Paul Millsap has been the constant.
The Hawks’ best player. The team’s current second-longest tenured player. The lone remaining starter from the 60-win Eastern Conference finalist. The steadying personality and vocal presence. The now four-time NBA All-Star.
“I think that is what this league is about, consistency,” said Millsap, who will be playing in his fourth straight All-Star Game. “If you are not consistent, you won’t have big success. I pride myself on being consistent whether that is through my attitude, how I play, who I am.”
Millsap played his first seven seasons with the Jazz and never made an all-star team. He has been named a reserve by league coaches four times with the Hawks. His new home has been the ultimate beneficiary of the Jazz cost-cutting move. The Hawks signed the power forward as an unrestricted free agent after he was released in 2013. They signed him again in 2015 after his two-year deal expired. They will likely try to re-sign him again this summer as he can opt out of the final year of his current deal.
Management, coaches, teammates and opposing coaches speak in glowing terms on the player Millsap has become in Atlanta.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said Millsap has improved each year. He added it is one thing to be named an all-star once and then not be selected the next two or three years. It’s quite another to be selected four straight years.
“It speaks to the consistency of how well he has played,” Budenholzer said recently. “What makes guys great is to do it every night, night after night. For him to do it year after year, I do think it changes the perception and the legacy. He is a proven. There is nobody questioning that he is an all-star.”
While Millsap has remained consistent, the players around him have changed. Gone are DeMarre Carroll, Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver. Those four and Millsap were the Hawks’ core for two years, including the heights of the 2014-15 season. Horford, Teague and Korver joined Millsap in his second All-Star game in New York in 2015.
There were significant changes this season with the addition of Dwight Howard and the promotion of Dennis Schroder, a new starting center and point guard. Korver was moved to the bench and then traded last month. In his fourth season with the Hawks, Millsap is the longest-tenured player except for Mike Scott.
Millsap had to adjust his game and his leadership role with the considerable alterations. Howard is a traditional center and has a gregarious personality. Schroder is still learning to be a starter and can be brash.
“He is the same Paul,” Budenholzer said. “His steadiness with adding Dwight and changing the point guard. His steadiness and consistency has been invaluable for us to have a good year. Between Dwight and Dennis, he’s the perfect personality, perfect player.”
Then there is the opposition’s view.
“He’s Groundhog Day,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said referencing the movie. “He really is. He plays well every night. He plays hard every night. He is really good basketball player. He’s so unassuming. He never gets the credit. … He is one of those players that everybody loves but hates to play against because you know he’s going to bring it.”
Millsap said he considered it an obligation to take on a leadership role with three veterans recently jettisoned. Budenholzer said he has become more vocal in the locker room, in practice and in the huddle. It’s not what you would expect from the generally reserved Millsap.
“I know what this organization wants,” Millsap said.
Millsap has been incredibly versatile for the Hawks. He leads the team in scoring and his second in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Not bad for a big man. Millsap has been flexible with his position as well. There were times last season when he played some small forward. There have been times this season when he has played some center.
Budenholzer said the Hawks are running more offense through Millsap this season – and for good reason.
“I feel like he has delivered in big moments, down the stretch, end of games,” Budenholzer said before the Hawks played at the Trail Blazers. “He’s made a lot of plays, made a lot of shots, defensive stops. I think his comfort at end of games and fourth quarters is better.”
Coincidentally, those words came hours before Millsap would hit a game-tying shot with 0.1 seconds remaining to force overtime and then score four of the Hawks’ 12 points in the extra period for a victory.
Millsap will return to his home state of Louisiana for his fourth All-Star game. New Orleans was also the site of his first midseason exhibition. He said he will enjoy the game more this time. He knows what to expect. He won’t give much thought to how being a four-time all-star will affect his legacy.
“At the end of the day it’s about winning and I want to try to win big,” Millsap said. “When my career is over I’ll look back at All-Star games and how many I made. Right now, I’m doing what I do to help this team win.”
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