Utah Jazz: Power forward Paul Millsap's play gaining notice

Published: Sunday, Jan. 29 2012 11:48 p.m. MST

Utah's Paul Millsap reacts after making a 3-point-shot sending the game into a second overtime as the Utah Jazz are defeated by the Toronto Raptors 111-106 in double overtime in NBA basketball Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Paul Millsap recently said something that wasn't true.

He wasn't trying to lie.

The statement the Utah Jazz power forward made — one that showed humility and a desire to get better — simply didn't accurately portray reality or facts.

That is more evident than ever a week after these words came out of Millsap's mouth when the sixth-year player was asked if he's playing his best basketball:

"I don't really look back," he said. "I'm only as good as my last game, that's how I see it. I just try to continue to get better."

No one will dispute him on the not looking back part.

Nor will his commitment to improve be challenged.

It's the only-as-good-as-my-last-game part that doesn't accurately describe Millsap. Not after a game — Saturday's 96-93 win over Sacramento — in which he only scored six points and shot 2-for-10 from the field.

This season, especially in the past three weeks, Millsap has played so superbly on offense nights like that jump off the page. His 14-rebound effort, of course, shouldn't be downplayed, either.

Fact of the matter is, single-digit games have become more rare for the 26-year-old than double-digit quarters — like the 13-point third in Dallas on Friday and his most memorable 16-point flurry in the fourth during the win two weeks ago at Denver.

People across the league — across the continent even — are noticing.

"He's a great player. He's got all the moves and he can shoot the ball," Toronto big man Andrea Bargnani said of Millsap last week. "Every time, it's great fun to play against him. It's a great challenge."

ESPN writer Chris Palmer has jumped aboard the Millsap bandwagon, which is getting fuller by the stellar showing.

"Paul Millsap is by far the NBA's most underrated player," Palmer wrote on Twitter. "Not even close."

Palmer didn't stop there. He also showed where he stands in the ongoing debate about whether or not Millsap deserves to be included on the All-Star team with this fascinating fact:

"Paul Millsap has a higher PER than 21 of last year's 24 All-Stars. Your move, Western Conference coaches."

PER is an acronym for the player efficiency rating system concocted by ESPN basketball expert/stat guru John Hollinger to measure per-minute productivity.

Superstars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant top the list, while Millsap has climbed up to No. 4 — ahead of Kevin Love (5), Dwight Howard (6), Al Jefferson (24) and far above Carlos Boozer (35).

Millsap's opponent tonight, Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge — a guy who might squeeze him out of an All-Star invitation from coaches — is 13th in the PER standings.

That's how good of a season the unheralded and undersized Millsap is having. Overall, the 6-foot-8 forward is averaging 17.0 points and 9.1 rebounds, and he's shooting a fourth-best .533 from the field to boot.

In the past 10 games, including Saturday's off night, Millsap has averaged 21.1 points and 9.6 rebounds.

Millsap hasn't cracked the top 10 contenders for an All-Star starting spot from fans' votes, but at least he was included on the ballot this year unlike previous seasons.

And remember when some people were clamoring for him to not start?

"I guarantee no team's overlooking him," Jazz guard Earl Watson said. "That's the ultimate respect when your peers actually (respect) what you do. ... I'm sure every coach, every player, they know when they play him they have to be ready because they know he can dominate a game."

From inside.

From outside.

From in-between-side.

"Offensively, we can go to him at times," Corbin said. "He's just continued to work to expand his game on both ends of the floor."

Whether they wanted to admit it or not, Millsap's improved defense hampered big-ticket guys like Blake Griffin and Kevin Love in recent games.

"He's a tremendous all-around player," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "He's a great team guy. He does a great job of handling his responsibilities. Defensively, he gets up in the guy. ... He takes something away from guys on the defensive end."

Corbin explained that Millsap is quick enough to defend the perimeter and strong enough to get back down and bang around in the post.

The doubt and dissing of Millsap's skills only fuels his fire as it's done since the three-time NCAA rebounding leader was given a chance to prove himself after being picked in the second round by the Jazz in 2006.

"He's always proven a lot of people wrong. His skill level's so high and he's always had an edge," Watson said. "Whether people see him coming or not, he definitely comes in with an unbelievable focus and an ability to do some incredible things throughout the flow of the game, especially in crunch time."

What Corbin loves most about Millsap is his lunch-pail attitude — the mentality that he has to get back to work because, well, he's only as good as his last game.

"He's not a huge talker, but when you throw the ball up and then blow the whistle, he's ready to go to work," Corbin said. "He just go out and do his work, spend his extra time on his shot."

If other people overlook Millsap, so be it.

The rate he's going, they certainly won't be able to for much longer.

Added Corbin: "He'll continue to work to make people believe in him."

Email: jody@desnews.com. Twitter: DJJazzyJody

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