SLAM Top 50: Paul Millsap, No. 38

Perennially underrated Paul Millsap is joining a high-powered Nuggets offense.
by September 13, 2017
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Paul Millsap has been overlooked ever since the Utah Jazz took him 47th in the 2006 Draft. Something else that’s been constant over the past decade? His ability to flat out get it done on the court.

It’s crazy to think that Millsap was drafted late in the second round despite leading Division I in rebounding for three straight years at Louisiana Tech. Scouts thought he was just an athlete with a shaky midrange jumper.

Man, did he prove them wrong. Millsap has become the prime example of a modern power forward. After hitting just two three-pointers in his first four seasons, he’s knocked down a triple per game over the past four. But Millsap isn’t one of those guys who simply develops a shot during one offseason and then, suddenly, everyone calls him a stretch-4. Millsap can also defend multiple positions, handle the ball, and pass.

Creating offense is something that Millsap recently added to his ever-evolving game. The way he catches the ball on the move finds open guys is sometimes Draymond Green-esque, and he drives and dishes to teammates like he’s been doing it his whole life. He averaged at least 3 assists per game each year he played for Atlanta.

He’s lethal off the ball too. Whether it’s slipping pick-and-rolls or dashing hard to the basket when his defender isn’t looking, Millsap finds ways to get open. He also spaces the floor exceptionally well. These small, unnoticed things set him apart.

Defense is another underrated aspect of his game. Despite being slightly undersized, he’s one of the best in the business at providing weak-side help and jumping straight up to contest shots without fouling. He also switches screens to pick up guards on the perimeter and has terrific hands. He’s finished among the top 10 in the League in steals three different times. It’s no surprise he made the All-Defensive 2nd team in 2016, and you wonder why he hasn’t made it more often.

It’s because Millsap is not flashy. He doesn’t make defensive stands by swatting shots out of midair, the same way he doesn’t get his points by dunking on people’s heads. He’s an under-appreciated workhorse. The kind of guy who you don’t even notice is in the game, and then all of a sudden you realize he’s got five boards.

And although Millsap is consistently rock solid, he’s never quite been elite. He puts up point totals in the high teens like clockwork, but he only dropped 30 points seven times for Atlanta. He’s been an All-Star for four straight seasons, but never voted in as a starter. His teams make the playoffs almost every season, but rarely advance further than expected.

This year, though, one of the League’s most well-rounded veterans is headed to Denver to play with Nikola Jokic, possibly the NBA’s most versatile youngster. Millsap’s cutting, screening, and passing alongside another high IQ player like Jokic will be a thing of beauty. Millsap has played alongside star centers his entire career (Al Jefferson, Al Horford, Dwight Howard), but none as skilled or complementary to his game.

From December 15 onwards, after Jokic’s minutes increased, Denver had the best offensive rating in the League, and they’re adding a guy who can score from just about anywhere in the halfcourt. Their promising young core, featuring guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray, will only get better. The Nuggets are going to be unstoppable this season.

And yet Millsap’s signing certainly didn’t draw nearly the attention it deserved during this hectic offseason. Far removed from the days of backing up Carlos Boozer in Utah, Paul Millsap is now one of the NBA’s best big men, and he got paid like one this summer ($90 million over three years). But he’s still just as underrated. Maybe he’ll always be.

Previous Rankings:
2016: No. 29
2015: No. 33
2014: No. 39
2013: Not Ranked

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2017-18—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.

No. 50 – Dion Waiters
No. 49 – Ben Simmons 
No. 48 – Brook Lopez
No. 47 — Harrison Barnes
No. 46 — Jrue Holiday
No. 45 — Lonzo Ball
No. 44 — Myles Turner
No. 43 — Goran Dragic
No. 42 — Andre Drummond
No. 41 — Al Horford
No. 40 — LaMarcus Aldridge
No. 39 — Kevin Love