Thursday, March 26, 2009

. . . Of Mice and Millsap

Okay, this is beginning to bug me. No, that's not entirely accurate -- this has been bugging me to no end this season. Let's make something perfectly clear, I think that Paul Millsap is a hard working, leave it on the floor type of guy who is one of the best back-up power forwards in the league. He's clearly not a starter, and he's clearly not an All-Star or Superstar. As a result, his pecking order of importance remains low. Sure, he would start for a number of teams in the league right now, but he doesn't play for a number of teams in the league right now, he plays for the Utah Jazz. Paul is a good player, but he is a limited player. I have no delusion of him being in the same breath as people like KG, Duncan or Dirk.

That said, he plays hard, really hard. (He has to because he's "undersized", or at least that's what the genius draft scouts thought of him) He boxes his man out, and he crashes the glass. He hustles on defense and has good hands. He has expanded his offensive game to include post up moves and face up moves. He makes really hard cuts to the basket, moving with such quickness and momentum that no guy his size (save for LeBron) is capable of. And on this team with such pass happy line-ups like Deron Williams (10.5 apg), Andrei Kirilenko (2.8 apg) and Ronnie Brewer (2.2 apg) he often gets rewarded with the ball in scoring position.

That's where things kind of break down though.

Utah Jazz forward Paul Millsap (24) sits on the floor, at the EnergySolutions Arena Saturday, November 29, 2008   Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune 
 He gets rewarded with the ball, and he's a great finisher around the basket, 60.7% according to his HotSpot, but with his extended playing time this season (and expanded role) he has not been given a requisite expanded respect from the refs. I'm not asking for him to get to the line at the same rate as Karl Malone, but I am asking for him to be getting to the line when he's obviously fouled. He's not in the layup missing business (that's Matt Harpring), but over the last few games I've seen him drive a number of times a game, get hacked, miss layups, and be put on his ass in the process. It's pretty hard to put a guy his size on his ass -- and he's not in the flopping business either (Jarron Collins, Andrei Kirilenko, Matt Harpring and Mehmet Okur all flop on the Jazz but not 'Sap), so that's not why he's missing shots and being put to the floor. It's because he's being fouled.


Even Jerry Sloan in his advanced age still gets fired up enough about it to yell at the refs -- even though he's mellowed out quite a bit this season.


This didn't just happen by itself Millsap is getting beat up this season with his playing style and he's not getting to the line as much as he should be. He shoots 4.3 Free Throws per game. That's 5th on the team, even though his role this season and play suggests that it should be higher than that. By the way, here's a list of guys who get to the Free Throw Line more often than Paul does this season, ask yourself if these guys play harder than Millsap when you go over each name: Ramon Sessions, Hakim Warrick, Marvin Williams, Lou Williams, Emeka Okafor, John Salmons, Eric Gordon (a rookie on a crappy team), Russell Westbrook (another rookie on a crappy team) . . . I could go on, but I'm not going to. Jumpshooters and rookie guards on bad teams get to the FT line more than a 3rd year vet who started most of the season, and plays inside and shoots the ball almost exclusively inside. Okafor isn't that great on offense, but he gets to the line more -- and don't even get me started on Warrick either . . . dude flat out is inferior to Paul Millsap in so many ways.

I'm not just complaining about all the times that Millsap is hacked and misses the layup though, he misses out on so many 'And-One' plays during the course of the season as well. Young guys like Wilson Chandler and Brook Lopez get more And-Ones, as do shrimpy guards like T.J. Ford. Even weak wristed guys like Kevin Martin, who has never gone into the paint in his life, have more And-Ones than Millsap does -- though we've all seen 'Sap get fouled on shots he somehow makes. The lunacy of all of this is bordering on the Chewbacca Defense level of insanity:

Chewbacca Defense - Click here for another funny movie.

Seriously, if Paul Millsap -- a power forward who shoots 60+ fg% from inside goes inside, and misses more than 40% of the time, and there is no foul called, that does not make sense.

Nor am I asking for special rules for Millsap . . . he's not someone like Wilt, Shaq or Yao who needs a new standard of rules to judge him, he's a normal sized NBA guy who plays inside and makes shots at a high rate -- some of his misses happen to be missed calls. (Often with the baseline ref standing right there) His name recognition / pecking order probably hurts him here, but I'd like to see fouls being called fouls more than superstars being able to do what they want with impunity. (or even non-stars . . . Brevin Knight has a solid veteran reputation, but a lot of times when he gets on the ball steals he is fouling the hell out of the guy he is defending . . . so yeah, I know when Jazz players foul as well)

Perhaps it's not just a Millsap thing though, Chris Paul gets to the line 2 more times per game than Deron Williams . . . even though Deron is a more physical guard who takes as much contact on drives as the slight Paul does. (I guess because Deron has the physique of a professional athlete, and not that of an 18 year old co-ed, he doesn't get the calls) Maybe it's a Utah thing then? Probably, but not in the way that we Jazz fans (ever the victim) think -- maybe the refs just accept that the Jazz play a brand of basketball that relies on getting fouled, but they are not allowed to call such a crazy number of fouls every Jazz game (for fear of it looking unequal to the league averages) that they just end up swallowing their whistle on some Jazz offensive attempts.

That may very well be the case, but it does not absolve all the neglected fouling that's going on when Millsap tries to score inside against higher regarded players. It's almost like Leon's character from Above the Rim (Thomas Sheppard) who keeps getting beaten and bloodied up during an important game, yet no fouls are called. It's almost like 'Sap has to get shot at in order to get to the free throw line.

Danger: there's a lot of swearing in the video above.

Anyway, getting to the free throw line is half the battle though, as last nights game showed.