Patty Mills has had a roller-coaster past twelve months in his basketball life. After finishing the 2010/11 NBA season with the Portland Trail Blazers, he entered the Summer of 2011 with the uncertainty created by the NBA Lockout.
Being a proud Australian, Mills took the opportunity presented by the Lockout not to better his stocks for another NBA contract, but to contribute to the game downunder by joining the Melbourne Tigers in the National Basketball League in Australia. Mills put up 18.6ppg and 5.0apg during his nine games with the Tigers, before a too-hard-to-refuse offer came from the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in China.
Mills put up some sizable numbers in China (26.5ppg), before a hamstring injury cut his time and contract short. Controversially, the Flying Tigers officials chose the press as an outlet to criticise Mills' injury and to make claims that his time away from the game was for fictitious reasons. The Chinese club did themselves no favours on a public relations front with that outburst.
The unfortunate scenario for Mills -- like other NBA players contracted in China -- then unfolded that he was restricted from returning to the NBA (or any other basketball league) until the Chinese Basketball Association season ended in March 2012. As soon as that time hurdle had been jumped, Mills was signed by the San Antonio Spurs, guided in part by Assistant Coach Brett Brown, of the Australian Boomers.
Mills had a successful 16 game stint with the Spurs, to close out the season, averaging an impressive 10.3ppg and 2.4apg in 16mpg, shooting at an efficient .485 from the field and .429 from three-point range. During his time with the Spurs, he added eight games to his total 13 game NBA Playoff career and put up a career high 34 points and 12 assists in the final game of the regular season.
At the conclusion of the 2011/12 NBA season, Mills was left with a player option in his Spurs contract, giving him the decision of whether to return for $1m or to test his value (and potential playing time) on the broader market. Mills is currently considering his options on that front.
To get a better feel for how Patty has performed in San Antonio and where he may head next season, we have the privilege of the expertise of Paul Garcia of Project Spurs (the preeminent San Antonio Spurs site) to answer a few questions.
Mookie: What have you thought of Mills' play this season with the Spurs? Did he over/underachieve on what you expected?
Paul: I think he overachieved. It's rare that the Spurs sign someone late in the season and they have an instant impact once they're thrown into the game. His first game was against the Phoenix Suns where he played just four minutes, but his second game on the second night of a back-to-back showed his ability to score points quickly as he scored 7 points in just 6 minutes of play, most from beyond the arc. He would go on to get more minutes as the season finished off, but his last two games of the regular season were his best, as he led the team to back-to-back victories. He wasn't a part of the regular playoff rotation, but his season play gave a glimpse of how good Mills can be if he gets a full training camp and regular season.
Is Mills a good fit in the Spurs system?
He's a great fit in the Spurs' system because he's already learned the bulk of it playing with Australia in international play and being coached by Spurs assistant coach Brett Brown. Mills knows that any guard who has a consistent 3-point shot and who plays hard on defense will get more playing time on the court. When he ran the point guard either as a starter or backup off of the bench, he knew how to run the offense. But it was his ability to know how to find the open spot, where the Spurs' attackers could pass him the ball, that showed his understanding of the offense. That's something Richard Jefferson and other Spurs players have struggled with in the past, Mills picked up the spacing right away.
What chances do you see of Mills coming back to the Spurs next season, and if he does, where would he slot into the rotation?
I think that's ultimately up to him. He told an Australian radio station that he was looking to test free agency, but that he wouldn't have a firm decision until June 25, when players with player options have their last day to opt out of their contracts. Should he opt out, I can see him getting a better offer elsewhere because he did showcase himself as a valuable piece to a team that needs help scoring in their backcourt. If he stays in San Antonio, then I see him getting more consistency as Tony Parker's backup. The problem with the Spurs' backcourt is that they might have too many players to divide the minutes. French guard Nando De Colo might be making his way to the team this summer, and he can also play backup point guard. So he and Mills would be challenging each other for that slot, while there's also the issue of playing Mills alongside Gary Neal. Both are "smaller" guards and are a defensive liability though they can both put up points in quick spurts.
Was there a moment where Mills made the most impact in a Spurs uniform? If so, what was it?
His last two games of the regular season are two games I'll remember most about Mills in the regular season. The Spurs elected to rest the "big three" of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan, so Mills and the team were shorthanded, yet they still won both back-to-back games to send the Spurs into the playoffs on a 10-game winning streak. Mills had the most impact as he scored 27 points the first night in Phoenix, most notably not by hitting 3-pointers, but by attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line. The next night in Golden State, Mills followed up his performance with a 34-point game, this time displaying his strong mid-range game.
Many thanks to Paul Garcia for his insights. Check out Project Spurs for the best Spurs coverage around.