Analysis: How Paul Millsap Helps the Nuggets on the Court

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider

So, what are the Nuggets getting in Paul Millsap?

Let’s start with the raw numbers. Last season, Millsap averaged 18.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists. He shot 44 percent from the field and 31.1 percent from the 3-point line. He had 19 double-doubles. Defensively, he was just under a block per game and averaged 1.3 steals per game.

So how does any of it translate to the Nuggets? It starts with how he’s getting his points. And, last season, Millsap had his highest shooting percentages in four areas – cuts (72.3 percent), transition (56.4), post-up (46.7) and isolation (46.3). Cutting and transition plays mesh seamlessly with what the Nuggets do offensively. Moving without the ball is not a problem for Millsap, and he shoots a high percentage when receiving the ball and getting to the rim.

Millsap’s ability to be a solid post-up player is well-known. His ability to get his own shot, however, is not as well known. Yet, isolation plays accounted for 12.5 percent of all of his possessions last season, according to Synergy stats. Many of them were post-ups in which he turned and faced up on the defender, creating an isolation situation. But on a number of occasions, the Hawks simply cleared out the side and let Millsap work one-on-one.

Millsap shows an above-average handle which he uses to break defenders down and get his shot. He’s got a good crossover dribble, will unleash a spin move, and has the ability to hit the defender with a step-back dribble and nail a jump shot. The Nuggets have a number of players who can get their own shots, and Millsap will fit right into that, which will be especially useful in situations when the shot clock is running down. Although, the always-moving, quick-hitting Nuggets don’t want to get against the shot clock pretty much ever.

And, just like former Nugget Danilo Gallinari, Millsap is a wizard at drawing fouls. He drew 303 of them last season, and took an average of 5.8 free throws per game, just off of Gallo’s 6.1. Millsap made 76.8 percent from the charity stripe, the second-highest percentage of his career.

To get a handle on how well he’d work with Nikola Jokić you’d have to go back to a similar comp – when he played alongside Al Horford, a skilled center who could score inside and out and could collect assists as well, in the 2015-16 season. Together, their offensive rating was 104.7, and their defensive rating was 100.3. But most of all, they never stepped on each other’s toes. Atlanta even had some sets in which they ran ball screen offense off of each other to get into the play. Mostly, Millsap’s presence and ability to be effective on the block freed Horford up to work the perimeter, both from scoring and decision-making standpoints. Jokić’s burden to hit the block a ton would be relieved as well, leaving the Nuggets more opportunities to run offense through him on the elbows and at the top of the key.

Defensively, Millsap does a number of things well that the Nuggets, as a team, didn’t. First, he’s got quick hands. He not only averaged nearly a steal and a half, but he ranks among the NBA’s best in getting deflections, which is an area the Nuggets want to improve next season.

He also ranks high in one subset of the NBA’s newest categories – hustle stats. According to the NBA, he tied for third in contested 3-point attempts per game (4.4), and is in the top 10 in contested threes per 36 minutes and total contested 3-pointers. It simply means he’s more than capable of guarding in space and getting out to stretch four shooters on the perimeter, an area the Nuggets sorely needed to shore up.

Both offensively and defensively, the Nuggets stand to benefit greatly from Millsap’s presence.

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