Denver Nuggets’ Paul Millsap has set the tone early for his team

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer

While a regulation NBA game lasts for 48 minutes, no player has been more impactful for the Nuggets during first quarters this season than Paul Millsap.

Millsap finished with 18 points against the Brooklyn Nets, but in what has become a trend in Nuggets’ home games, the 34-year-old forward established himself early with an impressive first quarter.

"Paul is playing like he's 21, not 77," Nikola Jokić said jokingly after the Nuggets’ victory over Brooklyn on Thursday. "He's a beast right now."

Millsap leads the team in scoring during the first quarter when the team plays at Pepsi Center at 7.3 points. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that due to Jerami Grant often being the first substitution off the bench, Millsap averages the fewest first-quarter minutes among Denver’s starters.

Against the Nets, Millsap scored seven points in his six minutes of action in the first quarter, as he showcased his strength and soft touch in the post against the undersized Taurean Prince.

“Paul is playing at a really high level for us,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said following Thursday’s win. “I felt going into tonight, we had to establish Paul early. We knew we were going to have to guard so much small ball. I thought he got us going tonight early.”

Millsap connected on three of his five shot attempts in the first quarter against Brooklyn, which actually lowered his shooting percentage during first quarters of home games. Overall, the four-time All-Star has shot 63 percent from the field in those quarters, including 71.4 percent from beyond the arc and 100 percent of his free throws. Therefore, it’s no surprise Millsap is +10 during those first quarters this season, by far the highest on the team.

“I’m trying to establish myself early and get some energy going,” Millsap said following Thursday’s win. “I’m trying to set a tone early, especially down low. (My mindset is to) just be aggressive.”

While Millsap understands the importance of picking his spots in Denver’s offense throughout the four quarters, he also has a keen sense for when he can spark the team with some early baskets and energy.

“You can feel it,” Millsap said. “I’ve been playing basketball for a long time so I know when the energy isn’t there and I need to step up and get the team going.”

While first quarters on the road haven’t been too kind for the veteran (2.4 points on 33.3 percent shooting), he is still one of the most impactful first-quarter players in the entire league this season when Denver plays at home.

Millsap’s 7.3 points in those quarters ranks 10th in the league, ahead of notable star players such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic. Consider that Millsap’s average minutes in those quarters is the lowest among the top 10, his impact becomes even more evident.

Against the Dallas Mavericks a few weeks ago, it was Millsap’s 3-pointer that set the tone early for Denver, as he knocked down two threes on consecutive possessions.

“I think he’s been more effective on the perimeter,” Malone added. “He’s shooting the three with great confidence, as he worked on that in the offseason.”

However, Millsap’s game is all about variety, as he enjoys stepping inside the arc to post up defenders, often relying on a short step back jumper or attacking the basket after making several jab-steps and pump-fakes.

With the plan being to limit Millsap’s minutes over the course of the regular season, first quarters are where the veteran can get himself involved in the game, set the tone down low early and inject some energy into the starting lineup.

“I don’t think he (Jokić) was even born when I was 21-year-old Paul,” Millsap joked back. “You just want to give the team energy and get our guys going in any way possible. So I’m just trying to give off as much energy as I can whenever I can.”


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