The NBA works in hilarious ways sometimes. Like a frail framed guard out of a small school in Davidson becoming one of the best players to ever play the game. You know, after being told he was too small and he couldn’t play the point guard position in the NBA. Or, like a 20 year old from Serbia who was drafted 41st overall blossoming into one of the best big men in the NBA just after a year and a half in the league.
After being passed up by 40 teams before finally hearing his name called in 2014, he stayed one year overseas, before heading to Denver at the end of the 2014-15 NBA season. He’s evolved into one of the best centers in the league in a short time, and after a summer of free agency madness, he’s poised to become one-half of a dominant front court.
Denver had a deal in place with the Atlanta Hawks during last year’s free agency period which would have netted them Paul Millsap in exchange for some undisclosed package. But this was contingent upon Al Horford re-signing with the Hawks. Horford signed with the Celtics who got the top seed in the east and Paul Millsap stayed in Atlanta.
At the time, the Nuggets were scrutinized for considering such a trade as they might have lost Millsap in free agency this season. Maybe the trade falling through actually helped the Nuggets as they were able to secure Millsap to a three-year deal with a team option on the third year this offseason.
Denver’s revamped front court comes at a much needed time as the Western Conference grew even more competitive over the summer. What can we expect from Denver’s new signing and the Millsap-Jokic combination?
Millsap, an all-star each of the last 4 seasons, is a blue collar do-it-all type of player. He’s durable, having played all 82 games 3 times in his career and having played no less than 64 since being drafted in 2006. In fact, he’s played in a total of 95 percent of his teams games in his career.
Millsap has also proven to be one of the league’s top defenders, having been in the top 10 in steals for three years straight, and securing a spot on the All-NBA-Defensive 2nd team in 2015-16. In his final season in Atlanta, Millsap averaged a career high of 18.1 ppg and 3.7 apg. The 6’8” power forward also stretches his offensive game to the three point line as he shot 31 percent from there last season.
But his versatility on the defensive end should help more than his offense will. The Nuggets are capable of maintaining one of the league’s best offenses (5th) even after losing their top scorer of last season. But the defense is among the league’s worst.
A front line of Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap will cause nightmares for opposing team’s defenses, and if Jokic can slim down and get a little quicker on his feet, they might evolve into the NBA’s best big men combo. With all due respect to Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, who are both phenomenal players individually, the Millsap-Jokic combo is more complete and should be able to make the guys around them better.
These two can affect the game without the ball more effectively than most big men in the NBA. Jokic (23.5%) and Millsap (24.4%) combine for a 47.9% usage rate while combining for a 45.1% assist percentage. To put that into perspective, Anthony Davis (32.6%) and DeMarcus Cousins (33.1% as a member of the pelicans) combine for a 65.7% usage rate and combine for a 31.7% assist rate. Jokic alone averaged 4.9 apg last season in only 27.9 mpg.
What does this mean? It means that Jokic and Millsap have a higher chance of making their teammates better and making the correct pass.
As any Denver fan knows, Jokic is capable of creating offense through some extraordinary passes.
With his ability to pass, Millsap should get better looks from the floor than he did in Atlanta. I expect his efficiency to drastically improved while his usage rate should drop. Jokic will also help preserve Millsap’s energy as he wont have to have the offense run through him. Jokic should also see his efficiency improve (I know, it seems impossible since his eFG% was at 60.5 last season) playing alongside Millsap. Millsap will help stretch the floor and give Jokic more room to operate.
Only time will tell just how dominant these two can become, but don’t be surprised to see them among the league’s best for the next two years. Share your thoughts and expectations on the pairing in the comments below!