The Atlanta Hawks surprisingly tallied 60 wins last season to surge to the top of the NBA’s Eastern Conference, but few people even blinked an eye.
Not as many fans in Atlanta either knew or cared about the team’s success as you might think. The Hawks ranked 20th in attendance percentage in 2014-15, filling to just 93 percent of capacity at home despite finishing with the second-best record in the entire league.
It’s too bad, because even though the Hawks have struggled to carry last season’s success into the 2015-16 campaign — they were ninth in the East with a 15-12 record as of Thursday — one player has taken his game to new heights.
That player is Paul Millsap, who’s turning in a career year and not receiving the recognition he deserves.
Millsap joined the Hawks before the 2013-14 season and has been a valuable player, but he’s now playing a primary role for the first time. He’s leading the team with 19.1 points, 9 rebounds and 1.8 steals over 33.8 minutes per game. All of those averages, including his 3.4 assists per game, would be career highs.
His PER (player efficiency rating) of 23.61 ranks 14th in the league and also is higher than notable stars such as DeMarcus Cousins, Chris Paul, Kevin Love, Damian Lillard, John Wall and Jimmy Butler.
Failing to receive his due is nothing new for Millsap. He led the NCAA in rebounding and was a pretty good low-post scorer at Louisiana Tech but still fell to the second round of the 2008 NBA Draft. The Utah Jazz finally selected him 47th overall, and he played a key role on three Jazz playoff teams. Utah hasn’t been to the postseason since he left in 2013.
The key to Millsap becoming a better player in Atlanta is the skills he’s added to his game since arriving.
Instead of being primarily a predictable low-post player on offense, Millsap can step back and shoot the mid-range jumper or take opponents off the dribble with his improved quickness.His ability to beat his man to the basket is aided by his shooting range extending to the 3-point line, where he hit on 35 percent of his shots in each of the last two seasons.
He’s more of a complete player and capable of exploiting matchups against just about any type of player.
Millsap’s recent dunk over premier shot blocker Hassan Whiteside was a good example of how his game has evolved. He didn’t have this kind of burst and athleticism as a rookie.
Millsap doesn’t crave the spotlight and isn’t the type of player to make bold or controversial remarks in the media. He just quietly does his job at a high level, and that’s good enough for the Hawks, a franchise laying a strong foundation for consistent success.
Thumbnail photo via Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) drives to the basket against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Powered by WordPress.com VIP