San Antonio Spurs News

Expanded role could be in play for Spurs Patty Mills next season

CLEVELAND, OHIO - MARCH 08: Patty Mills #8 and Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs talk during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on March 08, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - MARCH 08: Patty Mills #8 and Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs talk during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on March 08, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /
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Depending on how things shake out with key free agents, San Antonio Spurs point guard Patty Mills could be looking at an expanded role next year

When you think about Patty Mills you think about a player who knows his role on the team and excels in it. Having just turned in his ninth season with the San Antonio Spurs, Mills is approaching a decade of service as a reliable bench scorer and secondary playmaker.

Coming into this year it seemed like Mills was going to have to take a step back. Derrick White was coming off of a breakout season and an impressive summer with Team USA, Bryn Forbes had played well before, and Dejounte Murray would be coming back from injury.

While his minutes did take a bit of hit, Mills was scoring at a higher rate than ever before when the season was suspended. He stepped up in major moments and was one of the Spurs’ most reliable players in clutch situations. Depending on how certain free agency decisions shake out, the San Antonio Spurs could be leaning on Mills even more next year.

This summer Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli will both enter unrestricted free agency. Marco’s future with the Spurs is more in doubt but there is a real possibility the Forbes could leave as well. His leaky defense puts a real cap on the Spurs potential but some other team may be willing to overlook that and offer him a deal that the Spurs aren’t won’t match.

There’s also the nine-figure question mark hovering over DeMar DeRozan. How he decides to handle his player-option, and potential free agency is the biggest unknown in San Antonio’s summer right now. Rumors have circulated speculating that DeRozan is unhappy in San Antonio and could leave the Spurs one way or another this summer. If all three leave the Spurs will desperately need Mills to step up to stabilize the backcourt.

This year, with Derrick White functionally running point for the second unit, Mills transitioned into more of a scoring role than a playmaking one. His assist percentage was the lowest its ever been in his career at just 11.3 percent.

Even if Forbes does stay with the team, White should realistically move into the starting lineup. He’s called for more playing time with DJ, and DJ has done the same. Their two of the Spurs best defenders and they’ve shown promise when they have been allowed to play together. If White does move into the starting lineup it would likely shift Mills back into more of the playmaking role.

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Mills is an efficient runner of the pick and roll, especially with Jakob Poeltl as his partner. When they two have shared the floor they’ve helped the Spurs score 112.7 points per 100 possessions while limiting opposing offenses to just 104.4. And as both work well in pick and roll it’s curious to see them utilize it so infrequently.

Mills only worked in pick and roll sets on 26.6 percent of his possessions this season. Given his points per possession (1.01) you’d hope he would be closer to other players of that efficiency, such as his teammate DeRozan who utilized pick and roll action on 34.6 percent of his possessions.

To be fair, the Spurs bench unit has always operated in more of a free-flowing, ball movement focused type of offense. It’s part of what has allowed them to be so efficient over the years. But if this season has taught us anything it’s that these are not the Spurs of years past, exploring new ways to run the offense and breaking from tradition is a must if San Antonio wants to keep pace with the other improving teams in the Western Conference.

Next. Three improvements we’d like to see from Jakob Poeltl

You can’t nitpick Patty’s season too much, it was one of the best of his career after all. But the San Antonio Spurs could be leaning on their longest-tenured player more than ever before next year. If the last nine years have shown us anything it’s that Mills is up to the task.

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