The start of the 2017-2018 season has had its ups and downs for several Spurs players. Particularly, the Spurs’ point guards have had to adjust to lineup changes and minute adjustments as the squad tries to find functional lineups while missing several key players.
With Tony Parker out, Patty Mills has a function both starting and coming off the bench. Mills coming off the bench means that Spurs are able to allow their second unit to grow chemistry that could be important throughout the regular season and into the playoffs.
It also usually means that Mills is playing next to Ginobili, a playmaker, allowing the Spurs to better utilize Mills’ spot-up shooting and off-ball abilities. The starting lineup, however, with Kawhi Leonard out, is a bit light on shooting without Mills as neither Dejounte Murray nor Kyle Anderson, despite having other useful skills to provide to the starting or bench lineup, are known for their three-point shooting.
With Mills, the starting lineup gets an offensive boost. The lineup of Mills, Anderson, Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Danny Green is scoring 108.1 points per 100 possessions and outscoring their opponents by 10.1 points per 100 possessions. These numbers drop to 99.2 and -4.5, respectively, after replacing Mills with Murray in these lineups. While this has more to do with the fit of Anderson and Murray next to two traditional bigs (the lineup of Green, Aldridge, Gay, Murray, and Anderson, for example, has done well) these fit issues will continue until Leonard returns.
Removing Mills from the bench lineup has had adverse affects as well, however. Since the Spurs moved Mills to the starting line-up on November 2nd, they have been outscored in second quarters, when bench lineups usually gets more run, by 23.1 points per 100 possessions. Before making the lineup change, the Spurs were still being outscored in second quarters, but only by 3.1 points per 100 possession.
Spurs are outscoring opponents by 31.5 points per 100 possessions in first quarters since making Mills the starting point-guard, up from -14.2 points per 100 possessions before the change, though.
For his own part, Mills is playing better in November than he was in October. In November, Mills was shooting only 25% from three-point range on 3.4 attempts per game. In November, however, Mills has raised that to 40% from three on 6.3 attempts per game. Mills assist numbers are up, as well.
When players are injured, it’s not as simple as the team replacing the missing players’ production. The changes that these injuries force onto rotations has ripple effects that have the potential to change the dynamic of the team as a whole. While Murray is certainly the Spurs’ point guard of the future, with Leonard out, he doesn’t have as much room to operate on the offensive end with the athletic tools that he has.
As long as Leonard and Parker are out, it makes sense for Mills to be in the starting lineup. This, however, creates a seemingly constantly changing bench-lineup that has yet to have the chance to develop chemistry. Once Parker and Leonard return, these bench lineups will change yet again, and it may be deep into the season before the Spurs’ second unit finds its identity. In all of this uncertainty, however, Mills has recovered from a rocky start to the season and has helped steady the Spurs.
All stats obtainted from stats.nba.com