber. At this point, no other team will be able to knock the Hawks out of the top 3 spots. Lebron or Kyrie can carry a team in a 7 game series. It will take a combination of our big 3 to counter that; they simply do not possess the talent to do that. But that's ok. Hopefully Coach Bud and the Hawks have learned from last year's playoff series how to counter dominate players and neutralize finishers, like Paul George, Derrick Rose, John Wall, Demar Derozen, etc. I think you all get where I'm coming from.

rockinreel
rockinreel

@slydawg Hey know it all, even Millsap himself conceded he wasn't this good in Utah.  However, you knew more than the man himself.

slydawg
slydawg

@rockinreel @slydawg Guess what idiot? The more and longer you do something, the better you get. Milsap has always had the ability to be a very good all around player who was not pigeon holed into being a pure scorrer or defender. This is one of the reasons most fans like you moaned and groaned when the Hawks signed him, calling him an average player. Problem was, he wasn't exceptional at anything but very good at everything. If you knew anything about the NBA, Mr. Wisdom Checker, 90% of the players in the NBA have to be exceptional at one thing in order to make the roster. Kyle Korver would not be on any NBA roster if he wasn't a lights out shooter. Likewise, Milsap would be coming off the bench on most teams in the NBA  except the Spurs, Hawks, and Golden State because of their style of play.

floydke
floydke

If the Hawks are the second best team in the league, who would you take right now in a best of 7 to beat them?  Great job players, Coach Bud, and Mr. Ferry!!! Never thought I would see the Hawks play at this level.

smells like bananas
smells like bananas

He was always really good . When he signed with us everyone that knows the NBA were stunned that the Hawks got him for 9.5 million a year . Really surprising that the Jazz were so mediocre with him and Al Jefferson who are both getting their props now . 

JeffinRaleigh
JeffinRaleigh

Terrific column, Mark. Millsap's performance last evening comes on the same night Kyrie dropped 55 (on 36 shots!).  Sign me up for Millsap and his 28 points (on just nine shots) and 15 rebounds any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Tremendous team player.

the doc is back
the doc is back

mislap saying:  “I was an OK player then,”


interpreted to mean, i could kick some tail back then but i had a tight leash on me playing the way they wanted me.


man is coachable. will be sorry to see him go.


same folks saying, wtf you doing danny letting josh go and paying this scrub 9 mil for 2 yrs? same will criticize danny for not imploring a longer contract.


yes more than some folks. some folks eating a lot of crow. so much so, market price is going up.

CowbellHell
CowbellHell

@-sting- why would he go sting? We have no max contracts on this team so I don't see why we can't keep him and Demarre next year...just pay em!

the doc is back
the doc is back

i thought mislap could be real good, as good as josh on his best days only consistent and among best on his great days. i thought we were getting a more than ample replacement at 66 cents on the dollar that allowed us a few other pieces. awesome find by the good gm danny and great individual to plug in and be coached by bud. bonus? paul is a greater leader by example than he is a player. key.


danny assembled what i call ballers. bud gave em vitamins. plays em, coaches em continuously, gives em confidence.



CowbellHell
CowbellHell

@-sting- He's far better than Josh Smith sting, please...Josh Smith should never be mentioned on this blog, he is the antithesis of what this team is about

the doc is back
the doc is back

@CowbellHell @-sting- people cried otherwise. i didn't but some did, many did. misreading my intent.


price of crow at the market goes higher and higher for all the misconceptions people voiced loudly when danny came in and did the necessary house keeping that mike geraon and rick sund did to the team by over paying. people got their feelings hurt. josh lovers especially. wish josh well. 


wishin and hoping we get to watch paul a while longer. depends on who owns the team and whether the sale is done.

Dasdguy
Dasdguy

Hawks are so methodical as they go about their business. Its amazing. Go Hawks !!!

DarrynLee
DarrynLee

The difference between here and the Jazz. There, they didn't want him to shoot the three, even though he could make it then in practice, according to Korver and Darron Williams. Here, they saw him making it in practice and encouraged him to shoot them in games.The Jazz was holding him back, the Hawks let him flourish. 

Charlestondog
Charlestondog

Let's give credit to the people who have turned this Franchise around.  Danny Ferry and the Hawks coach.  For once, we have a coach who knows basketball and knows how to get the most out of his players.  They are unselfish and want to win. 

Raysept
Raysept

Everyone thought the team could not survive losing Josh Smith, and that we were getting an ok player in Milsap, but nowhere near Josh Smith in talent.Now you definitely would not take Smith for Milsap.What a free agent steal he and Carroll have been.Remember, most thought Carroll could not  score and was a defensive player only.

nyctraffic
nyctraffic

We need to stop calling the Hawks the second-best team.  Their record is basically identical to Golden State's, who lost last night while we just won our 17th straight.  Let's see who is the best team when the Warriors come to town next week, MB.

HBLWWClyde
HBLWWClyde

We are dominating the league right now.

DJlaysitup
DJlaysitup

Millsap was a guy many of us wanted - three time rebounding champ - you knew he had good hands to do that at 6-8.

Trackbacks

  1. […] have taken a roster of good players and turned them into something better. As mentioned last night, I had no idea Paul Millsap was this good when the Hawks signed him away from Utah in July 2013, and now he’s a two-time All-Star. When […]

  2. […] isn’t Jeff Teague-quick, but he’s swift for a power forward,” writes Mark Bradley for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He has a first step that seems to cover 10 feet, and when […]