After missing the eighth-seed in the 2017 NBA Playoffs by one game, the Denver Nuggets put the league on notice. The young core that the organization had been building finally found their potential superstar in second-year center Nikola Jokic.
Along with young studs guards Garry Harris, Jamal Murray, and forward Juan Hernangomez, it was Jokic who put everything together and gave the Nuggets their first center-piece since trading Carmelo Anthony in 2011. The team was still missing something though, it needed an established star who can put gasoline on the fire that was building in the Mile High City. A veteran who had been around the block, an All-Star with invaluable experience and someone who fit into the mold of tough defense, versatility, and team basketball.
Enter Paul Millsap.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 3, 2017
The Nuggets were able to snag the 32-year-old forward after four straight All-Star seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, including this past season in which he averaged 18.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists per-game. For years Millsap flew under the radar for the Utah Jazz and while he received more recognition while playing in Atlanta his career has gone unnoticed. Take a look below at his similarity scores compared to past and current players.
Millsap’s career Win Shares comes to 79.4, the ten players with similar scores through 11 seasons are as follows:
- P.J. Brown – 94.4
- Sam Perkins – 93.1
- Carmelo Anthony – 92.8
- A.C. Green – 91.8
- Terry Cummings – 90.3
- Bob Dandridge – 90.3
- Jamaal Wilkes – 90.1
- Rasheed Wallace – 89.3
- David West – 89.1
- Buck Williams – 88.8
As you can see from the list players like Sam Perkins, A.C. Green, and Rasheed Wallace are some of the best role players we have seen on championship winning teams. This is what Millsap brings to the table, he is a match-up nightmare at the power forward position. He’s too big and strong for wings trying to fit into a stretch-four role, and far too skilled and agile for bigger forward/center combo players. He is what can be called lineup proof, he can stay in the game whether the opposing teams goes into small-ball or with a traditional lineup.
The Next Great Center?
The 2014 NBA Draft was supposed to be one for the ages. Andrew Wiggins was a YouTube sensation, Jabari Parker was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, and Joel Embiid was donned the next Hakeem Olajuwon. At the 41st overall pick, the Denver Nuggets selected the fourth center of the draft in Nikola Jokic, a 20-year-old kid from Serbia. The assumption was that he would be a draft-and-stash player, or a guy who could potentially develop into a decent role player for a few years, not the international franchise building block, that crown was supposed to be given to Australia’s Dante Exum.
The draftee didn’t even come straight to the NBA after being selected, he spent one more year playing for Partizan Belgrade in Serbia. While playing for one of the best teams in one of the best leagues outside of the US, Jokic won the Adriatic League regular season MVP and was also named the ABA League Top Prospect for the 2014–15 season. The hype had to be building for this future Nugget, right? Nope, not one bit. Especially after an underwhelming NBA Summer League in which he averaged only 8.0 points and 6.2 rebounds in five games, it seemed he was just another guy.
All of that changed once the regular season started, in only his 12th career game Jokic exploded for 23 points and 13 rebounds against the San Antonio Spurs, and he never looked back. Jokic would go on to finish third in the Rookie of the Year voting and make the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
During the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, ‘The Joker’ played with the Serbian National Team along with new Los Angeles Clippers point guard Milos Teodosic, leading the team to a silver medal before losing the final game to the United States. During those games it became amazing to watch the soft touch and ridiculously high basketball IQ of the Serb. His team would simply put Jokic in the high post and cut around the basket while Jokic picked opposing teams apart like a finely skilled surgeon.
This would lead to the breakout campaign.
Head coach Mike Malone obviously noticed this, and the ever expanding offensive game of Jokic would be deployed on the league. After flipping between starting and coming off the bench early in the season he finally ran the offense through his 6-foot-10 prodigy. It started with scoring, baby hooks over each shoulder, drives to the basket and then eventually three-pointers falling every night. The rebounding went from average to dominant in some games, evidence to the 9.8 this season, but that wasn’t the skill that started to blow up the internet, not the 40-point game against the Knicks. It was the passing, something we hadn’t seen from a center since the days of Vlade Divac, which is highlighted below by HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy.
This highlight reel of Nikola Jokic passes is amazing. https://t.co/cxqELcNDVQ
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) January 27, 2017
Still aren’t sold on Jokic yet? Well Andy Bailey of Bleacher Report dives into comparing Jokic’s numbers against some of the greatest centers we’ve ever seen grace the hardwood. The chart clearly shows that Jokic has been historic in his first two seasons and has the potential to be a perennial All-Star.
Nikola Jokic’s first two NBA seasons, compared to the first two seasons of Kareem, Shaq, Hakeem, The Admiral and Walton… pic.twitter.com/cZZ7wLY2nQ
— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) July 20, 2017
Millsap fits in perfect with Jokic
Three out of the four years that Paul Millsap made the All-Star team was spent playing alongside now-Boston Celtics center Al Horford. Millsap’s skill-set of being able to put the ball on the deck opens up passing lanes which he’s always excelled at kicking to open shooters. Horford is a great passer in his own right, a strength that he’s possessed since coming into the league in 2008, the way that Millsap and Horford were able to feed off each other they led a Hawks team to the top seed in the Eastern Conference in 2015 with 60 wins.
The reason that Millsap could flourish in Denver like in Atlanta is because Jokic and Horford have similar games. Like really, really similar, noted below it’s obvious that the numbers across the board suggest an identical game. Well almost identical, it’s just that Jokic is better.
With Millsap entering the end of his career along with veteran Wilson Chandler, who is expected to start at the other forward position, it not only gives Denver one of the better frontcourts in the NBA, but one that fits together perfectly. Chandler has always been a solid wing in this league and his play last year made forward Danilo Gallinari expendable, which opened the salary for Millsap.
What made Chandler fit in so well is his ability to move without the basketball. While Harris was the first one to have a connection on the cuts down the lane it was Chandler who hopped on board. He went as far to say that playing with Jokic makes you want to cut and move without the ball as he’ll get you an easy bucket.
— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) April 27, 2017
It’s more than believable that Millsap was the perfect fit for this team. Not only is he an outstanding offensive weapon, but Malone demands defense which is a strength of Millsap making the 2015-2016 All-Defense Second Team. His ability to switch and stay on the floor for all lineups makes him a rarity in today’s modern power forward.
Denver will have high expectations
The Nuggets haven’t made the playoffs since 2012, and this could be the year that drought ends. Yes, they still are in the Western Conference, and while players moved around the Nuggets got one of the better ones. The Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, and Oklahoma City Thunder are almost in a league of their own, a few playoff teams from last year took big roster hits. The Jazz lost Gordon Hayward, the Clippers lost Chris Paul. Along with the Portland Trail Blazers, who bring back the same roster the team that squeezed Denver out of the playoffs their roster hasn’t improved as such, the Nuggets’ has.
If things click in Denver like they could and should, it’s very possible to see the Nuggets in the middle of the playoff seeding. If and when that happens it’s safe to say that Paul Millsap has found the perfect place for his abilities, and Nikola Jokic found the perfect side-kick.