Two of A Kind
A closer look at Utah’s two-headed monster up front: Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson.
by Brendan Bowers / @StepienRules
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap could compete with any post-playing teammates from any number of eras. Neither were All-Stars this year, but it’s hard to find another center-power forward duo in the League more effective around the rim than these two guys.
For the season, Jefferson and Millsap are averaging a combined 34.3 points, 18.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. They’ve fit together perfectly in and around the painted area in the process, and in less than two seasons they already look like they’ve spent the last decade playing together.
Which has all led to making the opportunity to play alongside Millsap not only productive, but also fun for Jefferson since he arrived in Utah.
“Paul’s just the type of player that does so many different things,” Al Jefferson told SLAMonline. “Playing off him just opens everything up for me. He’s more of an outside mid-range guy, and I’m in the paint, but then I play outside a little bit, and he ducks in I hit him, I duck in he hits me.
“So we’re just getting to the point where we’re starting to play real well off each other. He just brings so many different things to the game, and it’s fun playing with him,” Jefferson said.
And when it comes to the topic of playing alongside Big Al, Millsap echoes his teammate’s statements.
“Al helps me out because he draws a lot of attention,” Millsap added. “And when my guy goes to double, I’m wide open under the basket, so he hits me, and I can get some easy buckets that way.
“When we got things clicking, we’re one of the best tandems in the League. But we gotta be consistent with it, and continue to get other guys involved. We don’t want to hold the ball so much that it’s just us two making plays. When we get everybody involved that’s when we’re at our best.”
It’s something head coach Tyrone Corbin understands well, and is trying to help his Jazz team capitalize on in the second half.
“What those two guys do is create so much attention on the post,” Corbin told SLAMonline about Jefferson and Millsap. “They make things easier for the perimeter guys on the weak side because Al, especially, is going to draw a double team. He’s doing a great job when the guys cut off making the right pass, and Paul can cut off him on the other side.
“They’re both good one-on-one, doesn’t matter if you put them on the post, they can get to the basket one-on-one there, and can step out at 17-feet and hit a jump shot too. So those two guys, most nights, as they go we go. If they struggle, then we have a tough time.”
The Jazz had been struggling some as a team lately, dropping six of their last 10, but they’re still only three games behind the eighth-place Houston Rockets for that final Playoff spot out West. They just won a road game this week too, something they’d only done three times prior this season, and Jefferson’s hoping his group can build on this latest win heading into their game at Charlotte tonight.
“We need to take this last game as a lesson, and prove that when we go out to play the way we’re supposed to play we’ll find ourselves winning games at the end,” Jefferson said. “We gotta build off this last win, and keep going.”
Which means that Jefferson, who added a career high 7 assists in Monday’s win over the Cavaliers in Cleveland, and Millsap especially need to keep doing what they’ve been doing all year.
“Al and I know we can open everything up for everybody else,” Millsap added. “If we come out and get a few touches down there, get a couple layups, we draw help, and we can kick it out to the open guy and get some other guys going. So it’s really imperative that we set the tone down low.”
One of those guys who got involved on Monday was Gordon Hayward, as he matched a season high with 23 points on 8-11 shooting. Hayward credited the spacing and shot opportunities created by his two teammates upfront for the success, and knows everything starts there for the team going forward.
“Any time that they’re rolling, they can cause double teams, sometimes triple teams, and that opens it up for everyone else,” Hayward said. “Then when we knock down some shots from the perimeter, it makes everything better. Then the defense can’t help as much, things start rolling, and everything starts clicking for us.”
For those two guys to get rolling individually, Jefferson went onto say that’s it’s actually Millsap he tries to feed off to do specifically that for himself.
“Believe it or not I try feed off Paul,” Jefferson said. “If Paul is struggling, then I know that’s when I have to step up. Sometimes we both step up, sometimes it’d be him, like the Dallas game he stepped up when I was struggling a little bit. On nights when we’re both playing well though, that’s just double the power.
“I played with Kendrick Perkins when he was young, Kevin Love when he was a rookie, but me and Paul are both in our prime at the same time right now. We just both do our job together. So this is only a year and half together, but we’ve learned to play with each other real well already.”
As far as where this Jazz team could end up if they’re able to rattle off a few more road wins this week, and mount a charge toward the postseason?
“Sky’s the limit for us if we continue to play well and we continue to get the young guys coming in playing off the bench,” Jefferson added. “The sky’s the limit for us.”
If this Jazz team is able to end up sneaking into the postseason, they’d be a pretty tough cover for just about anybody in a half-court type game. They have some considerable work to do as a team to get there though, but they certainly have a couple guys up front in Jefferson and Millsap who can carry that load.