When in a crunch, one can find out the strength and quality of themselves or an entity to which they belong. Four observations from the last few minutes of the Jazz-Clippers double-OT game on Saturday:
1) For all his shortcomings in the last 20-30 seconds of a game, Deron Williams is one of the best at taking the ball the length of the floor during a game's last moments and making a play happen. Steve Nash is probably the only other point guard who could consistently do this like Williams does it.
2) Paul Millsap has played like a grown man this season. He seems to find different ways to be an effective offensive contributor every single game.
Here's the question: Could Millsap start at small forward? His game is becoming increasingly better, to the extent that he is playing more and more like a small forward, but without losing his power forward skill set (though he does drive to the hoop more like a small forward). His mid-range jump shot has become reliable, much more trustworthy than any shot attempt by Andrei Kirilenko or CJ Miles.
The question is how would Millsap do on defense against the quicker kind?
The first retort to that question is, how would the quicker kind defend him? See, mismatches often go two ways, with a consideration given to the talent involved. Millsap has talent enough to take advantage of being guarded by a slighter-framed fellow. Furthering the question, how would Millsap's advantage stack up against the advantage of the quicker player? The answer to this sub-question can only truly be answered in a game-by-game instance, so the original question is the type to ponder in a macro sense.
To start, Millsap is no slouch athletically. He might not be as nimble as a prototypical small forward, but he is by no means slow. Also, Millsap could use his thicker body to punish his SF adversary on both offense and defense. By the end of the game, his opponent might be worn down and ragged, unable to attack the hoop with much zeal. In fact, Millsap should be quick enough to stay in front of his man most times, thereby turning his SF foe into a jump shooter. With the defensive rules in the NBA, making a defensive impact most of the time, or perhaps only half of the time, is fairly good defense.
Overall, I think opposing SFs would get by Millsap as much as they proceed past Kirilenko and Miles. AK might be better at recovering and blocking the shot, but again, Millsap is no slouch at this himself. It should also be noted that Millsap's lack of size is a defensive detriment against most power forwards. At either forward spot Millsap is going to give up something. He might actually give up less as a small forward.
The power advantage the Jazz would have starting Millsap at SF and Jefferson at PF should be taken into account. Much to Millsap's credit, in fact most of the credit be unto him, these two power players have been able to play well together. Millsap's feel for the game and somewhat reliable jumpshot have given Jefferson room to maneuver in the low post.
The Jazz would set a nasty tone each game with a starting a frontcourt of Millsap, Jefferson and Elson, especially alongside physical guards Williams and Roger Bell. When Mehmet Okur heals and returns, he doesn't necessarily have to start. Jerry Sloan likes to have a scorer in the second unit, and Okur could fit that role nicely. Or Sloan could put Okur in the starting lineup alongside Jefferson and Millsap. Memo's added outside shooting would leave the paint open for Millsap and Jefferson, as well as Williams' penetrations.
Which brings up one more concern about moving Millsap to SF: he's no 3-point shooter. Yes, but Kirilenko isn't consistent enough with his treys to force the defense to spread their efforts. In fact, it seems Millsap's jumper and ability to attack the hoop would better keep the defense from crowding the basket than what Kirilenko brings.
I gave the argument for Millsap starting at small forward, because it seems the natural inclination is to say it wouldn't quite work. Back the argument up or tear it apart.
3) Jefferson's blocking Chris Kaman's shots in overtime is an element the Jazz's defense didn't often posses with Okur and Carlos Boozer on the court.
4) There is a lot to complain about with Kirilenko. One thing I noticed for the first time on Saturday was he always gets up after getting knocked down. Well, except this time:
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Since the Jazz playing the Miami Heat tonight, here are some interesting reads dedicated to LeBron James' new commercial.
Michael Weinreb: On LeBron, Nike, and the Deconstruction of America
Jason Whitlock: LeBron's Nike ad: Just do ... whatever
Bethelhem Shoals: LeBron James' Nike Commercial Asks 'What Should I Do?'
Kevin Blackistone: Quoting Cassius Clay, LeBron Rings Hollow