ESPN and SI Rank Millsap, Jokić

ESPN is up to 11 and Sports Illustrated has released their top 100 players headed into the 2017-18 season and two Nuggets come in above the 30 line. Free agent signee Paul Millsap comes in at 27 while Nikola Jokić makes a huge leap from 42 last offseason to 16 now on ESPN. Millsap holds steady at 27 in SI rankings and Jokić makes his way into the top fourth at 25. Open to opinions on that one.

The breakdown on Millsap stay fairly consistent between the two publications with SI saying:

Maybe it was minor injury issues. Maybe it was moving another year past 30. Maybe it was the loss of longtime frontcourt partner Al Horford and/or the arrival of Dwight Howard. Whatever the explanation(s), Millsap (18.1 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 3.7 APG) couldn’t quite duplicate his sensational 2015-16 campaign during his fourth and final season with the Hawks. A polished and unselfish two-way game kept the versatile power forward among the league’s top Real Plus-Minus performers and helped Atlanta push Washington in a first-round playoff series, but weak three-point shooting and less gaudy defensive stats pushed Millsap outside the top 40 in PER and Win Shares.

The 32-year-old Millsap’s offseason signing with the Nuggets on a three-year, $90 million contract looks like a wise move for both player and team, even if a return to the West’s deeper waters means his All-Star days are likely over. An ultra-adaptable player who can function in virtually any situation and with almost any cast of teammates, Millsap is ideally suited to life as a second or third option within a balanced, pass-heavy offense. He should find the support and structure he needs to thrive within what figures to be a potent Denver attack, and his pairing with center Nikola Jokić gives the Nuggets two unselfish frontcourt playmakers to keep defenses guessing. Don’t be surprised if his shooting efficiency rebounds thanks to a steady diet of better looks. If his offensive load lessens as expected, Millsap should be able to focus more of his attention on providing Jokić the defensive cover he needs. While it’s understandable that Atlanta’s overhauled front-office preferred to execute a full-scale rebuild rather than commit a long-term, big-dollar contract to their aging four-time All-Star, Millsap still brings plenty to the table and should help boost the Nuggets into the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

Over at ESPN, they note:

There’s a good chance we’re underestimating Millsap*, as he’s ranked inside the top 15 in ESPN’s real plus-minus each of the past three seasons. Though he’s now 32, Millsap long has been one of the league’s most versatile defenders and should help improve a Nuggets team that ranked 29th in defensive efficiency last season.

*There is a good chance, indeed.

On Jokic coming in at 25, SI defends themselves by stating:

Give Jokic the most basic of ingredients and he will set the table with a feast. Any cutter who plays with him becomes an open threat on every possession. Shooters on his team find the ball delivered directly into their pocket just when the defense has shifted its attention. Other bigs are free to roam around the rim because Jokic can run an offense from the top of the floor, setting up all manner of high-low delicacies. His is the gift of transformation, and through it a somewhat talented but well-intentioned team can become one of the league’s most potent offenses.

One can get so lost in the bending of Jokić’s impossible passes as to lose sight of the fact that he’s also one of the league’s better rebounders and a shockingly efficient scorer. Jokic doesn’t quite have three-point range and only went to the line for 3.1 free throws per game last season. Still he ended the year with the fourth-highest True Shooting Percentage in the NBA by finishing an absurd number of his post-ups (57.9%) and runners. The high paint is typically home to long, improbable hook shots and ill-fated floaters—close-ish shots that are too often unsteady and heavily contested. Jokić converted 65% of his attempts from that range, applying subtle punctuation to his breakout season.

On Jokic, ESPN says:

Jokic posted a PER of 28.4 after Christmas last season, which ranked third behind 2016-17 MVP Russell Westbrook and All-NBA and all-defense selection Kawhi Leonard. A brilliant offensive player who essentially plays point-center, the next step in Jokić’s ascension to superstardom is on the defensive end. On the 26 players who started at least 40 games at center, Jokić ranked 24th in block rate.

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