As Nets Begin To Figure Out Rotation, What’s Up With Millsap?
With so much media attention on the plights of Nets Big 3 members Kyrie Irving and James Harden, I want to talk about.. Paul Millsap.
Of course. For those who’ve read my columns going back several years, I’ve been writing about my wish that Brooklyn General Manager Sean Marks would acquire the power forward. He was such a perfect fit!
Well, now that Millsap is finally here, I guess it’s time to start imploring Head Coach Steve Nash to play him more.
I know, the season is only a week old, so the Nets’ rotation is hardly etched in stone. At 2-2 after earning a split of their home back-to-back with a 104-90 victory over Washington on Monday, Brooklyn now has a smidgeon of data to start evaluating how it wants to play. Hopefully, those plans involve the former Nuggets free agent.
Millsap, 36, signed for the veteran minimum this summer, an indication that he isn’t anywhere near the player he once was in Atlanta, where he earned four consecutive All-Star invitations from 2014-2017. However, I still believe he provides so many valuable traits that teams need in order to win at the highest level.
Unfortunately, Nash must have a lower opinion of Millsap’s capabilities, since he has eclipsed 10 minutes of playing time just once in four games, a 17-minute run in Brooklyn’s thrilling 114-109 victory in Philadelphia last Friday. Some of his runs have been absurdly short, like his 1:03 stint in the middle of the third quarter of the Nets’ 111-95 defeat to Charlotte in Sunday’s front end of the back-to-back. Those always leave me scratching my head wondering, “Wait, what did he do wrong?”
I get that in order to integrate the eight new players on Brooklyn’s 15-man roster, Nash is forced to experiment early in the season. We have seen plenty of odd lineups, including one in the first quarter on Monday I never thought Nash could conjure, where he had three non-shooters (Bruce Brown, James Johnson, and Nicolas Claxton) sharing the floor. The Nets could only get away with that unit (and extend their lead) against a team as defensively inept as the Wizards.
Meanwhile, Millsap was the last in the 11-man rotation to get off the bench on Monday, joining the fray at the start of the second quarter. He played 9 total minutes, posting 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Against Charlotte on Sunday, better stats, but same deal—5 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and a blocked shot—in 8 minutes, as this time Nash’s small-ball adjustment late in the game backfired.
For the life of me, I’m trying to figure this out. It’s not like the Nets are getting killed when Millsap is in on the action—he has a plus-4.8 net rating, per NBA.com (*—small sample size disclaimer on all these stats, but the point stands).
The Nets as a team defend better, rebound better, and move the ball better when Millsap is on the court. He sets hellacious picks—he’s second on the team in screen assists per 36 minutes behind Claxton—and he has excellent hands when it comes to steals (1.8 steals per 36 minutes) and deflections (Denver’s second-most per 36 minutes last season).
He provides toughness, unafraid to stick his nose in battles on the boards or commit hard fouls, and he has a high Basketball IQ. Remember how Jeff Green, who ironically took Millsap’s spot in Denver’s rotation when he departed Brooklyn to sign there as a free agent in the offseason, would call out for “scram switches” last season to get a smaller player out of a defensive mismatch following a switch? The first time I could hear it this season was on Monday, when Millsap screamed to Joe Harris, “Get out!” to disrupt a Washington possession.
What’s not to like? Well, Millsap could be shooting better than 4-for-10 from the floor and 2-for-7 from deep, but he’s not that far below his expected efficiency level. In addition, he’s lost a step (or three) defensively, so he’s not as comfortable in Brooklyn’s switch-everything defensive foundation. Still, he can be a factor on that end with his ability to read plays and rebound. When the Nets take on the Heat on Wednesday, I’d much rather see the Nets match up with Miami’s physicality by stepping up Millsap’s PT than riding guard-heavy lineups that force-feed Jevon Carter..
It's a long season, so there’s a good chance that Millsap will eventually find his way into a more prominent role at some point. I’m really just curious as to why it’s taking this long.