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Raptors-Lakers Reaction: Is Paul Millsap the Missing Piece?

Will get to thoughts on Lakers-Raptors shortly, but everyone wants to talk about Paul Millsap at the moment. That’s because ESPN recently reported that the Atlanta Hawks are listening to calls on the talented big man. Perhaps that’s because they saw Millsap’s long-time frontcourt partner Al Horford leave as a free agent last summer. The Hawks are in the mix for a homecourt playoff spot despite some horrific stretches this season, but that says more about the weakness of the East than Atlanta actually being a contender. Management surely knows the Hawks have no chance at a title or even beating Cleveland (or likely Toronto) in a playoff series. They might be able to retain Millsap in free agency, but does it make sense to max out an aging player, even one as good as Millsap, when you aren’t going to contend while he is still a star?

Getting some solid young pieces soon likely makes more sense for the Hawks.

Which brings us back to the Raptors, with a front office that has long been fond of Millsap, one of the NBA’s most underrated players over the past decade. Millsap is basically a better version of Patrick Patterson. Patterson has grown into Toronto’s third most valuable piece (in terms of bringing about wins). He does everything well and was one of the best rebounders in NCAA history. Toronto’s glaring weakness is defensive rebounding. While Millsap’s gaudy rebounding numbers didn’t carry over to the NBA, he’s still much better than Patterson on the defensive glass and just as good an offensive rebounder, even though this is the worst offensive rebounding year of his career.

– Would it make sense to go all in on Millsap? I still like my old Derrick Favors pet idea (Utah can’t pay all of its talented young players and there isn’t proof yet that Favors-Rudy Gobert is the long-term answer up front there and he is much younger than Millsap). Could the Raptors get by Cleveland if Paul Millsap was on the roster? Maybe. Maybe not. They’d certainly be better (even if it costs something like Terrence Ross, Mike Budenholzer favourite Cory Joseph, plus a package of prospects and picks perhaps headlined by Jakob Poeltl). There still would be no guarantees that he would put the Raptors over the top OR that he would re-sign with the club next summer (When Lowry and Patterson also are unrestricted free agents).

– Millsap’s best friend in the league is DeMarre Carroll and he and Lowry have known each other for years (they were in the same draft class). It wouldn’t take him long to fit in.

– Still, it’s unclear whether it would be a gamble worth taking for a front office that has been quite patient. It’s also unclear whether the Raptors would even have the best offer out there for Millsap. Denver, for example, could dangle something like Jusuf Nurkic, Will Barton and Kenneth Faried or some variation. Boston could send one of Brooklyn’s first rounders Atlanta’s way in order to reunite Millsap and Horford …

– This will be a major topic of conversation for some time. I would probably pass on Millsap unless he gave a strong indication that he would stick around as a free agent.

– One thing that has impressed about the Raptors in recent years has been the team’s reliability and consistency. This group does a great job of not letting things snowball. The team avoids the long losing skids that can sink seasons and wreak havoc on confidence. They simply don’t drop many games in a row. As colleague Eric Koreen brought to my attention, the Raptors did not lose three games in a row in the calendar year 2016. They had a pair of three-game streaks in November of 2015, but since, there have been eight two-game losing streaks and each were followed by a victory (not including the post-season).

– This has been a long road trip, but a successful one, even if the favoured Spurs win on Tuesday.

– The Raptors appear to have dodged a bullet with Patterson’s knee injury not seeming to be a major issue (though the team isn’t the most forthcoming when it comes to medical information). That fact that Patterson is still considered out day-to-day

– DeMar DeRozan at power forward went about as well as you would expect. The Raptors got clobbered on the glass.

– When they went bigger, with Jonas Valanciunas and Pascal Siakam both in, they fared much better because Kyle Lowry, Norm Powell and Cory Joseph play bigger than their positions and they had real big men in.

– DeRozan has displayed a bit of an edge at times lately. That’s a good thing. He’s had some shaky shooting nights lately, but is still getting to the free throw line a ton.

– Joseph’s play was a big part of the reason why the Raptors won this game. Casey’s unveiling of the bizarre Bebe-Poeltl combo also was massive. The unorthodox look helped change the game. Credit to Poeltl for staying ready.

– The Lakers have some nice, young pieces, but need time. Until they get some much-needed experience, they won’t be very good.

– An interesting stat from the broadcast: Only the Raptors and Cavaliers have not lost a game when leading after three quarters.

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