Suddenly playing without LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, and Kevin Love, USA Basketball desperately needed a viable interior presence capable of stretching the floor. Enter Paul Millsap. 24 hours after saying Team USA had no plans to make any last minute additions to its roster despite a decided lack of frontcourt versatility, managing director Jerry Colangelo invited Millsap to training camp in Las Vegas.
Despite Griffin and Love opting out of international play over the weekend, Colangelo maintained that Team USA had no intentions of bringing in additional help on the interior. Millsap, though, was obviously too seamless a fit in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s system to pass up.
“Paul has prior experience at the National Team level having participated in the 2009 National Team mini-camp and offers us veteran inside player who possesses attributes that can be beneficial for us,” said chairman Jerry Colangelo in a release.
The 29 year-old Millsap enjoyed a breakout campaign in his first turn with the Atlanta Hawks last season, averaging 17.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game and making his All-Star debut. Likely more important to Team USA than basic numbers or mid-season honors, though, was his development as a legitimate long-range threat.
Millsap attempted 2.9 shots per game from beyond the arc in 2013-2014 after failing to average more than .5 three-points an outing in any of his previous seven seasons. Even better is that he connected on a solid 35.8 percent of those tries, firmly establishing himself as an all-important “stretch 4” in the process.
Without the services of Aldridge, Love, and even Griffin, Team USA lacked any semblance of viable floor-spacing in its pool of big men. Kenneth Faried and Andre Drummond have their strengths, but jump-shooting isn’t one of them. The same goes for DeMarcus Cousins. He’s a far better shooter than Faried and Drummond, but his potential international role is one rooted in the paint.
And while Coach K has never been reluctant to use natural wings as nominal power forwards for extended stretches in the past and surely won’t be for the FIBA World Cup, creating as much depth and lineup flexibility as possible is still prudent. Roster locks Kevin Durant and Paul George are more than capable of banging with most international post players, and Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward offer similar versatility.
The addition of Millsap, though, gives Krzyzewski someone that can stretch the floor, grab rebounds, and perform general dirty work like no other player in USA training camp. Aldridge, Love, and Griffin were poised to act as that presence and more, but their absence forced a late, initially unforeseen adjustment by Colangelo and company.
Don’t be surprised when it ultimately pays off and Millsap heads to Spain with Team USA.
Do you think Millsap will make Team USA?
Follow Jack on Twitter at @ArmstrongWinter.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.