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Hawks’ Millsap called upon to replace Smith

Paul Millsap

Paul Millsap

ATLANTA — Exit Josh Smith. Enter Paul Millsap.

In two consecutive Hawks roster makeovers, the biggest change was the decision this offseason to part ways with Smith. The franchise fixture spent nine seasons with his hometown team and left ranked in the top 10 of most all-time statistical categories. The Hawks did not make Smith a contract offer after he became an unrestricted free agent. Rather, they quickly turned their attention to Millsap, who received their first call of free agency, to be the replacement at power forward.

If the Hawks are to prevent a back slide this season and continue their streak of six consecutive playoff appearances, Millsap will be counted on for similar production as Smith.

Millsap may provide fewer highlights than Smith — and certainly fewer 3-point attempts — but their statistics are comparable. Last season, Smith averaged 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.8 blocks and 3.0 turnovers. Millsap, playing his seventh season for the Jazz, averaged 14.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.0 blocks and 1.8 turnovers.

Millsap doesn’t see the roster move as a straight swap.

“I look at it like this is going to be a different team than last year’s team,” Millsap said. “Last year, they needed Josh to be that guy. For me, it’s going to be more of a team concept. It’s going to be multiple guys doing multiple things. I don’t feel pressure. I’m just going to go out there and play my game.”

Smith set career-highs with 3-pointers made (61) and attempted (201) last season. Nearly every attempt at home was followed by an audible groan from the crowd. Millsap made 13 of 39 long-range attempts.

According to the Player Efficiency Rating (PER), an overall rating of a player’s per-minute statistical production, Millsap scored a 19.89 last season, 30th in the NBA. Smith scored a 17.82, tied for 64th in the league. Both exceed the league average of 15.00.

The Hawks will miss Smith’s defense and ability to guard multiple positions. He often matched up with the opposition’s best player with the game on the line.

Millsap said one of the main reasons he signed with the Hawks was that he believed the system of new coach Mike Budenholzer was a perfect fit. It remains to be seen if Millsap simply can be plugged in to replace Smith. Does the player fit the system or the system fit the player?

“I think there is a little bit of both,” Budenholzer said. “I think there are certain types of players or certain types of qualities that we look for that are going to do well in the system. At the same time, I think the system can be tweaked or adjusted or different things can be emphasized to meet the skills of different, unique players.”

Chemistry has become the buzzword around this training camp. The Hawks had nine new players last season and will have at least seven new players this season. Millsap and company are using camp to work at playing together.

One factor of success will be how center Al Horford and Millsap mesh. Horford and Smith undoubtedly had an on-the-court chemistry as teammates.

“It’s being aware of each other on the court,” Horford said of working in the frontcourt with Millsap. “It takes time. Knowing that when I get the ball he is cutting because he knows I’m going to pass it to him, even though that is not the play, and (opponents) are not expecting it. Or I’m running on the break, and he sees that he can throw me a lob or he sees he can’t because the defender is right there. It’s the little reads like that that we have to figure out.

“In practice we are starting to find each other. We are making the transition. I think that once we get it down, we are going to be fine.”

MARTIN SIGNS: The Hawks signed Cartier Martin to a non-fully guaranteed contract Tuesday.

The small forward (6-foot-7, 220) played parts of the past four seasons with the Wizards. Last season he appeared in 41 games, including three starts, and averaged 6.6 points and 2.4 rebounds in 16.9 minutes. He was limited by a hyperextended left knee.

Martin, who played at Kansas State, has appeared in 161 games for the Bobcats, Warriors and Wizards and averaged 5.4 points and 2.1 rebounds in 14.2 minutes.

Martin, 28, has played professionally in Turkey, Italy and China and the NBA Development League.

The Hawks have an open position at small forward behind starter DeMarre Carroll. James Johnson remained on the camp roster after Damien Wilkins and Adonis Thomas were waived Monday.