Since he signed with the Hawks, Dwight Howard has been the team’s most popular player. Through great rebounding, solid defense, and his appearances on several commercials that air during Hawks games, Howard has solidified that reputation fairly quickly. However, Atlanta’s best player is still Paul Millsap, and it has been that way for the whole year.
The Hawks are 14-15, sit in ninth place in the East, and are struggling in several different areas. The team has failed to form a true offensive or defensive identity, and has looked lost for long stretches. However, Millsap has been fantastic for the entire season, and his game-winning basket against the Thunder on Monday night only reinforces that.
Statistically, it’s easy to tell that Millsap is good. Playing just over 33 minutes per game, Millsap averages 17.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. Known as a player with multiple weapons, he can score from the perimeter or at the basket fairly easily. Coupled with his elite defense, this scoring ability makes him one of the best players in the league.
More advanced statistics show his value as well. With Millsap on the court the Hawks have an offensive rating of 104.4 points per 100 possessions, giving up 99.1 on the defensive end to finish out a net rating of 5.0. This is a respectable enough number on its own, but it becomes much more impressive when compared with the entire team’s net rating of negative-1.1 for the season (per NBA Stats).
Without Millsap on the floor, Atlanta fares much worse. The offensive rating falls to 98.0, while the defensive rating balloons to 109.4. The overall net rating without Millsap is negative-11.3. By comparison, the worst team net rating in the NBA is negative-7.7, a number that belongs to the Philadelphia 76ers.
By the numbers then, Paul Millsap swings the team’s net rating by over 16 points per 100 possessions, a number that seems almost comically large. It may not be wise to take this number at face value (partially because Millsap missed several games when the team was already playing extremely poorly, and partially because of the Hawks’ general inconsistency so far). However, the general lesson it teaches — that Millsap is incredibly valuable to the Hawks — rings true. He is the core of this team, and the foundation of its playoff hopes.
Millsap’s skill was on display during Monday night’s victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder, as he and Dennis Schroder led the way for Atlanta. Schroder’s 31 points and Millsap’s 30 provided the answer that the Hawks needed to Russell Westbrook’s 46 points on the other side. Millsap also dominated in the clutch, making the eventual game-winner with 12 seconds left. Leaning back, and off-balance, he cleanly and easily made the shot that sent the bench into this frenzy:
Waking up after that dub last night like: pic.twitter.com/22zAPYkql7— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) December 20, 2016
As impressive as that shot — and really, his entire game — was, this performance from Millsap serves as a reminder of his skill more than anything else. The Hawks have known for a long time how good he is, and this team’s hopes begin and end with him. As the Hawks struggle, Millsap has been the anchor that this team desperately needs.