(Editor’s note: This is the eighth of a series of posts that detail the San Antonio Spurs in a much more defined, analytical light. Statistics courtesy of the excellent MySynergySports.)
Danny Green and Patty Mills’ respective careers were strikingly similar in their formative years — both didn’t earn a bunch of NBA time but they showed enough to earn a roster spot with San Antonio.
Prior to last year, of course, that was the case before Green broke out and eventually earned the starting 2-guard job. (I went more in-depth on Green and whether he would live up to his contract yesterday in Part VII.)
Is Mills in for the same dramatic jump in playing time? Like any dramatic rise in productivity, it’s tough to do and even tougher to prognosticate. But Mills already excels in the pick-and-roll and as a spot-up shooter and appears to be the likely backup for Tony Parker. (Limited sample size caveat, of course.)
One thing already in Mills’ favor: His role is already significantly more defined than Green’s last year. That is a plus considering Green had to battle James Anderson for the third string position behind Richard Jefferson and Kawhi Leonard. He won’t have to make that big of a jump as the pieces are already in play for him to succeed.
While it’s reasonable to expect Mills to come out scoring early and often, that will not be his role in San Antonio. Olympic competition demanded that Mills to expound a lot of energy to sustain Australia’s success. The Spurs don’t need, nor should they, allocate that amount of offensive creativity for Mills. One would expect Mills to settle into a role that hinges on the pick-and-roll and spot-up shooting. As I mentioned briefly earlier, Mills did quite well in those facets on a per possession standpoint.
In the context of the pick-and-roll, though, he will differ in attack compared to Tony Parker, who gets to the rim easier and more often. Give him a crevice of space and he can unleash a decent floater in the lane. But that isn’t something that he can rely on with impunity like Parker. In most instances, a Mills pick-and-roll tends to finish with a mid-range jumper when his defender is initially disconnected on the play. That can be considered a fault of his, as any elite pick-and-roll is contingent on deception, but he shoots well enough from 10-23 feet that the difference is negligible.
Mills is also effective in transition making it easier for him to conjure points when his shot is off. His speed is mostly the culprit for his efficiency but he adds enough transition 3-pointers, including the ability to knock them down off the dribble, to make it difficult to stop him in the open floor. Mills made 58.6% of his shots in transition, good for 1.24 points per possession (PPP) last year.
And lastly, Mills proved that he can excel away from the ball. Not only did he score 1.62 PPP on 29 spot-up attempts last year, which would have qualified for the best mark of any NBA player had he earned more playing time, but he continually filled the corner and benefited from San Antonio funneling their offense to him. He knocked down 50% of his corner 3′s last season which makes the prospect of a Mills-Manu Ginobili backcourt a lot more appealing.
Expecting an uptick in performance from Mills, on a similar scale to Green, is a bit idealistic. But there is enough evidence (including the fact that Mills has played 90 games through three seasons and compiled an acceptable 15.0 PER) to suggest that it is remotely possible, which would be a nice coup for a team in need of a productive backup point guard.
For more on Mills’ possession distribution and links to the first seven parts of the MySynergySports series, check the chart below.
|P&R Ball Handler||33.1%||0.91||29|
|All Other Plays||7%||0.75||N/A|