"He's got a terrific stroke," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.
If I was steadfast in my belief that Millsap never could genuinely replace Carlos Boozer as an All-Star-level shooter and scorer in the Jazz lineup, I was wrong. Or was I? Millsap, as we knew him in his first four NBA years, lacked the ability he's showing this season, as he ranks among the league's top 10 players in field-goal shooting at nearly 55 percent.
His shooting skills were not merely hidden; they've been developed recently. That's not just my rationalization, is it?
Sloan's on my side. Millsap was "pretty much a rebounder" early in his pro career, Sloan said. In his Louisiana Tech days, most of Millsap's scoring came via offensive rebounds and other inside shots, using his size, strength and athletic ability against Western Athletic Conference opponents.
Millsap attributes his improvement to "just knowing the offense," saying that expanding his offensive game was a product of studying Jazz power forwards of the past, Karl Malone and Boozer.
Actual shooting practice is also a big part of the equation.
"He recognized where the shots were going to come from, and that's what he worked on," Sloan said. "That's the exciting thing from a coaching standpoint, to see how guys try to make themselves better."
Like most players among the NBA's leaders in shooting accuracy, shot selection partly explains Millsap's success. Yet there's no question his range has widened considerably, enabling him to take advantage of pick-and-roll plays the way Malone and Boozer did. If his defender follows Deron Williams to the basket, Millsap can pop out, take a pass and hit from 15 feet.
That's how he has become the Jazz's No. 2 scorer, at 17.6 points. While his career shooting percentage is only slightly lower than his current figures, this season's average distance is undoubtedly higher. That makes his numbers more impressive.
"Our team shoots a high percentage," Millsap said. "It comes from guys helping each other get open, setting screens for each other."
Yet Millsap is the Jazz's far-and-away leader in field-goal shooting. New center Al Jefferson is the team's No. 3 scorer in an offense that gives him a lot of the same shots as Millsap, but he's hitting only 48 percent of them.
Having played against Millsap with Boston and Minnesota, Jefferson is not surprised by Millsap's development, saying he's always been a fan. "It's just the opportunity he needed," Jefferson said. "You could tell every offseason, he got better."
And in his first season as a starter, Millsap has taken that development even further. With only a little more improvement, he can produce one of the top 10 shooting seasons in Jazz history, joining a list that includes Adrian Dantley, John Stockton, Malone and Boozer.
Millsap's season has been highlighted by a couple of epic performances, his 46-point effort at Miami in November and his 23-point production in the fourth quarter and overtime last weekend at Houston. Yet his shooting numbers in those games only slightly exceeded his season average.
Millsap's consistency has positioned him among the NBA's top 10 shooters all year right in the same range as Boozer, who's now thriving in Chicago.
NBA field-goal percentage leaders (through Friday):
Player, Team Pct.
Nene, Denver .634
Okafor, New Orleans .594
Howard, Orlando .569
Odom, L.A. Lakers .568
Ibaka, Oklahoma City .566
Boozer, Chicago .565
Horford, Atlanta .564
Millsap, Utah .547
Nowitzki, Dallas .545
Young, Philadelphia .543