67RIEFNS No. 20: Paul Millsap and Al Horford, the Eastern Conference’s Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol


The NBA is full of talent, personality and suspense. During the offseason, It’s easy to forget how wonderful the league can be. So, I’ve assembled 67 Reasons I’m Excited For Next Season (67RIEFNS). They’ll be presented in no particular order.

I love watching Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol play together for the Grizzlies.

Nearly as much – and for very different reasons – I like the Hawks’ power forward-center combo of Paul Millsap and Al Horford.

Like with Randolph and Gasol, this could be our last chance to see Millsap and Horford in tandem – and this one could be ending before it even gets going.

When Horford and Millsap played together last season, Millsap’s first in Atlanta, they outscored opponents by 3.7 points per 100 possessions.

Put Kyle Korver on the court with the two bigs, and that net rating jumps to +4.9. Floor spacing goes a long way, especially for teams that run through their bigs, even bigs as versatile as Horford and Millsap.

For perspective, only two Eastern Conference teams, the Heat and Pacers, had net ratings better than +3.7. Overall, the Hawks were –0.7.

Unfortunately, Millsap and Horford played only 28 games together before Horford suffered a season-ending injury.

Millsap and Horford are more finesse than Randolph and Gasol, but neither Hawk big fears contact. They’re both extremely skilled and mobile, willing and able ball-handlers for their size.

Really, Millsap is a 3/4 and Horford a 4/5, but with each playing down, Atlanta’s offense whirs. Mike Budenholzer, who came from the Spurs, emphasizes tempo, spacing and ball movement – and Horford and Millsap are great fits.

Both can get up and down the court, shoot jumpers (Millsap all the way beyond the arc) and pass. If Horford started shooting 3s – which, given his mid-range success, he totally should – they’d be the archetypical new-age power forward-center pairing.

But for how long?

Millsap – who’s playing on a two-year, $19 million contact, a huge steal for Atlanta – becomes an unrestricted free agent after the season. Horford often comes up in trade rumors, though with Budenholzer now running the front office, it’s unlikely the coach trades one of his top players for long-term considerations. But Millsap will still find a favorable market in free agency next summer, potentially max-contract favorable.

Would the Hawks pay him that much? This year will go a long way in determining whether Millsap, an All-Star last season, truly rates among the NBA’s top players.

Playing with Horford, a two-time All-Star himself, Millsap should shine – and vice versa.

Like Randolph and Gasol, Millsap and Horford have games similar to each other. Though each pairing plays with a very different style, there’s something intriguing about big-man duos complementing each other through similarity as much as difference. Millsap and Horford do that in their own way, their skills working well together rather than providing diminishing returns.