Millsap, Bass, or Take a Pass?

So...the new forwards being tossed around as potential Blazers free-agent signings are first Paul Millsap and then a back-up plan of Brandon Bass.  Let's take a look at each individual player and then the ramifications of the situation as a whole.

Paul Millsap

Millsap is a 6'8", 245lb banger and rebounder.  He's 24 and is coming off of a successful third year in the league.  He's still under his rookie contract and is thus a restricted free agent.  The Utah Jazz would have the right to match whatever offer the Blazers made and early indications are that they'd be willing to do so.  This is not a surprise as Millsap was one of their most productive players.  His value to them went beyond his 13.5 point and 8.6 rebounds per game.  He was a solid contributor off the bench and even better as a starter when Carlos Boozer was injured.  The Jazz scored 3.7 more points per 100 possessions when he was on the court than when he was off it.  They allowed 4.6 fewer points to opponents per 100 possessions when he played.  That's a net difference of +8.3 points per 100 possessions.  Effective field goal percentage went up when he was in, opposing EFG% went down.  Their offensive rebounding increased an amazing 5.4% with him on the boards.  Defensive and total rebounding went up as well.  There's practically nothing that the Jazz did better without Millsap than with him.

Millsap is primarily an inside player, a garbage guy.  He trades on the offensive boards and putbacks.  He doesn't have a vast offensive repertoire nor is he steady from range.  He's a back-to-the-basket guy who sometimes gets too predictable.  He's energetic and hard-nosed though.  He flourishes with good players around him.  He'd be the kind of guy who would bolster your team rather than lead it.  The good news is that you don't necessarily have to run plays for him in order to maximize his effectiveness.  Because of his style of offense he draws a lot of fouls.  He's not a passer though, nor a continuity offense guy.  He gets tunnel vision.  That's actually one of his strengths, especially on the boards.  Defensively he's fine as long as he can use strength and leverage to root people out.  When he has to move outside his comfort zone (read: the lane) he can get taken.  He's not the guy to guard your nouveau forwards.  While the Jazz tried him some at small forward he's probably not destined for that position.  He could swing the other way into the center position for stretches if the matchup was right.  He actually acquitted himself quite well in the center minutes he did get last year.

Most of the things we said about David Lee a couple days ago apply even more to Millsap.  His main drawback right now is his availability or lack thereof.  As with Lee, he could have trouble playing a limited-minute role after playing 30+ mpg last year.  You'd definitely have to find him time outside of LaMarcus Aldridge's rest periods.

Brandon Bass

Brandon Bass is a 6'8", 240lb pure athlete.  He's strong and quick.  He has a better face-up jumper than Millsap and better dunks but he's not the same post player nor is he as good of a rebounder (though he's still good on the boards).  One advantage that he has over Millsap is lateral movement.  He can defend quicker forwards, though his height is an issue (as it is for Millsap).  Bass draws fouls and is a better free throw shooter than Millsap as well.  He's also a play endpoint and doesn't have great hands.  He's offensive-minded but he's not a guy you run your offense through.  He generally knows which shots to take, however.  He doesn't step beyond himself too much.  He's energetic and hustles.

The Mavs were a little better on offense, defense, and offensive rebounding when Bass played than when he sat.  They drew and hit more fouls.  Like Millsap, Bass might be able to swing a little to center under the right circumstances.  He has the strength and rebounding to hang there, but he doesn't have near the height.

One of Bass' clear advantages is suitability for a back-up role.  He's also an unrestricted free agents, meaning there's no matching offer to worry about.  He may come cheaper than Millsap for that reason, let alone production level.

The Situation

Either one of these players would be good gets for the Blazers.  Millsap hasn't been considered much heretofore because the Jazz seemed committed to keeping him.  Now they seem to be leaning towards Boozer again, making dual huge contracts for two power forwards a possible issue.  Nevertheless they'd be letting talent walk for free if they don't match.

One issue with Millsap from Portland's point of view would be cost.  There's no doubt they'd burn $10 million a year on this guy.  Absent a trade he'd be a reserve.  That's an expensive prospect...one you usually want to avoid.  However the Blazers are facing a particular situation here.  If they don't use their cap space before February it's going to be gone.  Using it does not necessarily preclude making other moves, however.  They'd just be guided by the usual over-the-cap rules.  Therefore they have incentive to use it rather than not, provided they can find a player who helps.  They're capable of getting a point guard or small forward via an over-the-cap trade.  They'll not get a player like Millsap that way.  For this reason it would actually make some sense to offer that contract now even though it wouldn't under other circumstances.  Millsap is enough of a talent to ease some concerns about other moves that might have to follow.  However Millsap would be THE signing of the summer.  There wouldn't be room for anyone else.

Bass would not carry the same price tag, but he won't produce as much in the short term and might not ever.  If you're looking in terms of dollars and cents cheaper is more palatable.  But when you're looking in terms of cap space burning 70% of it essentially amounts to the same thing as burning it all because that leftover 30% would only be helpful under very specific circumstances.  If, however, you could get Bass on the cheap he might turn out to be a better deal overall.  You're shopping at Rodeo Drive for Millsap.  Bass is more mall-store level.  Perhaps a bargain can be had.

The bargain part could become important if the player we sign doesn't work out.  If you get Bass at a reasonable level he will retain trade value.  If Millsap peters out at $10 million a year he's not going anywhere in the new NBA.  For this reason you want to be pretty sure of Paul and his place if you get him.

Another issue with Millsap's restricted free agent status is that the time involved in working through the deal could cause Portland to miss out on Bass.  Once Millsap and the Blazers have agreed to terms (which takes time in itself) Utah has an extra week to consider.  Probably Bass would still be there, but the Blazers could be left out in the cold if Utah matches late.  This is a risk with any restricted free agent, however.

The biggest drawback to either of these guys is that they play power forward.  Back-up power forward is a concern for the Blazers but it probably isn't the biggest concern.  A significant amount (maybe all) of Portland's cap space would disappear resolving the team's third most pressing problem, at best.

Despite that, unless the Blazers have another target in mind it probably makes sense to take a stab at these players then execute whatever trades you need to after you sign one.  Both have talent.  Both could fit with some adjustment.  If you're talking free agents (as opposed to using cap space for trades) they won't come much better than this at this point.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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