Friday, April 9, 2010


Despite playing without Anrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, Matt Harping, Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams for an extended period of time so far this year, the Utah Jazz are 17-13 and only 1.5 games behind the Denver Nuggets for first place in the Western Conference's Northwest Division. A significant factor to the Jazz's success has been the development of power forward Paul Millsap.

Millsap is an undersized power forward, who fell to the seventeenth pick in the second round in 2006. The Jazz were hoping that Millsap would continue to dominate the glass once he arrived in the NBA, as he did during three seasons at Louisiana Tech. Millsap led the nation in total rebounds per game and offensive rebounds per game in each season he played college basketball. However, Millsap has shown an ability to do much more than just rebound.

Millsap has been able to overcome his height disadvantage by using his wide body effectively and having unusual quickness for one with his great strength. The next important piece for him to develop will be an effective mid-range shot, which will allow him to stretch the defense. A main concern has been his propensity to foul, which has been an obstacle for Jazz coach Jerry Sloan in giving Millsap more playing time.

Rank Player Name Team Fouls Per Game Minutes Per Game PAR Per Game
1 Paul Millsap Uta 3.9 31.8 25.8
2 Andrew Bogut Mil 3.9 31.5 24
3 Danny Granger Ind 3.9 36.3 32.8
4 Andris Biedrins GS 3.8 32 28.5
5 Nene Hilario Den 3.6 33 23.1

At the beginning of the season, many still believed that Millsap is simply a glorified energy player. However, in Boozer's absence, Millsap has shown he is much more than just that. Since Boozer went out with an injured knee on November 19, Millsap has filled the starting power forward spot admirably:

Points/Game: 17.5
Rebounds/Game: 10.7
Assists/Game: 2.2
Blocks/Game: 1.2
FG Percentage: 58.5%

In fact, Millsap has joined the top echelon of power forwards this season, who average 15 or more points per game, 1 blocked shot per game, and 8 rebounds per game.

Rank Player Name Team Reb BS Pts
1t Al Jefferson Min 10.1 1.9 22.4
1t Amar'e Stoudemire Pho 8.9 1.1 22.4
3 Dwight Howard Orl 13.9 3.7 20.3
4 Tim Duncan SA 10.4 1.8 20.3
5 Yao Ming Hou 9.6 1.8 20.1
6 Kevin Garnett Bos 8.9 1.4 16.4
7 Paul Millsap Uta 9.0 1.3 15.0

The Jazz power forward has recorded a double-double in each of his last 15 games, including a league-leading 11 in the month of December. He also leads the Jazz in total points, rebounds and blocks on the season. Millsap is one of only six players in the NBA currently leading his team in all three categories. Only six players in the Western Conference have more than thirty blocks and thirty steals on the season. Both Millsap and teammate Andrei Kirilenko are apart of this group.

At the end of the season, Boozer will likely opt out of his current contract allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent. Millsap will also be an unrestricted free agent as his contract expires at year end. Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor will have a difficult decision whether to lock up both players long-term or to allow one of them to leave as a free agent. By the way Millsap has played this season, it will certainly be a critical choice for the Jazz franchise.


The Los Angeles Lakers took care of business on their home court Friday evening, closing out the San Antonio Spurs in game five of the Western Conference finals. Kobe Bryant led the Lakers averaging 29.2 points per game during the series and he shot 53.3% from the field. To me, however, the bottom line in the series was Manu Ginobili’s inability to get it going.

A combination of a sore ankle and terrific Lakers defense led to Ginobili’s struggles. Ginobili is a game-changing wing player, who relies on running, cutting and leaping to be effective. Swelling and chronic arthritis in the ankle has bothered Ginobili since late June, but he was able to work through it and play well at time. However, the Lakers defensive schemes against the Spurs guard cannot be understated. The Lakers emphasized forcing Ginobilli to the right and crowding his penetrations. They forced him to expend a great deal of energy on the defensive side of the ball by posting him up and forcing him to defend bigger players.

Coach Phil Jackson and the Lakers decided to use several different players to defend Ginobilli one-on-one in an effort to make sure he did not get too comfortable playing against one specific defender. Both Kobe Bryant and Sasha Vujacic took turns guarding Ginobilli throughout the series. In the five game series, Vujacic played 25.5 minutes per game, up from his regular season average of 17.8 minutes per game. Vujacic was able to use his quickness and size to shadow Ginobilli all over the court. Bryant, a 2007-08 NBA All-Defensive First Team member, had similar success slowing down Ginobilli's effectiveness for the Spurs.

In the four Spurs losses, Ginobilli really struggled mightily. He was only able to get to the free throw line sixteen times in the entire series. Additionally, Ginobilli was unable to create opportunities for the Spurs by getting into passing lanes and creating steals. During the regular season, Ginobili ranked seventeenth in the NBA in steals with 1.5 per game. In the entire series, Ginobilli had one steal, which occurred in game one. Here is a look at Ginobilli’s offensive production in the Spurs four losses:

Game # FG% FT Made Assists Points +/-
1 23% 2 3 10 -22
2 25% 3 2 7 -12
4 25% 2 1 7 +4
5 33% 2 7 9 +1

Game three was the one big night for Ginobilli. He showed no trace of his lingering ankle injury and single-handedly carried the Spurs offense when the game was still in the balance. Coach Popovich changed his teams’ offensive game plan to limit screen-and-rolls in favor of spreading the floor. By keeping the floor spread, the Spurs were able to create open spaces for Ginobilli and Parker to drive into. The spread of the offense also was beneficial because it did not allow the Lakers to double-team.

Ginobilli’s numbers in game three were stunningly opposite from the rest of the series. A direct relationship with his performance occurred in relation to the Spurs success against the Lakers. In game three, Ginobilli played well and the Spurs were able to win, 103-84.

Game # FG% FT Made Assists Points +/-
3 60% 7 1 30 +17

With Kurt Thomas, Robert Horry, Michael Finley and Damon Stoudamire all entering into free agency, it is likely that the Spurs will have changes to their roster. Youth on the perimeter, a reliable backup point guard and another big body inside will be atop of the Spurs needs. However, their top priority to me will be for a healthy and effective Ginobilli all the way through the playoffs. Without that third scorer next to Parker and Tim Duncan, the Spurs do not have enough to reach the NBA Finals.