YUKON — Three practices was all Elijah Millsap needed to make certain, no matter what happened throughout the remainder of the preseason, that teammates, coaches and media members would know him by his first name rather than his already familiar last name.
But by his seventh Thunder practice, the undrafted rookie's performances had raised the question of whether he can somehow seize a currently nonexistent roster spot. It's a remote possibility that was first discussed by Kevin Durant, who was so sold on the swingman out of Alabama-Birmingham that he singled out the training camp signee Wednesday with an eyebrow-raising proclamation.
"One guy that I think has a great chance to make our team is Elijah Millsap," Durant said. "Great defender. Great all-around player."
Millsap, the younger brother of Utah forward Paul Millsap, showed at the Thunder's open scrimmage at Yukon High School on Friday night what Durant and others have seen all week — defensive tenacity and a tough-minded, never-back-down mentality.
With guaranteed contract players James Harden and Daequan Cook sidelined after bumping heads in Thursday's practice, Millsap got assigned to Durant throughout much of the four, 10-minute, running-clock quarters. And Millsap put on a defensive clinic against last year's scoring champ. He disrupted plays by being a pest in passing lanes. He held his own in the post against the much taller Durant. He let his defense lead to his offense.
A number's game, however, could cost Millsap a chance at a crack at NBA life. The Thunder's roster is at 15 guaranteed contracts, the maximum allowed under league rules. In order for Millsap to make the team, he must perform well enough to force the front office to trade or waive a player before the regular season opener. A more likely option is for Millsap to wind up on the Tulsa 66ers, the Oklahoma City-owned NBA Developmental League affiliate of the Thunder.
However it plays out, Millsap can rest assured he has made a name for himself.
"He's very aggressive defensively," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "That's what we like about what he brings to our team. He makes our camp very competitive. He's not mistake-free. But there's not one drill or day in practice that he did not come with 100 percent effort. That's what he is about."
When asked what kind of player he views himself as, Millsap rattled off a who's who list of the league's best defenders — Thabo Sefolosha. Ron Artest. Luc Mbah a Moute.
"A guy that's going to come in and just give it all he's got and just defend and guard the best player on the court," Millsap said.
Millsap is generously listed at 6-foot-6 but looks closer to 6-4. But he has a rock-solid frame that seemingly is built for banging and an all-business attitude that has no time for making friends.
Millsap was seen at Wednesday's practice-ending scrimmage walking up to Harden during a stoppage in play and shoving him before adding a few inaudible words. Harden shoved back and added a few more words. Millsap later explained he took exception to an inadvertent elbow to the face by Harden while defending a drive to the basket. The scene, though, spelled out so much about Millsap. It showed his toughness. His competitiveness. His fearlessness. It showed that Millsap won't back down, even as a non-guaranteed contract camper going against the 2009 No. 3 overall pick.
Above all, the scene proved Millsap has taken heed to what he said was older brother Paul's biggest message to him as he sets out on his own professional career.
Take no prisoners.
"On the court you've just got to be fearless. You've just got to go at people and let them know that you're here," Millsap said. "Being a guy without a contract and being a rookie, guys are going to come at you. They're going to feel that you're the weak link on the team so you got to hold your ground. That's what I'm trying to do."