Philadelphia • Stripped of all other explanations, it must be the math. But not even that fully explains Paul Millsap's propensity for rebounds.
The Jazz forward's longtime aptitude for math "It's always been my thing," he said may explain his understanding of angles, but to leave the discussion there would disregard the hard work Millsap has put in, to always be in the right position, to outfox taller players, to be one of the craftiest and most underrated rebounders in the NBA.
Through nine games, Millsap is averaging 9.7 rebounds per game, which would be a career high if he maintained it over the course of the season. On opening night, he grabbed nine rebounds in the first quarter against Dallas.
That's some fast math.
But no matter how scientific you get, rebounding, for Millsap and a handful of other NBA players, is an art.
"I'm going to tell you what this coach told me," Jazz assistant coach Michael Sanders said. "This is just basketball; this is not geometry.' "
Millsap knows where the ball will go, the same way a shortstop knows where a batted ball will be put into play.
He is also like a running back, according to one Western Conference scout.
"You can't hit him because he's constantly moving and darting and finding different seams and angles," the scout said.
Millsap recorded his fourth double-double of the year Wednesday night in Boston, finishing with 20 points and 12 rebounds. The skill is a big part of what he hopes will earn him a big payday in the offseason, when he is a free agent. But for now, Millsap makes up one-half of what may be the NBA's best rebounding frontcourt.
Center Al Jefferson gets more rebounds he's entitled to averaging 11.8 per game whereas Millsap "hustles to get the ones he has no business getting to," Jefferson said.
"He's got a little [Dennis] Rodman in him," the scout said.
Jefferson first played against Millsap in 2006-07, when Jefferson was still with the Celtics and Millsap was a rookie with the Jazz. Even then, Jefferson found his future teammate to be one of the most befuddling matchups in the league.
"The one thing that was on the scouting report was box him out," Jefferson said.
For Millsap, rebounding started as a necessity.
During high school in Monroe, La., he was not yet a great scorer. The only way he was getting the ball, he said, was if he got it himself.
"It was my niche," he said. "It was one thing that stood out above other players on my team."
At Louisiana Tech, Millsap became the first player to lead the NCAA in rebounding three consecutive years.
In Millsap's mind, there are two kinds of NBA rebounders.
"You got your guys like Zach Randolph who don't leave the ground, who's good at moving his body around," he said. "... Then you got guys like Dwight Howard who are athletic and go get it."
Millsap is a rare hybrid of the two. He lacks size, but is extremely athletic. Kenneth Faried, the Nuggets' 6-foot-8 second-year forward, is one of the few others. Faried leads the NBA with 5.4 offensive rebounds per game (Millsap gets 3.1 per contest).
"Usually those short guys," said Howard, the Lakers center, "they know how to use their bodies to get position, and he just has a knack for rebounding."
Coach Tyrone Corbin says Millsap "gets his work in early," meaning that he is always working to establish position, even before the shot is up. Further, he knows where a ball is likely to go off the rim not because of the geometry, necessarily but because of the repetition.
The rest of it can't be explained.
"A lot of it is being in the right position at the right time," Jefferson said. "But there's really something that he does. ... Paul is just one of them guys whose strength is rebounding."
• Through nine games, Paul Millsap is averaging a career-high 9.7 rebounds per game and has recorded four double-doubles.
• The Jazz are just one of two teams in the NBA with two players who average 9 rebounds or more each game.
• One Western Conference scout compares Millsap to former Chicago Bull Dennis Rodman, who led the NBA in rebounding seven consecutive seasons.
Utah at Philadelphia
P Friday, 5 p.m.
TV • ROOT, ESPN
Paul Millsap's stats
Rebounds by year:
2006-07 • 5.2
2007-08 • 5.6
2008-09 • 8.6
2009-10 • 6.8
2010-11 • 7.6
2011-12 • 8.8
2012-13* • 9.7
*Through nine games
Jazz at 76ers
P At Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia)
Tipoff • Friday, 5 p.m.
TV • ROOT, ESPN
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Season series • First matchup
Records • Jazz 4-5; 76ers 4-4
About the Jazz • The Jazz nearly had three players with double-doubles in Wednesday's 98-83 loss at Boston. Derrick Favors was one rebound shy of joining Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. ... The Jazz are 1-5 on the road. ... Six Jazz players average double-digit scoring, led by 16.5 from point guard Mo Williams.
About the 76ers • The Sixers became the first team to fall to lowly Detroit, when they lost 94-76 at home Wednesday. ... Leading scorer Jrue Holiday shot just 4 of 13 against the Pistons.