Patty Mills and the San Antonio Spurs are headed back to the NBA playoffs.
Mills is no stranger to the NBA’s post-season either, having made the playoffs in each of his six seasons in San Antonio. The Spurs have won 50 plus games for the 18th straight year and will finish this season with the second best record in basketball. While this time of year has become an annual tradition for Mills and his adopted home, things are a little different this time around.
The Spurs enter the playoffs without Tim Duncan for the first time this century. Despite their lofty regular season win total, the team remains a severe underdog to even reach the NBA Finals. For Mills personally, this playoffs push shapes as the biggest of his career.
The Australian is putting the finishing touches to his most impactful NBA season. Mills is on track to post career highs across a slew of statistical categories and his impact to the Spurs has never been greater. San Antonio is a full seven points per 100 possessions better with Mills on the floor, while Mills also leads the team in Net Rating at 11.9.
Despite coming off the bench, Mills has enjoyed ample time playing with the San Antonio starters and has become a mainstay late in close games. As we covered in the pre-season, Mills’ ability to play away from the basketball and still impact the game makes him a great complement with the Spurs’ high-usage offensive options like Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. Throw in Mills’ improvement across the more subtle areas, such as his ability to distort defences with off-ball screens, and he is now a vital cog within the Spurs machine.
Leonard and Aldridge are charged with leading San Antonio when the playoffs begin this weekend, but the Spurs need Mills’ outside skills, if they dream of challenging for their sixth NBA championship.
San Antonio will once again open their playoffs campaign against the Memphis Grizzles. The Spurs swept Memphis aside twelve months ago, with Mills taking advantage of the Grizzles shallow bench. Mills averaged 10.5 points in 19.5 minutes per game during last season’s series, shooting 44% from beyond the three-point line and pacing the Spurs second unit. Expect more of the same this year.
Mills will be opposed by the likes of Andrew Harrison, Wade Baldwin and Troy Daniels for the majority of his minutes against Memphis. The Australian will have the advantage against this trifecta.
All in all, the Grizzlies are a great match-up for the Spurs. This should be a short series and the San Antonio should look for a quick kill ahead of a second series against the Houston Rockets or Oklahoma City Thunder.
Should they advance past Memphis, the Spurs will be charged with slowing down either Russell Westbrook or James Harden. Both match-ups would be a stepper challenge for Mills.
Mills struggled in last season’s series against Oklahoma City, only scoring 24 points across six games with his three point shooting falling to an ice cold 23 percent. Defending an MVP candidate would also call for major adjustments on the defensive end.
For all his improvements, Mills has no hope of defending either Westbrook or Harden without major schematic help. Expect Leonard or Danny Green to slide across and defend opposition point guards in any second round series. This would allow Mills to defend against less talented offensive weapons. Even then, the likes of Victor Oladipo or Eric Gordon could look to expose Mills on the defensive end, if given the chance.
But Mills isn’t in Gregg Popovich’s rotation for defence, and his offensive impact will dictate playing time. If Mills is pacing the Spurs offence and making shots, he will receive significant minutes and be a huge reason for San Antonio’s success. If his shot deserts him like it did against Oklahoma City last year, Mills could be forced to the bench and the Spurs might struggle.
There is also the possibility that this post-season is Mills’ last in San Antonio. Free agency is just around the corner, and an impressive showing would help boost his value come July. But this is still a long way away.
Mills now has greater responsibilities in San Antonio and is a vital member of a San Antonio team looking to claim the most improbable championship of their dynasty.