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San Antonio Spurs: Profiling Patty Mills’ early-season struggles

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 29: Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs handles the ball against the Indiana Pacers on October 29, 2017 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 29: Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs handles the ball against the Indiana Pacers on October 29, 2017 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)
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After receiving a new contract from the San Antonio Spurs in the offseason, Patty Mills hasn’t looked like himself. Is it something to worry about?

When the San Antonio Spurs gave Patty Mills a four-year, $50 million contract in the offseason, it locked in veteran point guard depth, with Tony Parker‘s status (he suffered a torn quad in the playoffs) unknown for the 2017-18 season. The only other team options were Dejounte Murray and Derrick White.

So, Mills returned to his sixth man role off the bench to start the season. He’s received 22.4 minutes per game, a small sample size but higher than his previous eight years in the NBA.

However, it’s been a struggle for the Australian guard through seven games. He averaged just 6.1 points on 31.5 percent shooting, with just 25 percent from behind the arc. It’s a far cry from what may have been his best statistical season in years (44 percent on field goals, 41.4 percent from 3-point range). So, what’s the issue?

Where oh where has my sweet Patty Mills gone

— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) October 29, 2017

From the eye test, most of Mills’ shots from 3-point range look short or there’s just too much power in them. If it looked like he was pressing, Mills told the San Antonio Express-News this was not the case:

“I’m taking open shots and doing other things on the court to help the team. I learned very early on that you don’t live and die by whether the ball goes in or not. I’m not pressing anything at all.”

Looking at his game-to-game production, however, some of it is telling.

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For the first four games, Mills played between 21-26 minutes, hovering his regular rate in previous seasons. Though was noticeably conservative, taking four, two, six and four shots, respectively, in these games at 40 percent from the field for 3.5 points. Strangely enough, this came in all four wins.

In the next three games, all of which were losses, Mills became aggressive. His attempts per game soared to 12.6 and the shooting percentage lowered to 28.9. Given the higher volume of shots, he scored double-digits against the Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers. That included 2-for-9 from 3-point range versus Indiana, which contributed to 44 percent of his shots over this three-game stretch.

The 29-year-old guard is trying to hit whatever he can from outside, looking for a rhythm and to break out of this early-season slump. It’s the largest part of his struggles, as the longer his shots are, the less chance there is of making them.

As Paul Garcia of Project Spurs also noted, Mills’ Effective Field Goal Percentage paints another picture of the issues:

Patty Mills has a 38.3 eFG%. Defenses are doing a good job contesting his off the screen jumpers early this season.

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) October 29, 2017

Mills’ previously-linked stats on Basketball-Reference show some signs of hope for a rebound, or a way to get comfortable. He’s shooting 64.5 percent between zero and 10 feet from the basket. Everything else behind that looks like this:

  • 10-16 feet: 0 percent
  • 2-point field goals beyond 16 feet: 15.4 percent
  • 3-point range: 25 percent

The less-efficient means of scoring aren’t falling for Mills, unlike years past. It’s only seven games in and he shouldn’t stop taking 3-pointers or losing confidence, but maybe try working inside out to break this poor start to the season. That means more cutting to the basket, dribbling to the hoop and a floater or two over someone’s small-ball lineup.

Should there be any concern, however? Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich didn’t think so, from the same Mills piece from the San Antonio Express-News:

“It’ll happen,” said Popovich. “He’s a good shooter. There is nothing you can do about that. You just try to keep him confident, don’t harangue him and ask him why, tell him to do this, that and the other. He’s a pro. He’s a shooter. Shooters shoot.”

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The Spurs face the Golden State Warriors on Thursday, which will mark a three-day rest for Mills. Will this be his breakout game? Or are more troubles to come?

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