Spurs 2019-20 review: Patty Mills continues to bring spark off bench

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - DECEMBER 14: Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs celebrates during a game between San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns at Arena Ciudad de Mexico on December 14, 2019 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - DECEMBER 14: Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs celebrates during a game between San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns at Arena Ciudad de Mexico on December 14, 2019 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
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The longest-tenured member of the San Antonio Spurs, Patty Mills continues to excel in his role as a sparkplug off the bench.

The vast majority of NBA players will never make an All-Star game or be the number one option on a team. The key to a long career for most of the league is finding a role that they excel in and owning it. There aren’t many players in the league who do that better than San Antonio Spurs bench gunner, Patty Mills.

In his ninth year with the Spurs, Mills set some career-high marks, climbed further up the Spurs all-time leader boards, and continued to fill his role as the emotional center of the team.

Coming into this season we knew that Mills would likely be in line for a smaller role than he had in previous years. And while his minutes did take a bit of a step back, Mills continued to do exactly what he has done for the team every season since he arrived: give 100 percent effort at all times, make the right plays, and knock down big baskets when the team needed him most.

There was a stretch early in the season where Mills was on track to set several new career highs. Before the season was suspended he was averaging a career-high 11.7 points per game, an impressive mark for a player who has never been more than the fourth scoring option on any team.

Even as Dejounte Murray and Derrick White took over larger roles in the Spurs backcourt, Mills was always right there, ready to step up. While his playmaking responsibilities decreased thanks to the growth of DJ and Derrick, as well as the presence of DeMar DeRozan, Mills was still a crucial scoring option for San Antonio. There were several games throughout the season where the rest of the Spurs scoring options dried up and Mills had to step in to take over.

.@Patty_Mills balled out in The Bay this season with 31 PTS back in November ?#SASvsGSWseries | #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/mck1IhTUUu

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) March 29, 2020

Never one to shy away from giving a player a quick hook, Gregg Popovich has gradually given Mills a longer and longer leash as the Aussie sharpshooter continues to prove that he’s a deadeye shooter. He hit 38 percent of his three’s this season, just a hair off of his career mark of 38.9 percent.

This was a special year for Patty. His long-range marksmanship and long tenure with the team helped him move into second place in 3-pointers made and attempted all-time among San Antonio Spurs players. At his current pace, it will take Mills about three more seasons to pass Manu Ginobili to take over the top spot in 3-pointers made.

As a member of the legendary 2014 NBA Championship team, and with the career mark for three’s within reach, is it too early to start talking about whether Mills is deserving of having his jersey retired by the Spurs when all is said and done?

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A near career Spur, member of a title team, the potential career leader in a key category, as well as being the ideal of what it means off the court to be a Spur, retiring Mills’s number will certainly be a topic for discussion when his time with the team inevitably does come to an end.

Looking ahead, it’s unclear what the future may hold for Mills and the Spurs. He will be an unrestricted free agent and is sure to draw interest from championship-contending teams who could use a player with his abilities.

A viable secondary playmaker and a light’s out 3-point shooter on an expiring deal, Mills is exactly the kind of player that draws interest from teams that are one piece away from title contention. Add in his championship experience and he’s nearly the perfect addition for a team like the Los Angeles Lakers or Miami Heat.

As they try to navigate the crossroads between contention and rebuilding, the Spurs front office will have carefully consider what they want to do with Patty. He’s a fan favorite and the longest-tenured member of the team, trading him away would generate serious backlash from the fanbase. But if they’re approached with a suitable offer they would have to give it consideration. Sentimentality doesn’t put wins on the board.

That said, I sincerely hope that Mills isn’t traded. Due to his key role in the locker room, it’s unlikely that any team would be willing to meet San Antonio’s high asking price. There is literally nothing in the world of basketball that Mills hasn’t seen. He’s played in the Olympics, won an NBA title, and scrapped for minutes as an end of the bench player. It’s hard to put a price on that kind of veteran knowledge, it’s certainly something that can’t be replaced by first-round pick years down the road.

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As long as Patty continues to wear the silver and black he will bring the same infectious energy he has had since day one. That, along with his crucial role as a leader of the second unit, will hopefully keep him in a Spurs uniform until he retires.

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