Utah Jazz: Paul Millsap's play leaves a mark — on his face
SALT LAKE CITY — It's not an official stat. But if the NBA kept track of stitch count, Paul Millsap would certainly be among the league leaders.
He got four above his right eyebrow after getting smacked against Detroit last month.
Another 10 were required above his upper lip after he got elbowed in the kisser last week in Miami.
Some of Millsap's statistics have dipped a bit this post-contract year, such as his staggering amount of double-doubles, his rebounding rampages and assists.
But Millsap's mug is off to one heck of a start when it comes to stitches received.
"Just getting there, trying to fight with those guys down low, I mean, sometimes you take hits like that," Millsap said. "Another day in the office. You get used to it after a while."
He does, at least.
It's almost scary to think how high the 14-stitch stat might be had Carlos Boozer not opted in and commanded some power-forward minutes Millsap would've gotten.
Millsap is not making a fuss about it, of course. He's a toughman's toughman. Punishment comes with the dangerous territory for his all-out style of physical play.
"He's not afraid," Jazz coach/toughman appreciator Jerry Sloan said. "He's not standing on the perimeter ... that makes a big difference. He's going to get banged up. That's why a lot of people like to play the perimeter."
And why some like face masks.
But while he's been taking and giving a pounding in the paint and increasing the amount of medical thread in his face at an impressive rate, Millsap isn't having the jaw-dropping statistical year he did last season when he finished fourth in voting for the NBA's most improved player award.
Sure, he's tallying a respectable 10.4 points and 5.4 rebounds in 25.5 minutes a game, but the numbers are down compared to his career-high averages of 13.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg and 30.1 mpg from 2008-09.
"As long as we win, stats and none of that stuff matter," said Millsap, who isn't exactly satisfied with the Jazz's 17-13 record. "Me personally, I think I could do a little bit better."
He sure set the bar high last year.
During one eye-popping stretch in 2008-09 (no stitches required, thank goodness) Millsap powered his way to 19 consecutive double-digit nights in both scoring and rebounding — a double-double tear the NBA hadn't seen in three years.
The supposedly undersized 6-foot-8 power forward ended with 29 double-doubles, and displayed a fierce domination reminiscent of another Louisiana Tech product (yes, Karl Malone).
It helped him earn a hefty $32 million contract and led to his name being placed on the 2010 All-Star Game ballot.
And this season?
So far, Millsap has a double-double streak that lasted for all of one game — an 11-point, 12-rebound effort vs. Indiana on Dec. 4.
That, in fact, was just one of three times in 30 games that the three-time NCAA rebounding champ has pulled down 10 or more boards.
That's not to suggest he has completely struggled. He's had his moments:
Four blocked shots and 11 rebounds in Saturday's win over the Sixers.
Twenty-point outings against Orlando and San Antonio.
And four games of hitting eight shots in each while only making between 10-12 attempts.
In some areas, Millsap is having his best season. He is averaging 1.1 blocks, and is shooting career-best percentages for field goals (a seventh-best in the NBA 57.1 percent) and free throws (74.0 percent).
And he's a tough defender.
"Paul," Boozer said, "brings it every night. Every day in practice. ... His defensive effort's always there. His rebounding effort's always there.
"He's an impact player for us," he added. "He's a luxury for us to have."
Even so, Millsap's rebounding efficiency has dropped from about one rebound per 3.5 minutes his first three seasons to just one board per 4.7 minutes. He's also averaging one full assist less this season than last.
Sloan doesn't act overly surprised or disappointed, knowing Millsap's role has been strictly as a reserve.
"I think he's worked hard," the coach said, acknowledging that Millsap might be feeling "different kinds of pressure" and wishing he was playing more. "We just feel like he gives us an advantage playing in the position he does right now."
And that, Millsap acknowledges, is being Mr. Oomph — sometimes Mr. Punching Bag — off the bench.
"Right now, the team is struggling," Millsap said. "If I can continue to just get into the game, try to bring as much energy as possible maybe that will help us out."
It's a job he's willing to take even if it's more punishing than prestigious and leads to more stitches than stellar stats.
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