Patty Mills has excelled in London as his speed and scoring proclivity mesh well with his Australian squad that predicates on his ability. It’s a breath of fresh air for Mills; he doesn’t enjoy the same kind of freedom in the NBA, the kind of freedom granted to superstars.
He thrives with the basketball, with freedom, with space. He still excelled in spot-up situations last year in San Antonio, scoring 1.62 points per possession and shooting 57.1% on 28 spot-up attempts. But that’s not his strength, only a facet of his game he developed as a necessity.
Mills will never earn the optimal amount of freedom unless he dramatically improves upon his career numbers (six points, 1.7 assists, 43.2% shooting). But, most important, opportunity engenders freedom — an opportunity he has yet to receive.
Steve Perrin of SB Nation tackled the thin line between Olympic star and NBA benchwarmer. Perrin offered his take on Mills:
Still, if any NBA organization can get productivity from the Australian sensation, it’s the Spurs, who have had more success with international players than any other NBA franchise. As an aside, there are six players competing in London who were with the Spurs last season (Parker and Boris Diaw of France, Ginobili of Argentina, Tiago Splitter of Brazil, Ike Diogu of Nigeria and Mills) and one more who has signed with the Spurs next season (Frenchman Nando de Colo) — none of them for Team USA.
San Antonio, despite Mills presence, mostly played without a point guard behind Parker this season. When Parker rested, either Gary Neal or Ginobili, both shooting guards, would usually run the team. Next season Popovich may give de Colo and Mills a chance to be the primary backup to Parker. It will be Mills’ first full season with the Spurs, and possibly his best chance to find a role.
So what do we expect from Mills? He was highly effective in limited minutes, totaling a 21.5 PER, .604 true shooting percentage while shooting 50% on 20 corner 3-point attempts. Those numbers don’t scream NBA success but they do show that he hasn’t been a liability in his confined role.
The ability to conform to the strengths of his team, coupled with the scoring chops he’s consistently flashed with Australia, are positives that are conducive to success in San Antonio. The Spurs backcourt is loaded and it’s likely Nando De Colo will get more of a chance in the rotation — to begin.
But Mills is a much better scorer than De Colo, just as potent in pick-and-rolls and transition even though he isn’t a creative passer like De Colo. His size prevents him from ever becoming a plus-defender in the NBA but he’s probably a defensive upgrade over Gary Neal as it is.
Initially, I expect De Colo and Neal to log the lion share of minutes behind Tony Parker. Advanced statistics, at least, indicate that Neal was an effective stopgap last season.
I don’t see why Mills shouldn’t garner more attention. Even though he may amount to nothing more than an Olympic star and NBA benchwarmer, the Spurs should finally give him his first opportunity. Besides, players that can shoot the ball, execute the pick-and-roll and create for themselves are few and far between.