Paul Millsap: "I Can Still Get Better"

Mike Zarrilli/NBAE/Getty Images

Story by KL Chouinard
Twitter: @KLChouinard

A few minutes after scoring the final basket of the Hawks' 142-139 quadruple-overtime win over the New York Knicks, Paul Millsap sat down for a studio TV interview via satellite.

"It's good to get out there and get a nice sweat," Millsap said. "An hour's worth of basketball ain't bad."

It was a textbook Millsap line: a quip of understated sarcasm delivered in a manner so unflinching that you don't even notice it at first. As he usually does in such moments, Millsap took a big thing, processed it and cut it down to size. But don't let Millsap's words fool you. The TV interview took place because of another textbook Millsap line:

61 minutes, 37 points, 19 rebounds, 7 assists and the game-clinching bucket.

Make no mistake about it: Millsap was the cornerstone of the Hawks this season. He led the team in points per game (18.1) while finishing second in rebounds (7.7), assists (3.7), steals (1.3) and blocks (0.9). He also represented the Hawks in February's NBA All-Star Game, his fourth consecutive appearance.

And Millsap battled. When he got a gash on his shooting elbow, he got stitches and put a sleeve over it before returning to the game. When he got smacked in the face – something that happened often – he kept going undeterred even though it meant playing through multiple black eyes. He missed time in the preseason and late in the regular season due to knee injuries. The team was 40-29 in the games he played and 3-10 when he couldn't. 

Even though Millsap set career highs in points and assists per game, he believes there is room for improvement. 

"I can still get better," he said. "I don't care what anybody else says about age or years or whatever. I always feel I can get better. I feel like I made major strides at getting better this year from last year, and I'm looking at taking another big step forward next year."

Count Head Coach Mike Budenholzer among those who want to have Millsap around next season to see his progress up close.

“Without a doubt what is best for us is to keep Paul," Budenholzer said. "We’ve got to do everything we can to make that happen. I think that is our intention. Free agency is not an easy thing for the player or for the organization. There are a lot of things that go into it. We're incredibly optimistic and incredibly committed to Paul.”

Do-It-All Paul only got better in the playoffs. In six games against the Wizards, Millsap averaged 24.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. He made some incredible moments, like the shot he hit a nanosecond before he fell flat on the floor. Playoff memories aside, the ending to the season wasn't what he had hoped, even though he remains positive for the future. 

"I'm proud of this group and what we accomplished this year," Millsap said. "I still think we can win with this group. I thought that these playoffs have been cut short. I thought we could have (gone) a lot further."