Over the last few seasons, Atlanta has been a team defined by teamwork and unselfishness. Four Hawks made the All-Star team last year. However, none of them were superstars by any means, and the Hawks never really had a “go to” guy. Jeff Teague seemed to be the guy to take the last shot in most situations, but Al Horford, Paul Millsap and even Kyle Korver were given opportunities to take the last shot. Nobody really shined in the moment, so Coach Budenholzer seemed to go with whoever had the hot hand. This was depicted on the biggest stage in game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, when Atlanta chose Dennis Schröder, a 21-year old backup point guard, to take their final shot with the game on the line. Schröder missed, but luckily Al Horford was there to clean up the board and end the game in style. It is not always easy to find a guy to rely on at the end of the game or when the team is really struggling to find a basket, but the Hawks have found their guy this year in Paul Millsap.
There are a lot of cases where a player signs a big contract and fails to live up to their price tag’s expectation. Take a look at the last Hawk who signed for around $20 million a year, Joe Johnson (though I am not going to chalk that up as his fault). The Hawks should have never given him that kind of money in the first place. Unlike Joe Johnson, Paul Millsap has been everything the Hawks hoped for in the first year of his 3-year/$58 million dollar deal that he signed this offseason.
Millsap was an All-Star in his first two seasons with the Hawks, averaging just over 17 points and 8 rebounds a game over the those seasons. At 30, the Hawks were likely not looking for him to improve on those numbers, but it is clear Paul Millsap has found another gear this season. Through the first 18 games, Millsap is averaging 18.8 rebounds, 9.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. Millsap ranks 17th in the whole NBA in PER and 5th among power forwards, ahead of names like Kevin Love, LaMarcus Alridge, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki an Draymon Green.
Millsap has always been an underrated commodity in the NBA. He was a very solid player in Utah before signing with the Hawks, and likely deserved a lot more money than the $9.5 million annually the Hawks gave him over two years. He is not a flashy player. His jump shot looks a bit slow and awkward, and you can probably say the same thing about his dribbling. He is also a bit undersized to be playing in the low post, and that is probably what led him to being a second round pick even though he led the NCAA in reboudning for three seasons. However, no matter how it looks, there is no questioning how effective it is. Millsap is a workhouse, and that is something that cannot be taught. He has constantly been overlooked by NBA teams, and the Hawks could not me more thankful that he landed in their hands.
He has been all over the floor for Atlanta and has earned the nickname “The Anchor Man” from the Hawks TV commentators Bob Rathbun and Dominique Wilkins. Anytime Atlanta has needed a basket to stop a run throughout the course of the game, Millsap seems to be the guy to get it. If the Hawks are lacking energy, count on Millsap to come up with a key offensive rebound or a hustle play to get Atlanta going. He has clearly become one of the leaders of this basketball team on and off the court, and Hawks fans should get used to Paul Millsap taking the big shots because he has become the best player on this basketball team.