As the longest tenured remaining member of the San Antonio Spurs, Patty Mills has a bigger role to play this year.
Point guard Patty Mills has had his ups and downs since joining the Spurs in 2011, but his time in San Antonio has followed a natural progression. From towel-waver extraordinaire to key sharpshooter for a championship team, to a mentor for the next generation of guards, and finally, to the longest tenured Spur.
With the departures of Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills is by default the most experienced Spur on the roster. As a result, in addition to his work as a veteran guard, he’ll bear the responsibility of showing the next iteration of the team what it means to be the Spurs.
Mills is an interesting player. He’s an ambitious defender, but his size (or lack thereof) limits his potential on that end of the floor. On offense, he’s crafty, and can sneak around defenders who are distracted by more significant threats, but is largely dependent on his shooting. And like most of the shooters on last year’s team, Mills was extremely limited by the offense’s general stagnation.
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With Kawhi Leonard perpetually on the bench, the perimeter players struggled to find open shots in the 2017-18 season. The addition of DeMar DeRozan solves a significant part of that problem.
There are questions to be answered about the Spurs offense and how a team so heavily dependent on the midrange game will open up opportunities for the long ball. But by the same token, having a player as adept at cutting and dishing as DeRozan will almost certainly lead to an increase in Mills’ opportunities.
Mills averaged 25.7 minutes per game last season, the most he’s ever played as a member of the Spurs. This was due in part to Parker’s absence over the first several months of the season. Popovich used Mills to hedge against Murray’s lack of shooting prowess by pairing the two guards as the season went on.
Although it would be nice to have Mills provide a spark with the second unit, I expect Belinelli to take that role to start the season, with Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV potentially filling in as needed.
It’s likely that Popovich will keep starting Mills next to Murray, both to take advantage of his shooting and to leverage his experience in the starting lineup. Overall, I don’t know that his minutes will drop. He’ll largely take a chunk of what used to be Parker and Ginobili’s minutes.
Lastly, and most importantly, Mills will be vital to bringing all the new Spurs up to speed: rookies and new acquisitions alike. Mills will continue to mentor Murray and will likely take on White as a protege. He’ll be active in timeouts, taking over as this team’s ‘player-coach’ and Popovich will lean on Mills to set the team straight when he’s too exasperated to deal with a missed rotation or a botched back screen.
Although he’s been a streaky shooter, Mills’ presence has been one of the rudders that’s kept this team straight over the last eight seasons.
His performance on the court may not look markedly different from last season, he’ll have the chance to play maybe the most important role of his career as he helps guide the team into a new era.