There are whispers about Paul Millsap.
That he’s confused.
That he’s unhappy with his role.
That he’s not getting enough playing time.
That he’s not as effective as he once was.
And the whispers, some of them, are true.
“I’m human,” he said after Wednesday night’s win over Orlando, a game during which he scored more than 20 points for the first time in forever. “Of course frustration is there. You’re going to get frustrated at times. But it’s what you do after that. My teammates give me confidence. I’ve just got to continue to stay positive and stay with it and hope it turns around.”
A few things about Millsap that wouldn’t surprise anyone who has paid attention over his seven seasons here:
• The man is going to sweat through his work.
• The man is not going to cry and pout.
• The man is a grown man.
“Paul’s fine,” said Marvin Williams. “He’s the ultimate pro. He shows up when his team needs him. After three losses, our team needed him tonight.”
In the win over the Magic, Millsap redirected a couple of negative trends. He played heavy minutes, getting just short of 39. And he was efficient in his scoring, making eight of 14 shots.
“I felt comfortable out there,” he said. “When you’re comfortable, you’re confident. As long as I’m comfortable and confident, things are going to go my way.”
But things haven’t completely gone Millsap’s way over stretches. His role has switched from power forward, his preferred spot, to small forward and back. His scoring has dropped from a 17.3 average two years ago to 14.3. His shooting percentage, which over his career sits at 52 percent, is at 46. In the past 10 games, it’s at 40 percent. His minutes have dropped, from more than 34 a game two seasons ago to 31 now. He never left the bench in the fourth quarter of a couple of recent games. And the major reason he’s suddenly getting more opportunity is because Derrick Favors is hurt.
“You go in the game when your name is called,” he said. “You go out of the game when your name is called.”
It’s more complicated than just that, especially for a veteran player in a contract year, and Millsap came clean when he was pressed further about wanting more time.
“What competitor doesn’t?” he said. “But it doesn’t happen like that all the time. You have to be patient and see what happens.”
This is where we read between the lines and listen to a few private whispers. Millsap has been uncertain about his role, and he knows Favors is coming for his job. That’s exacted a toll.
As Millsap said, he’s only human. He said he’s put his contract status out of his mind: “I haven’t thought about it. That hasn’t been the reason for anything.”
You have to wonder.
A problem for the Jazz, and for Millsap, is the traffic in the low post. Al Jefferson is there, Millsap is there, Favors is there, Enes Kanter is there. Favors is the best defender of the bunch. And defense is what the Jazz need to transform from a peripheral playoff team to a certain one. Millsap is undersized, and everybody knows that. He racks up steals, but he also fouls, typically finishing among NBA leaders in most fouls committed. If he defends power forwards, he’s overwhelmed. Against small forwards, he’s not quick enough.
And at the offensive end, it becomes a matter of spacing, which is the on-ramp to efficient offense. Wednesday, Millsap got out in transition and benefited from easy baskets, which boosted him toward his production.
“The basketball was moving, swinging around,” he said. “We got some good looks. I didn’t take too many jump shots.”
A bigger reason Millsap flourished was because Favors didn’t play. And when Favors plays, the Jazz are better. That’s a conundrum that has put the team in a blender at times and adversely affected You-Know-Who.
Still, Millsap said: “My main thing is the team, that we’re winning. Be patient, and things eventually will turn around for you.”
That’s what you would expect Paul Millsap to say, and maybe even believe. He’s a pro’s pro. A man’s man. But this situation has tested him.
“People look at me,” he said. “I’ve got to continue to be a leader, a leader by example. I still love playing this game. When I get out there, I try laying everything on the line. I’m not thinking about anything but winning the basketball game. For me, competing is an amazing feeling. As long as I’m doing that, I’m fine.”
Gordon Monson hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 AM/97.5 FM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
All over the map
Paul Millsap’s past 10 games, during which he’s shot 40%:
Opponent Pts Reb
Washington 6 10
Houston 10 8
Sacramento 10 1
Sacramento 13 8
Denver 5 5
New Orleans 16 8
Oklahoma City 13 6
Houston 12 11
Clippers 13 8
Orlando 22 4