Plenty Of Questions Surround Paul Millsap

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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Preseason Promise And Questions For Utah

We’ve all heard it over and over: The preseason doesn’t mean anything. But is that really true? With the 2012-13 NBA regular season set to start, is there anything that we’ve learned about the Utah Jazz from their preseason performance? I think there’s plenty.

For starters, the offseason move the Jazz made to acquire Mo Williams, Marvin Williams and Randy Foye will pay dividends.

With Mo Williams at the point, Utah was consistently able to push the ball up the floor quickly, allowing for more easy transition baskets. Also, his 3-point shooting should give the Jazz a potent option on offense in the halfcourt that they just didn’t have last season.

Marvin Williams gives Utah plenty of athleticism on the wing, and he’ll have the opportunity to do things with Utah he never had with Atlanta.

Foye’s shooting came on later in preseason, and Jazz coach Ty Corbin was able to use Foye and sophomore guard Alec Burks in a combo-guard backcourt in reserve that showed some interesting results and could prove quite handy while reserve point guard Earl Watson continues his rehab.

Also, the work Enes Kanter put in during the summer was for real. My concern with Kanter ever since he was drafted was whether or not he was worth a No. 3 overall pick over Toronto rookie center Jonas Valanciunas, and Kanter’s rookie season didn’t fill me with confidence. I also thought Kanter should’ve join Turkey’s national team for Eurobasket qualifying. But the workouts he did to get in shape for the season and the skills he picked up working with NBA legend Kiki Vandeweghe really showed during preseason. He averaged nearly a double-double in Utah’s eight preseason games, playing hard in all of them, and showed improvements in defense, rebounding and offense, particularly with his mid-range jumper. Now my biggest worry about Kanter is whether or not Corbin will play him 20 minutes per game in the regular season like he did in preseason.

Fellow big man Derrick Favors had a slower start to preseason than Kanter did, but he defended well throughout, and by the last few games of exhibition, his offense looked more ready for the start of the season as well. Again, with veterans Al Jefferson, Utah’s best and most consistent player last season, and Paul Millsap both looking to take a major share of minutes in the frontcourt, playing time for Favors may also be a challenge.

While the start of the regular season brings promise, it also brings questions. With regards to Jefferson and Millsap, both will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. With their contracts, among others, coming off the books, the Jazz will be looking at a lot of salary cap space next summer. But Jefferson and Millsap will also be among the top free agents available on the market, and Utah may not be able to retain both players.

A trade during the season for either player is a real possibility in order to ensure getting value in return, and it’s a situation that will bear watching between now and February.

Also, Utah is going to need to get more from third-year swingman Gordon Hayward this season. Hayward has shown incredible potential, and his defense is particularly underrated. But just as it was with C.J. Miles, now with the Cleveland Cavaliers, consistency will be Hayward’s challenge. He has the ability, but he needs to be assertive with his role on the court, and performing well consistently, particularly on offense, will help him define that role with this team.

On Wednesday, when Utah opens the regular season agains the Dallas Mavericks, we’ll see what carries over from preseason and what questions start to get answered — and what new questions might emerge.

Jazz Players Come With Big Expectations

It’s been awhile since the Utah Jazz have made a move this offseason, so it’s a good time to look at some of the big moves the team has made to date.

In addition to re-signing some of its own free agents, namely guard Jamall Tinsley, swingman DeMarre Carroll and forward Jeremy Evans, the team has acquired through trading and free agency point guard Mo Williams, swingman Marvin Williams and guard Randy Foye.

For Mo Williams, it’s a sort of homecoming, as he returns to the team that gave him his start during the 2003-04 NBA season. While it remains to be seen if he can do a better job than Utah’s previous starting point guard, Devin Harris, who went to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Marvin Williams, statistically he does look like a pit of an upgrade.

Comparing career stats, Mo Williams is slightly better with his overall 3-point shooting percentage (38.7 percent to Harris’ 31.5 percent), free throw shooting (86.9 percent to Harris’ 80.1 percent) and rebounding (3.0 boards per game to Harris’ 2.4 boards), while the two are dead even in overall shooting percentage (44.1 percent) and assists (5 per game). But Williams is coming off an L.A. Clippers team where he played a reserve role behind Chris Paul and alongside Chauncey Billups last season, although he did very well as a starter for the Clips and the Cleveland Cavaiers in 2010-11.

His chance to be the prime floor general for an NBA franchise will be highly scrutinized, but the veteran point man ought to do very well for Utah this season.

Turning to Marvin Williams, there’s a lot for Jazz fans to be happy about in his coming to Utah. Statistically, he’s a big upgrade over Carroll at the starting small forward position, with career averages of 11.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists and nearly a steal per game. Those are numbers the Jazz wold love to get out of that position, at least as a starting point.

Marvin Williams’ big challenge in taking over as Utah’s starting 3 will be in giving the team the kind of hustle and gritty play that Carroll did as a starter — and will likely continue to give off the bench. While his numbers are decent, Marvin Williams has suffered under the reputation of an underachiever with Atlanta. He’ll get plenty of opportunities in Utah to develop a new rep, but it’ll be up to him to make it happen.

In Randy Foye, the Jazz are getting a solid backup player to boost their bench, particularly with reserve point guard Earl Watson working to recover from knee surgery. Foye considers himself a shooting guard, but he can be a serviceable combo guard who Utah head coach Ty Corbin can interchange between backcourt positions as needed.

Foye likely won’t cut into starting off-guard Gordon Hayward’s minutes, but the short-term loser in the rotation may be Jazz reserve guard Alec Burks. Foye’s career numbers are better than the upcoming sophomore’s, and if the Jazz are focusing more on winning now than developing young talent, Burks may have to wait a bit to see if Foye sinks, swims, or plays more as a reserve point guard.

The new acquisitions may or may not be the last moves the Jazz make this offseason. But Utah’s Vice President Kevin O’Connor and new General Manager Dennis Lindsey have many more decisions ahead of them. Chief among those are the expiring contracts of big men Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. Millsap reportedly turned down an extension offer from the Jazz, which means he will be testing the market as an unrestricted free agent next season. The Jazz would have a lot of cap room next season with both contracts off the books, but after Dwight Howard, who will likely re-sign with his new team, the L.A. Lakers, Jefferson and Millsap will be among the top free agents of the summer of 2013.

The Jazz would have more money to try to lure one or both of them back, or they could trade them this season — maybe even this offseason — to be sure they get some value out of the players’ departures.