New Orleans • At 29, he’s older than most of the players who will step on the court. But this weekend, Paul Millsap is still one of the new guys.
“A few of them call me rookie,” he said with a smile Saturday morning as throngs of reporters gathered around two dozen NBA All-Stars, “and they’re younger than I am.”
Over his last few years in Utah, the scrappy, undersized power forward thought he was deserving of being called one of the league’s best, only to find himself without an invite to the league’s showcase game. Millsap is finally getting that recognition this year, though he won’t be wearing a Jazz jersey Sunday night.
“I don’t hold nothing against them,” said Millsap, who left Utah to sign with the Hawks in July. “Without them, I wouldn’t be here. They drafted me. They took a chance on me. I’m grateful for the years I was there. But … all good things come to an end.”
In Atlanta, Millsap is averaging a career bests in points (17.6) and assists (3.0) a game. He’s still hitting the boards, showcasing the hustle and fight for which he was loved in Utah, grabbing better than eight a night. And he’s added to his game, hitting more 3-pointers at the midway mark of this season than he ever took in a year with the Jazz.
“I wouldn’t say [I’m being] used better,” Millsap said. “I’d say I have the opportunity to get out there and really show everything I can do. We run a pretty wide-open system and I’m able to stretch the floor and put the ball on the ground to make plays.”
The 6-foot-8 forward has helped keep the Hawks in the Eastern Conference playoff race, even after starting center Al Horford was lost to injury. His play has earned the respect of his teammates.
“You cannot scout Paul,” Hawks rookie Pero Antic said. “Every game, every practice, he comes with something new, something different.”
But while Millsap is enjoying success in Atlanta, his numbers aren’t so drastically different than they were in Utah. In 2010-11, Millsap averaged 17.3 points and 7.6 boards. In 2011-12, he averaged 16.6 and 8.8.
“All those years out in Utah, they have such a team approach, not that they don’t in Atlanta, but I think he got overlooked a few times,” said Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who will lead the Eastern Conference All-Stars this year. “I know we’ve always viewed him as an All-Star-level player.”
“I feel like I’ve been competing at a high level for years now,” Millsap said. “I’m going to look at it like it’s finally paying off, whether I’m at Utah or Atlanta.”
The forward’s move has helped in another way too.
“He was fighting an uphill battle in the West,” said Jazz legend Karl Malone.
“It always seems like the West is a little more loaded,” Vogel agreed.
Malone praised Millsap’s play, calling it hard, “old-school game,” before reminding reporters that Millsap, like Malone, attended Louisiana Tech before being drafted by the Jazz.
“We had it on track for a minute,” the Hall of Famer said with a smile.
NBA All-Star Game
O At Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, Sunday, 6 p.m.
TV • TNT
Millsap’s “breakout” season
FG% FT% Pts Reb Ast Min
2013-14 46.3 74.4 17.6 8.2 3.0 33.1
Career 51.0 72.5 12.9 7.1 1.9 27.9