Basketball fans can never agree on anything, but anyone that has seen Utah play this year needs to sit back and declare this is probably the most surprising team in the league. 9-4. Second in the Northwest Division, which is only probably the best division in basketball. No. 11 in John Hollinger’s Power Rankings with eight wins in their last 10 games. Last night, when I watched them mercilessly chain the Clippers to a wall and then take batting practice at them, I thought I was watching over-the-top basketball scenes from Above The Rim. Everything was a dunk, a lob, a moment that had Matt Harpring nearly out of his seat yelling about how awesome the Jazz are. It was ugly.
But what we really should’ve taken from that game was how Paul Millsap (20 points) outplayed Blake Griffin in the same way that he went to work against Denver (26 points) by abusing Danilo Gallinari and Al Harrington in the post. He went to work in the same way he did against the Lakers, when he dropped 29 and nearly drove Utah to a surprising overtime win.
I actually had a bet with my man Aron Phillips (C.J. Miles is his boy) right at the beginning of the season that I thought Minnesota would finish with more wins than the Jazz. Looks like I’ll be taking the short end of the stick on this one. The Jazz might be benefitting from a friendly schedule littered with clusters of home games, but they are still one overtime away from riding a nine-game win streak. They also actually beat Philly, which is crazy now considering no one can even give the Sixers a game. And now that they’ve won two in a row at Denver and against the Clippers, it’s time to start taking them seriously as a playoff team.
Millsap has emerged as the team’s best player. His numbers – 15.9 points and 8.4 rebounds – aren’t anything special. But he’s playing only 29 minutes a night, mostly because the Jazz have enough big men to outfit every Warrior team since 2005 with a pivot. Al Jefferson has slightly better numbers at first glance (18 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a night), but he’s played more, taken more shots, missed WAY more shots and hasn’t been the one driving Utah in the past few games.
It was Millsap who consistently killed the Lakers inside with timely buckets. It was Millsap who obliterated the Nuggets’ second-half chances by putting spin move after spin move on them. After a very slow start, in his last four games Millsap is averaging 23.3 points, 9.8 boards, 2.5 steals and done it all on 58 percent from the floor. His PER is up in the sky at 26.55, higher than every other power forward in the league, and including eligible players (Manu Ginobili hasn’t played since breaking his left hand on January 2), Millsap trails only three names: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.
Do I think he’ll do it… actually become an All-Star? There’s probably no harder spot to break through than as a Western Conference power forward. Just check out the names: Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph and Tim Duncan. Jefferson, his own teammate, has the reputation to make it in over Millsap as well. But, we’ve know for awhile that Millsap has always put in work when given the minutes. If he was ever given 36 minutes a night, his career averages would be up around 16 and nine.
Every season, there are underrated players putting in enough work to be recognized, but it takes the perfect blend of situation, stats, winning and a narrative that presents it all. If Millsap keeps playing at this level, he’s All-Star worthy. I doubt anyone will notice though.
Do you think Millsap has a chance to make the All-Star Game?
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