In September, starting with training camp at the University of Colorado, Paul Millsap embarked on an activity he hadn’t needed to in at least three years – studying a new playbook, learning a new system.
And, as he noted back then in an interview on campus, “this is completely different.”
About six weeks after making that comment, the Nuggets offensive system is feeling a lot more familiar to the 12-year veteran. On a scale of 10, Millsap describes his knowledge of the system at a “seven,” and the way he’s producing of late suggests he is playing more freely than ever based on his increasing knowledge.
“Which is great,” Millsap said, prior to the Nuggets game against Orlando on Saturday night.
“I think coach (Michael Malone) stays away from the plays he thinks I don’t know,” Millsap said. “That helps.”
And when all else fails?
“At the end of the day we go pick-and-roll with Nikola Jokić,” he said.
Overall this season – 13 games — Millsap is averaging 15.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.3 blocks. He’s shooting 44.3 percent from the field. But it’s when you split his season into the seven games in October and the six played so far in November that you see how time in the system has helped.
In October, Millsap averaged 14.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and under one block and steal per game. He shot 41.6 percent from the field.
In November, most of those numbers have bumped up. He’s averaging 17.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.8 blocks. Millsap is shooting 47.4 percent from the field.
“I do sense that it is coming together,” Malone said. “And we’re trying to keep it pretty simple, too. I don’t want to overburden and have Paul out there thinking and reacting. I want him playing. That’s when he’s at his best.”
The uptick in Millsap’s assists month-to-month stands out. The Nuggets offense is movement-based and Millsap not only better understands the movements of his teammates around him, he’s starting to know where they like the ball and how to read each situation on the same page. In his last two games, Millsap has averaged 6.5 assists. He had eight in the win over Orlando, a game in which he nearly had a triple-double.
He doesn’t know when he’ll have 100 percent command of the offense, but being as far along as he is right now is significant in his ability to play without mental restrictions.
“It’s a relief,” Millsap said. “Your mind is not all over the place. You’re not guessing, you’re not thinking. It’s second nature. You just get out there and play basketball. I dreamt of getting to this place where I can just get out there and just play. And, I’m pretty much there now.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.