Paul Millsap’s career has been a grind – one step after another all the way to four straight All-Star appearances.
The Hawks power forward was named an Eastern Conference reserve for next month’s NBA All-Star Game. He has been honored each year in a Hawks uniform since being acquired following his first seven seasons with the Jazz.
“That’s what it’s been, it’s been a grind for me working my way up,” Millsap said Friday morning. “Everything has been steps taken. Being a second-round pick. Being drafted by Utah. Not being a starter, playing 16-17 minutes a game. To working my way into a starting position three or four years later. Then to move here and have a bigger role and being able to showcase my talents. It’s been steps taken.”
Millsap became just the fifth Hawks player to make four straight All-Star appearances joining Bob Pettit, Lou Hudson, Dominique Wilkins and Joe Johnson.
Millsap knew to answer his phone with Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer called Thursday. It’s becoming a habit. Millsap has been an All-Star each of Budenholzer’s seasons with the team.
“I often joke he makes me a much better coach,” Budenholzer said.
Millsap leads the team in scoring at 18.0 points per game. The versatile big man is also second in rebounds (8.1), assists (3.8), steals (1.5) and blocks (1.0). The Hawks enter Friday’s game against the Wizards fourth in the East, four games behind the Cavaliers, a game behind the Raptors and a half-game behind the Celtics.
“I don’t think any all-star would be an all-star without their teammates,” Millsap said. “Especially in my situation, our team is top four, top three in the East. We have to win games. Winning games help to solidify an all-star spot. I’m blessed and I’m grateful for my teammates, coaching staff and this organization for putting me in that position.”
Budenholzer admitted to a little angst waiting for the call on whether a member of his team would be represented in New Orleans on Feb. 19. Teammate Dennis Schroder had no worries.
“He is the biggest player for us,” Schroder said. “He does it every game. He deserves it. It was for sure that he was going to make it. There was no doubt about it.”
Millsap will return to his home state of Louisiana for another All-Star Game. His first appearance in 2014 was also held there. Millsap, who played collegiately at Louisiana Tech, recalls that first experience as a blur. He looks forward to enjoying the full experience of being back on familiar ground.
In his four seasons with the Hawks, Budenholzer has seen Millsap grow into a leader. Millsap, usually a man of few words, has even become more vocal in directing the team.
“I can’t say enough about how he’s handled timeouts, the locker room, leadership, film sessions,” Budenholzer said. “He is continuing to grow. People are focused on how he plays, but I think he’s grown in a lot of other ways that really helps us a lot.
“He’s still Paul. It’s all relative but I would say he’s significantly more vocal.”