Bench Briefings: Aussie Ascending – A Patty Mills Story

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The signs have been there since August.

Consensus was that the Boomers were good. Possibly even a dark horse to challenge Team USA in the medal round. But, even with a squad loaded with talent, one thing stayed true throughout the Olympics: Australia would only go as far as Patty Mills could take them.

Mills finished the Olympics second overall in scoring, averaging 21.3 points per game during the tournament. He also shot a respectable 47 percent from the field and 34 percent from beyond the arc.

But Mills isn’t just continuing the momentum he picked up during the Olympics and transferring over the results in a Spurs uniform. He’s on the verge of obliterating all of mankind with his offensive prowess.

Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch considering we’re only five games deep into the season. That doesn’t mean the numbers are any less astonishing.

Mills is on pace to set career-highs in points, steals, field goal percentage and 3-point percentage this season, while only averaging 20.9 minutes per game. By the way, that would also be a career-high in minutes, although it’s just 0.4 more minutes per game than he averaged last year.

Granted the numbers are a tad bit inflated thanks in part to his insertion into the starting lineup against the New Orleans Pelicans, where he put up 18 points and five assists in 24 minutes, but the efficiency numbers tell a story of a point guard possessed by the spirit of Mark Price.

The Spurs’ offensive rating with Mills on the floor is a staggering 125.9 points per 100 possessions, but that number plummets to just 97.2 when he returns to his role of towel waver. Even his defensive rating numbers are incomprehensible, as Mills has never had a defensive rating under 100 in his career. This season, Mills has a defensive rating of 91.7 PP/100 on the floor, with that number skyrocketing to 104.8 PP/100 when he’s off. Most of that can be attributed to the greatness that is Dewayne Dedmon, but we’ll save that for another post.

In terms of the Spurs two-man lineups, Mills is in two of the Spurs’ top-5 best lineups based on plus-minus. Change that to three-man lineups and Mills appears in three of the most efficient¬†plus-minus lineups that Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich has given double-digit minutes to this season.

Even with the roster turnover the bench has experienced this season, Mills has set his teammates and himself up to succeed as evidence with San Antonio running their Hammer set to perfection, as our very own Paul Garcia demonstrated after the Spurs beat the Sacramento Kings.

With the hot start by Mills and how poorly Tony Parker has kicked off his 2016-17 campaign, it’s easy to start clamoring for a change at point guard. Especially when you realize that Parker has the worst net rating of any regular rotation player for the Spurs. The truth is, all these small sample size stats should be taken with a grain of salt. Mills could easily come back down to earth as Pop figures out how to adjust his rotation with Danny Green’s return imminent. But Mills won’t be the only one affected.

At 28 years old, Mills is entering his prime in a huge way. He’s publicly stated his goal has always been to be a starting point guard at the NBA level, and the last three months have given front offices across the league plenty of confirmation that Mills is capable of fulfilling that role for a club.

The additions of Nicolas Laprovittola and Dejounte Murray provide the Spurs a stopgap in the worst case scenario that Mills becomes too expensive during next summer’s free agency and fulfills his dream of starting elsewhere.

Six seasons as a backup in San Antonio have proved to be the perfect development for the Aussie, as his prime creeps up on the twilight of Parker’s career with a vengeance. Everyone should’ve expected this.

After all, the signs have been there since August.

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