Denver Nuggets 2018-19 season review: Paul Millsap

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@Eric_Spyros

THE NUMBERS

70 games, 12.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, 48.4 field goal percentage

THE SEASON

The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap in the summer of 2017 to provide the starting lineup with veteran experience and versatility on defense. Unfortunately, Millsap suffered a wrist injury that kept him out for more than half the season, preventing him from making his mark on and off the court.

In the 2018-19 campaign, Millsap played 70 games and served as the team’s defensive anchor. The Nuggets jumped from 23rd to 10th in the league defensively, and a key reason was his consistent presence on the court. In fact, when Millsap was on the floor, Denver had a 107.3 defensive rating, which would have ranked eighth in the league over the course of an entire season. When he sat, the defensive rating dropped to 111.9, which would have ranked 22nd in the league.

Millsap’s quick hands and strong frame allow him to guard multiple positions on the floor, while his instincts and awareness can stabilize the team’s defense.

"(Paul) has just been so steady on both ends,” Nuggets center Mason Plumlee said late in the regular season. “He's made plays on defense and it just seems like he's always causing problems. Whether it's deflections, taking charges, rebounding at a high level. He's playing great and has really taken us to a new level.

On the offensive end, Millsap accepted a smaller role as Denver’s young players continued to develop. Although the 12.6 points per game represented Millsap’s lowest scoring average since the 2009-10 season, he filled in as a supporting player by knocking down 3-pointers (36.5 percent) and being a capable option in the post against smaller defenders.

Don’t let Millsap’s traditional statistics fool you, as the 2018-19 campaign was one of his most productive in recent years. Millsap recorded his highest PER since 2015-16, his highest true shooting percentage since 2010-11 the most win shares in a single season since 2016-17.

When the Nuggets needed him most, Millsap stepped up on both ends of the floor in the playoffs, especially in the second round against the Portland Trail Blazers. The four-time All-Star averaged 17.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game on 47 percent shooting from the field and 35.7 percent from three, all while playing over 36 minutes per game.

Millsap caused matchup issues for Portland and continued to be a go-to option throughout the series. Overall, Millsap averaged 14.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game during Denver’s playoff run.

When it comes to the 34-year-old forward, it isn’t only about his impact on the court. Given Denver’s young roster and lack of playoff experience, Millsap was a valuable member of the rotation as the team prepared for and eventually entered the playoffs.

"Paul does it in his own style,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “He's not a guy that's always speaking, he's not a rah-rah guy, but he finds his moments to pull guys to the side one-on-one, he leads by example, and when the time calls for it he will lead with his voice. I think it's really calming and reassuring to such a young group of players."

While Millsap’s fit on the court is seamless with this Nuggets squad, the insight and value he provides off-the-court made him an ideal free agency signing at this stage of the team’s development. Despite falling short of the playoffs in the 2017-18 season, Millsap was a calming presence throughout the 54-win campaign.

"Paul is that glue guy on-and-off the court,” Nuggets guard Jamal Murray said. “He's one of those guys that always has the right thing to say, so guys look forward to hearing him talk."

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