Hawks power forward Paul Millsap shoots a basket over Clippers point guard Darren Collison earlier this season. Millsap had hit a career-record seven straight games before not connecting from long range on Thursday. (Reuters)
ATLANTA — Paul Millsap sits next to Kyle Korver in the Hawks locker room — and it may not be by coincidence.
Not the way Millsap is shooting 3-pointers this season.
The power forward had a made a long-range basket in a career-high seven straight games before going 0-for-2 from behind the arc on Thursday. That was only 86 behind Korver’s NBA record streak of 93 straight games with a 3-pointer. Of course, Millsap needed a 50-footer at the first-quarter buzzer in a win against the Cavaliers to keep the run going.
“I’m going after his streak,” Millsap joked before Thursday’s game.
Millsap has hit 17 3-pointers this season and through 22 games had already surpassed previous bests of 13 of 39 (.333) made last season. Prior to this season, Millsap made 31 of 113 3-pointers in his seven seasons with the Jazz. There is no longer an audible groan from those in Philips Arena when this power forward launches from long range.
The increase in 3-point attempts is a part of the Hawks’ new offense under Mike Budenholzer. The system is centered on floor spacing and that includes the team’s big men stepping outside at times. It’s simple math.
“You can shoot 40 or 45 percent on 17-18 footers and it may look better,” Budenholzer said. “But you just have to get above 33 (percent) from the 3-point line and the mathematics of it (work in your favor). Most of the league has figured out that long 2’s are not the way. He may shoot a higher percentage of long 2’s but he’s going to have to shoot a really, really high percentage to make up the difference.”
Millsap is averaging 16.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks for the Hawks. He is above the numbers he put up last season with the Jazz.
Millsap has had season-bests in field goals made and attempted, 3-pointers made and attempted, free throws made an attempted, offensive rebounds, total rebounds, assists and blocks in the past two weeks.
“Does there have to be a reason?” Millsap said when about his recent play. “I’m just playing basketball and whatever comes with that comes with it. I’m just out there trying to win, being aggressive, staying aggressive.”
Budenholzer said Millsap has surprised him with the variety of his game, even after watching him the past seven seasons in the Western Conference. The coach pointed to Millsap’s ability in the pick-and-roll, to use his one-on-one moves and to be a decision maker when the offense runs through him. And his extended range.
An ability to finish at the rim is not to be overlooked, the coach added. Floor spacing is a concept reliant on keeping the opposition off guard. If you can score in the paint and at the rim, it causes the defense to collapse and produces shots from the outside.
In the paint, Millsap is shooting almost 60 percent.
“He has shown all of us that he can do a lot of things,” Budenholzer said. “You knew that in Utah but I’ve been more impressed with him here. I’ve been pleased with the variety to his game. … We are trying to tap them all.”
The Hawks let Josh Smith leave via free agency. Their first call during the off-season was to Millsap, who they signed to a two-year, $19 million contract. He has eight double-doubles this season. In Tuesday’s loss to the Thunder he finished with 23 points, including a career-high-tying 11 free throws.
“I’m getting more time and I’m getting an opportunity to help this team,” Millsap said. “I feel like it’s my job, and some of the older guys, to carry this team and help this team to victory. I’m just trying to do my part.”