Hawks observers had multiple opportunities to scout Paul Millsap prior to his arrival in Atlanta as a free agent in 2013. This included 25 points, 13 rebounds, and four assists in the infamous four overtime game in March of 2012 (Joe Johnson had a clinical 37). It also included January of 2013, when Millsap dropped by Atlanta and dropped 20, 13 and five. Millsap’s reported departure to the Denver Nuggets (per The Vertical’s Shams Charania) on a three year, $90 million deal is another example of how fast change can happen in the NBA.
Having seen him with the Utah Jazz, nothing Millsap brought to Atlanta was a surprise (except perhaps two years of around 35 percent three-point shooting). The Hawks knew they were getting a crafty player who could score inside and out, could create his own shot and would work tirelessly on the boards and defense. The Jazz being a high-level professional organization, Millsap’s leadership wasn’t a surprise. He was also tireless in front of a microphone, always going the extra mile for writers to get them what they needed.
Since those two good seasons from deep were followed by two at around 32 percent, Millsap hasn’t been in career-best form as a three-point shooter. The Nuggets did very well to get him at a number of years the organization was comfortable with since Millsap’s game should age well, as skill-intensive as it is. Who knows? Millsap could have career years in Denver. He’s a solid bet to be an exceptional player for all three seasons.
As renowned a worker as Millsap is, Nikola Jokic’s decision to forgo EuroBasket with Serbia reverberated among observers. In Jokic, Millsap has found a kindred professional who is also dead serious about the business of the NBA. Serbia is top flight among national teams outside of the US and Jokic is the centerpiece of that team. Such a decision was not taken lightly.
Meanwhile, rookie Hawks GM Travis Schlenk may have told the AJC’s Chris Vivlamore that he doesn’t like the word “rebuild,” but the impact of losing a veteran of the gravitas of Paul Millsap is not to be understated. Graham Chapple, then of ESPN TrueHoop but now with Peachtree Hoops, reported that the Hawks were raising season ticket package prices, ostensibly to help pay for extensive renovations to Philips Arena. There was some thought that the Hawks were thus obligated to put a competitive team on the floor. The silver lining is that the Hawks could be positioned to retool without bottoming out.
Millsap’s new chapter shows that the NBA never hits pause. Basketball Insiders previously explored how a defection to the Western Conference for Millsap would be yet another blow to the diminished East. Schlenk, coach Mike Budenholzer and the rest of Atlanta’s ownership and staff may look back and say it was the right decision not to go harder at Millsap. But Schlenk must now be acutely aware of the level of second-guessing his position invites. The NBA doesn’t wait for anyone to catch up.
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