In the wake of their first playoff appearance in four years, it's unlikely that the Houston Rockets will rest on their laurels this offseason.
Assuming that the team retains Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverley and Greg Smith, Houston figures to have close to $18 million in cap space this summer. But instead of using most of that money to lure in a single big-name free agent, the Rockets would be better off using a portion of it to sign Utah Jazz power forward Paul Millsap.
You won't find many YouTube clips of Millsap in action, and due to his relative obscurity on the NBA landscape, you may not have heard much about his exploits out in Salt Lake City.
But the former Louisiana Tech star isn't just one of the most underrated players in the game today—he may be one of the top five players in this year's free-agent class.
Millsap is all but certain to part ways with Utah this summer. With Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter waiting in the wings at the 4 and 5 spots respectively, Millsap and center Al Jefferson have likely played their last games in a Jazz uniform.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is seen as the godfather of the "advanced statistics" movement in the NBA, so the smart money says that he's well aware of how efficient Millsap has been throughout his career.
And with a clear need for a legit low-post scoring threat, don't be surprised to see Houston make a run at Millsap in July.
Millsap's Player Efficiency Rating this past season (19.89—30th in the NBA) was higher than that of Dirk Nowitzki, Marc Gasol, Dwight Howard and David Lee. His career Offensive Rating of 113.2 is the 18th-highest mark among active players, and he's had at least seven Win Shares in each of the past five seasons.
Defensively, Millsap has his fair share of shortcomings—at 6'8" and 245 pounds, he doesn't possess the ideal height and quickness for his position. But with Omer Asik serving as the Rockets' rim protector, many of Millsap's weaknesses could be easily obscured.
In James Harden, the Rockets already have a player who dominates the ball on offense. Millsap, meanwhile, is used to operating in the wings as a No. 2 option. He's never averaged more than 13.5 shots per game in any of his seven seasons.
Houston's offense all but eschews long twos, making Millsap and his exceptional ability around the rim the perfect complement for the Rockets' cadre of long-range specialists. Four hundred eighty-four of Millsap's 875 shots this past season came from within eight feet, and the 28-year-old power forward shot 57.2 percent from the field on those attempts.
Millsap's ability to set a good screen is often overlooked, and the Rockets could potentially have one of the best two-man games in the league if they play their cards right.
According to Synergy Sports, Harden is one of the premier players in the league as the ball-handler in a pick-and-roll set (1.0 points per possession in 2012-13—fifth in the NBA). Meanwhile, Millsap knocked down nearly 47 percent of his shots as the "roll man" in those same situations as a member of the Jazz last season.
Of course, any deal for Millsap shouldn't preclude any bigger moves that could potentially be on the table. According to Ken Berger of CBS Sports, free-agent center Dwight Howard is intrigued by the possibility of playing in Houston. If the Rockets can pull off a sign-and-trade deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, then that should be their offseason priority.
That said, Howard has been known to change his mind quite a bit, and there's no guarantee that a desire to play in Texas today will lead to him actually signing a contract to that effect two months down the road.
On the other hand, Millsap is a solid, low-risk, high-reward investment who would fit in well with the pieces already in place in Houston. Millsap may not bring the glamour and glitz that comes with signing a superstar like Howard, but he doesn't bring the drama, either.
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