Who is the Most Important Player for the Hawks?
*Photo via USA Today
The Atlanta Hawks have made a name for themselves this season by playing team basketball. The team thrives on ball movement and finding the man with the open shot. Atlanta always has five players on the court that can shoot, which allows the team to spread the court and open up driving lanes. Atlanta’s leading scorer, Paul Millsap, averaged just 16.7 PPG (points per game) during the regular season. This number put Millsap at just 32nd in PPG in this season, an extremely low number for the leading scorer of the team with the league’s second best record. The Hawks were able to have such a successful season because they got contributions from so many sources. While their leading scorer averaged just 16.7 PPG, their lowest scoring starter, Kyle Korver, averaged 12.1 PPG. Four Hawks (Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague, and Al Horford) made the Eastern Conference All-Star team this year. In the month of January the NBA named all five Hawk starters as the Eastern Conference Players of the Month.
These factors make it difficult to pinpoint Atlanta’s most vital player to their success. Al Horford, the team leader, is an obvious choice for Atlanta’s most important player. Atlanta did not have many significant changes in personnel, yet they managed to improve from 38 to 60 wins this season. The major difference between this seasons Hawks vs. the previous season’s team is that Horford was healthy. Horford suited up for 76 of the teams 82 regular season contests this year as opposed to the meager 29 games he played in the 2013-14 season. Despite this fact, Al Horford is not my choice for the Hawks most important player. Al Horford is the team’s best player, but leading scorer Paul Millsap is the most important.
After spending the first seven years of his career as a member of the Utah Jazz, Paul Millsap signed a 2-year $19 million contract with the Hawks. In his first two years with the Hawks Millsap has made his first two All-Star teams and helped propel the team’s unlikely rise in the Eastern Conference. Paul Millsap has fit perfectly as the power forward in coach Mike Budenholzer’s lineup. Budenholzer was hired as Atlanta’s head coach the same season the team signed Millsap to his bargain contract. Millsap’s versatility and selflessness have allowed him to be a seamless fit in the Hawks lineup.
In two seasons with the Hawks Paul Millsap has played in 147 of 162 regular season games and averaged 17.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1 BPG, and 1.8 SPG. Millsap has been a very efficient scorer in his time with the Hawks, shooting 46.9% from the field, 35.7% from three, and 74.4% from the free-throw line. Millsap has put up this impressive stat line all while playing his usual stellar defense. Millsap is a true two-way player, making large contributions on both ends of the court.
On defense Millsap uses his strong build and quick feet to make up for his lack of size at the power forward position. Millsap is also a very smart help defender and uses his quickness to come up with steals. Millsap finished 9th in the league in SPG in both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 regular season.
On offense Millsap can be a matchup nightmare for opposing team’s. Millsap is a good enough three point shooter that he pulls opposing big men away from the basket. If Millsap’s defender over plays him on the perimeter, he uses his quickness to attack the paint. As an undersized power forward Millsap often has a speed advantage over the player guarding him. Putting a quicker perimeter defender on Millsap only creates new problems for Millsap’s opponent. Millsap lacks height for a power forward, but he is very tough and has a strong frame. If teams put smaller defenders on him, he will post them up and outmuscle them in the paint.
Paul Millsap is the key cog in Atlanta’s system and one of the most versatile players in the league. Millsap is a true two-way player, a commodity that has become hard to find in a player at Millsap’s talent level. Millsap is even unique amongst two-way players, since he is one of the few players that can play both inside and outside on offense and defense. Millsap creates matchup problems for the opposing teams’ defense while allowing his team to make seamless switches on defense. Millsap is heading into free agency this summer and will have plenty of suitors calling for his services. Atlanta should make resigning the 30 year old forward its priority this off-season.