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2019-20 Season Grades: Paul Millsap

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NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Millsap 2019-20 season stats:

Per Game Table
Season Age Tm Lg Pos G GS MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% eFG% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
2019-20 34 DEN NBA PF 44 41 24.4 4.3 8.8 .486 1.1 2.5 .440 3.2 6.3 .504 .548 2.4 2.9 .833 2.0 3.9 5.9 1.6 0.9 0.6 1.4 2.9 12.0
Career NBA 989 702 29.1 5.3 10.7 .491 0.5 1.4 .343 4.8 9.3 .513 .513 3.0 4.1 .737 2.2 5.1 7.3 2.3 1.3 1.0 1.8 3.1 14.0
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/28/2020.

Season Breakdown:

It was a very standard season for Millsap with a couple of notable exceptions. With the Nuggets bringing in Jerami Grant to effectively split minutes at power forward, Millsap averaged the third lowest minutes per game of his career. His 24.4 minutes per game were the lowest in his three seasons with the Nuggets and ranked 51st out of 56 qualified starting forwards in the NBA.

That didn’t stop Millsap from being highly productive in his minutes, highlighted by his efficient perimeter shooting. Millsap made 44% of his three-pointers this year, a major improvement over the 36.5% he shot in 2018-19 and 34.5% he shot in 2017-18. That 44% ranked seventh in the entire NBA among players to attempt 100+ threes, and though it was relatively low volume for an elite shooter, he made shots when it counted. This was a career year for Millsap as a shooter, and he made several important shots in clutch situations.

Millsap also offered up his stellar team defense, elevating the Nuggets to new levels while he was out there. In the minutes with Millsap on the floor, the Nuggets generated a 102.2 Defensive Rating, best on the team among rotation players. He accomplished this with elite positioning, rotations, and fundamentals, generating strip steals and forcing opponents into more difficult shots.

There are some players that simply “get” defense, that understand the necessary angles, times to pressure the ball, and times to sit on the action and play it smart. Millsap gets it, and his individual abilities helped the Nuggets enormously. On the season, Millsap’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus (RPM) of +1.35 ranked 26th in the entire NBA, ahead of players like Pascal Siakam, Anthony Davis, and Marcus Smart. It’s hard to fake that level of impact.

On the season, the Nuggets generated a +11.3 Net Rating with Millsap on the floor, the best mark on the team by far and one of the best in the NBA. Jamal Murray had the second highest Net Rating of +5.9, more than five points per 100 possessions of difference. The Nuggets were simply at their best with Millsap on the floor, shooting 44% from three offensively and elevating the entire defense.

Season Grade: B+

If Millsap was able to stay on the floor for a longer period of time, this grade would be an ‘A’ at least. The Nuggets ask Millsap to be an elite role player next to Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Will Barton is the third scorer when he’s out there. Millsap is asked to do the dirty work, and he does it very well.

The biggest mark against him is the missed time. The starting power forward only played 41 of a possible 65 games, missing 21 on the season and 16 in a row at one point. That’s difficult for any team to overcome, and in a shortened season, missing roughly one out of every three games makes life difficult on the rest of the team. In addition, Millsap only averaged 24.4 minutes per game, and while the Nuggets were effective with him out there, he simply wasn’t out there enough to warrant an ‘A’ grade.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

What’s next for Paul Millsap?

With Millsap becoming an unrestricted free agent during the 2020 offseason, the Nuggets have some major decisions to make at the power forward position. Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee will also be up for new contracts, with Grant assumably opting out of his player option for the 2020-21 season. Those three players earned a combined $53.8 million for the 2019-20 season, but with Jamal Murray’s max contract over the next five seasons kicking in during the 2020-21 year, the money is about to become real tight. It’s very possible that the Nuggets may let go of one or two of Millsap, Grant, and Plumlee due to salary cap ramifications, meaning choices will need to be made.

Millsap has been the starter at power forward for the last three seasons, and he has been great. His RPM ranks at the power forward position over the last three years have been stellar:

2017-18: +1.54 (13th among power forwards)

2018-19: +4.31 (1st among power forwards)

2019-20: +0.34 (17th among power forwards)

Those are great overall marks, and even though Millsap has had injury issues, his impact has remained relatively constant. What Denver has to what out for is if a strong regression is about to come for the veteran. Millsap just turned 35 this year, and his minutes per game have trended down in every season since coming to Denver. Only four players were consistent starters in their age 35 season or older this year: LeBron James, Marc Gasol, J.J. Redick, and Carmelo Anthony. It’s unlikely that Gasol or Redick will be starting for much longer, and Anthony probably shouldn’t be starting in the first place. LeBron...is LeBron.

With the Nuggets having such a young core centered around Jokic, Murray, and potentially Michael Porter Jr. going forward, the Nuggets need answers in both the short term and long term. It’s possible that Millsap would be a capable starter for the Nuggets next year, but it’s also possible that he experiences a drop-off in effectiveness and plays more like Carmelo Anthony or Andre Iguodala rather than Marc Gasol or J.J. Redick.

In the 21 games that Millsap missed this past year, the Nuggets posted a record of 16-5. Several of those were single digit victories against middling competition and were unimpressive, but Denver also netted some impressive wins. From games against the Milwaukee Bucks and Utah Jazz on short rest, to Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers, to a full New Orleans Pelicans squad with Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, the Nuggets found ways to win without Millsap (and sometimes Murray) on the floor.

All of this to say, the Nuggets have a difficult decision at power forward compounded by salary cap concerns. Millsap and Grant are good players in different ways, and Millsap was more effective in his minutes this year. Going forward, that separation may not sustain, and the Nuggets must make the right decision if they want to be the best team they possibly can.

Should Millsap be part of that vision? It remains to be seen.