Nine games into the 2012-13 NBA season, there is a situation brewing that could have both short- and long-term ramifications for the Utah Jazz: the play of Paul Millsap.
Utah’s 6-8 starting power forward has made huge strides in his game ever since entering the league as a late second round pick by Utah in the 2006 NBA Draft. He was always a great rebounder, as evidenced by his leading NCAA Division I in rebounding for there straight seasons, the only player ever to do so. But he’s added so many more skills to his toolkit, particularly in the past couple of season, that he figures to be one of the top free agents on the market in the summer of 2013.
While Millsap has stated his preferred destination next season is Utah, his decision not to sign an extension with the Jazz is telling. He perceives his value in the coming market, behind perhaps only Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala and Utah teammate Al Jefferson, and wants to see what the market will bear. His play so far this season is reflecting that perception.
For starters, it’s looking like as Millsap goes, so goes Utah. In four victories the Jazz have posted this season, Millsap is averaging 17.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 steals and a block per game. In Utah’s five losses, some of those averages drop remarkably: 14.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and one steal per game. Only Millsap’s block rate shows an increase in games lost at two per game.
With point guard Mo Williams leading the team in scoring and Al Jefferson leading in rebounds, Millsap may not exactly be the team’s sole most valuable player, but his performing well is obviously key to Utah’s success this season.
Also, particularly last season, Millsap’s play on the road was a major concern. This season, however, he’s playing better on the road than at home. Again, look at the averages. In Utah’s three home games, Millsap is averaging 12.7 points on 46.7 percent shooting from the floor and 66.7 percent from the free throw line. He’s rebounded well in Salt Lake City, pulling down 12.3 boards per game, and he’s also dishing three assists per game. By comparison, Millsap has been incredible on the road, scoring 17.8 in Utah’s six road contests, with 50 percent shooting from te field and 73.1 percent from the line. He’s also hit 8-of-11 3-point shots away from EnergySolutions Arena. His rebounding drops off to 8.3 per game, and his assists to 2.3 per game, but he’s blocked two shots per game on the road against 0,7 at home.
It’s still very early in the regular season. But if Millsap’s numbers continue to hold, particularly on the road, he may be in line for a big raise next summer, perhaps even a maximum offer. Utah may have to choose between Millsap and Jefferson, and one of them may be traded by or before February’s trade deadline in order to avoid losing the player with no return in 2013.
That’ll be a tough call, considering Jefferson is still Utah’s top rebounder overall, and he’s third on the team in scoring average, just a hair behind Mo Williams and Millsap at 15 points per game — a tough call indeed.
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