"The Atlanta Hawks will be forever mediocre because they are without a star player."
Aren't Hawks fans getting tired of hearing that? I can imagine so.
The Hawks have made the playoffs in nine consecutive seasons, but have only advanced past the second round on one occasion and were swept in the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals. Many like to blame the fact that the Hawks have no superstar player on the roster. The Hawks certainly do not have a Lebron James-caliber player, but they do have a star on the roster.
And his name is Paul Millsap.
Not Flashy, Just Fundamentally Sound
Millsap is, without a doubt, a bona fide All-Star player in the NBA. He has played three seasons with the Hawks and made the Eastern Conference All-Star team in each of those seasons.
He has become a legitimate stat-sheet stuffer, averaging 17.1 points, 9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.7 blocks per game last season. He is the perfect example of a player who has improved drastically in Atlanta in recent years and a reason why the organization has been dubbed "Hawks University", by some.
The lack of hype surrounding Millsap is tied to his fundamentally sound play style, that doesn't contain a ton of pizzazz. Millsap is not the type of guy that will run a one-man fast break and finish it off with a sick poster dunk; he is also not the type to pull off a spectacular chase-down block.
He is simply a terrific, well-rounded basketball player.
Statistics aside, it doesn't take a basketball expert to see the talent in Millsap. Under coach Mike Budenholzer, Millsap has developed some skills that we did not see from him during his time in Utah.
Paul has become a much more reliable ball-handler and is capable of creating for himself and others, and Atlanta's system has highlighted his terrific passing ability. Millsap has also become a much better 3-point shooter with Atlanta, converting around 35% of his attempts, which is fantastic for a big man.
On the defensive end, Millsap has entered the elite tier of defenders in the NBA. He was named to the Second-Team All-NBA Defensive Team this past year, only behind Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard as far as forwards are concerned. The blocks aren't ridiculous like DeAndre Jordan, and he isn't the steals machine that Chris Paul is, but he's capable of locking down anyone from small forwards to centers.
The flash is not present in his game, but when you watch him, it is hard not to be impressed. Millsap has a legitimate inside-outside offensive game and a lock-down defensive game.
An elite player on both ends of the floor? That sounds like a star to me, regardless of how fancy it looks.
Consistency Carries the Day; Sap is Here to Stay
Many players are capable of breaking out for a season here and there, but it takes legitimate professionals to maintain success. Millsap's three-year run with the Hawks has been a great one, and while he enters the final year of his deal, it seems reasonable for both sides to keep him for the long haul.
With Atlanta, Millsap has been good for 17 points, 8 boards, 3 assists, and great D for all three years. He was good in Utah, but not that level of good.
Millsap may very well be a star of the Hawks system, but that is a star nonetheless. He has embodied what the new Hawks regime has looked for in players, and his improvement must be attractive for any player considering Atlanta in free agency, and clearly helped draw Dwight Howard, who shunned the team in prior years.
Millsap brings consistency, structure, and professionalism to a Hawks organization that is looking to take the next step towards becoming a championship contender.
He doesn't bring the glitz and glamor, but he does help win games. With keeping players like him and continuing to develop others, the Hawks will be dangerous for a long time.
I challenge anyone to name 15 players in the NBA who are better than Paul Millsap.
I don't believe you can, because I do no think that it is possible to do so. Whether he is a household name or not, Paul Millsap is here to stay in the upper tier of NBA talent. More All-Star nods will come and, hopefully, so will more recognition. Consistency and fundamentals aren't sexy, but they have to be respected.
NBA, meet Paul Millsap, your most underrated star.