Denver Nuggets Friday Film Study: Paul Millsap’s offensive skill set
Throughout Paul Millsap’s tenure with the Denver Nuggets, it’s no secret that his raw offensive numbers have decreased with each passing season. During the 2017-18 season, Millsap averaged 14.6 points and 2.8 assists per game. This past season, those numbers dropped to 12.6 and 2.0 per game, respectively. Not only did Millsap’s playing time decrease in the 2018-19 campaign (27.1 minutes per game, the lowest in his career since 2007-08), but he only attempted 9.5 shots per game as Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokić continued their emergence in the Nuggets’ offense.
However, while the numbers don’t jump off the page, Millsap continues to be an effective offensive player in spots. While it can be argued Millsap is the fifth offensive option in Denver’s starting lineup, he is more than capable of contributing with or without the ball. The advanced metrics paint a holistic picture of Millsap’s contributions on the offensive end. Millsap’s true shooting percentage (57 percent) was his highest since the 2010-11 season, while his offensive win shares (3.2) and offensive box plus-minus (+0.5) were both higher than his first season in Denver.
Furthermore, Millsap still had a profound impact on Denver’s offense in the 2018-19 season. When the 34-year-old was on the floor, the Nuggets’ offense improved by 5.8 points per 100 possessions, which ranked in the 90th percentile.
In this week’s film study, we’ll take a look at how Millsap can continue to contribute to Denver’s offense in the 2019-20 season.
Although Millsap doesn’t post-up as often, he is still able to thrive in the post, especially against mismatches. Last season, Millsap had a post-up frequency of 18.7 percent and averaged 1.01 points per possession, which placed him in the 72nd percentile. Again, a Millsap post-up isn’t the ideal outcome for the Nuggets’ offense, but in a pinch it can be a backup plan to get a bucket.
In the playoffs, Denver showcased Millsap more in one-on-one matchups, especially in the conference semifinals against the Portland Trail Blazers, who lacked a credible threat to guard Millsap in the post. Throughout the 2019 playoffs, Millsap’s post-up frequency increased to 20.9 percent and he shot 52 percent in those situations, which placed him in the 93rd percentile.
While typically considered undersized for the power forward position at 6’8”, Millsap has the combination of strength and shooting touch to score in a variety of ways from the post. Against the Dallas Mavericks in March, Millsap scored a season-high 33 points by attacking the basket and scoring in the post.
Millsap has a capable fadeaway jumper and several post moves in his arsenal to keep defenders guessing. If Denver’s offense stalls in a key moment, head coach Michael Malone knows that Millsap provides a safety valve through his post play.
To his credit, Millsap has become a more consistent 3-point shooter as his career has developed. With that being said, 3-point shooting will continue to be more important in each passing season. For Malone and the Nuggets’ offense, it is certainly exciting that Millsap connected on 36.5 percent of his 3-pointers last season, which was essentially a career-high (he did shoot 39.1 percent in the 2010-11 season, but on just 23 total attempts).
Last season, Millsap attempted 2.3 threes per game. A key way the four-time All-Star can continue to help the offense moving forward is through increased floor spacing and 3-point shooting. This shouldn’t be too difficult as Millsap is able to get quality shot attempts in Denver’s offense as a result of the attention that Murray and Jokić command.
Although he shares a frontcourt with two of the best passing centers in the league in Jokić and Mason Plumlee, Millsap is no slouch when it comes to finding teammates for scoring opportunities. Millsap can make all the passes that drive Denver’s offense, from finding cutters around the rim to passing out to open shooters. Throughout his career, and especially in his first two seasons in Denver, Millsap has found cutting guards out of the post or from the top of the key, as he showed in the clip below.
Millsap is also very adept at finding open shooters and delivering on-time and accurate passes. Throughout the season, Millsap showcased his ability to pass to a shooter from the post or after he had begun a drive towards the rim.
The pass above has a high level of difficulty, but Millsap isn’t afraid to take risks with some of his passes. Like the shooting touch he possesses from the post area, Millsap has an impressive variety of passes that he can make depending on the situation. In the video below, Millsap delivers an incredibly accurate pass to the opposite corner around multiple defenders while he is driving towards the rim. The veteran big man then follows it up with a more routine cross-court pass to Malik Beasley for the open 3-pointer.
Millsap has the court awareness, vision and touch to make the key passes in Denver’s offense, and when paired with Jokić or Plumlee, the Nuggets can create the best playmaking frontcourt in the league.
The final, main component that Millsap brings to the table on the offensive end is his tenacious effort on the offensive glass. Even in his 13th season, Millsap’s offensive rebounding continued to be a force opponents had to deal with on a nightly basis. Millsap averaged 2.2 offensive rebounds per game last season and had an 8.7 percent offensive rebound percentage, which marked his highest rate since the 2012-13 campaign.
When Millsap was on the floor during the 2018-19 season, Denver’s offensive rebound percentage increased by 3.6 percent, which ranked in the 89th percentile. That continued a trend that has developed throughout Millsap’s career. Millsap has had a positive impact on his team’s offensive rebound percentage in the majority of his 13 seasons. While Millsap played as an undersized power forward earlier in his career, as the league has continued to emphasize floor-spacing and defensive versatility, Millsap’s size doesn’t prevent him from being effective on the boards.
Ultimately, with the addition of Jerami Grant during the offseason, Millsap will be less relied upon to play heavy minutes or shoulder a physical style of play. However, given the veteran’s existing skill set and growing perimeter game, he will still be a positive player on the offensive end, which will only further aid Denver’s quest for a championship, especially given the impressive level of defense that Millsap continues to play at this stage of his career.